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Town Haul Podcast / Episode 9

Town Haul Podcast


Welcome to the Town Haul Podcast


Rubicon’s first and only podcast where we share advice for techies, earth lovers and for penny pinchers!


Sea-ing a Cleaner Ocean with Lonely Whale’s Emma Riley

Introduction to the Town Haul Rubicon Podcast

AK: Hey guys. My name is Amy Koonin and I’m your host for the Town Haul; Rubicon’s first and only podcast where we share advice for techies, for earth lovers, and for penny pinchers.

AK: As much as I love the sound of my own voice, this broadcast is going to rely heavily on guests who are subject matter experts on everything ranging from how to get your small business up and running, interviews with some of the brains behinds your favorite apps, and even how to remove garbage from outer space. You never know who’s going to pop up and join me next in studio. So, make sure to subscribe to the Town Haul on iTunes to get our episodes downloaded directly. And if your boss is making you work through lunch or your commute is just too short and you miss something awesome, don’t worry, we’ve got your back. You can check out our blog for recaps, reviews, and all things Town Haul.

AK: Hey everybody, and welcome to another awesome episode of the Town Haul. I am so excited about this episode. It is right in time for World Oceans Day, and I am joined via Skype by Emma Riley, the director of strategic partnerships at Lonely Whale. And if you haven’t heard of Lonely Whale, they are an incredibly, two words; inventive and collaborative incubator, I think that are consistently creating a positive impact on our oceans. The work is so awesome and I can’t wait to learn about everything. So, Emma, thank you so much for hopping on and being here today.


Emma Wiley Introduction & Background

ER: Thank you for having me.

AK: And before we get into all of the incredible things that you guys are doing for our oceans, let’s back it up just a little bit. As someone who works in sustainability, I am always super curious to know what sparked your passion for ocean conservation? What led you to what you’re doing today?

ER: Growing up on the coast of California, I was exposed to sort of ocean conservation, ocean health at a very young age. My parents took me to Stinson Beach, just above San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, just below from before I was born, in the womb. So, I’ve been interested in supporting the development of solutions for issues that are plaguing our seas, really since I was kind of a young girl. And through my background in entertainment development media strategy, it’s such a … I found a really healthy place with Lonely Well and applied sort of that work to furthering the attention to ocean conservation issues.

AK: And for our listeners who aren’t that familiar, can you dive a bit deeper … No pun intended, but to what exactly Lonely Whale is and does. What is it? How long have you guys been around? Who started it? All that kind of stuff.

About Lonely Whale

ER: Yeah, sure. We’ve been around for about two and a half years. Adrian Grenier and [crosstalk 00:03:03].

JW: Okay. I was really hoping that you were going to say his name so I would learn how to pronounce it properly. That’s a huge help.

ER: There you go. Grenier.

JW: Grenier. Got it.

ER: An actor and producer. And Lucy Sumner, a film producer, had a really brilliant idea just about two and a half years ago. She combined sort of media marketing strategy and apply them to ocean conservation issues to see if through greater awareness and sort of savvy and unique collaborative opportunities that are taken advantage of, we can drive real impact and greater change.

ER: I joined the team right at the get go. I’ve been there for about two and a half years. And we’ve had already some significant wins under our belt. You may be familiar with Strawless Ocean or Next Wave; two of our sort of most prominent initiatives thus far.

AK: And I always love when marquee names kind of use their fame for good. What has working with Adrian Grenier been like?

ER: Adrian is a good friend. He’s an amazing boss. He is a deep, deep environmentalist and has been since sort of birth. If you ask him about his interests, it came directly from his mom who raised him to really be aware of his surroundings. He often times taps into how she would really acknowledge that cleaning your room’s … It drives you toward being sort of aware of your surroundings in a way in which if you take advantage of that knowledge, that wealth of wisdom of where do I live, how am I living, etc., it will apply throughout your life. And it has for him. So, I think when he was … And again, I can’t speak for him, but when he was thinking about really using his position as a thought leader within entertainment and whatnot and applying that to an environmental issue, ocean health was at the forefront. But it really was … It has been and always probably will be rooted in his mom making him aware of, at a very early age, keeping your surroundings really beautiful.

AK: I never thought that I would get parenting advice from Vince from Entourage’s mother.

ER: I know!

AK: That’s fantastic.

ER: It’s great, isn’t it? I mean, it’s the truth. I know that when I have children, if I have children, I will definitely, when I ask them to clean their rooms, relay the importance of that in relation to environmental health and the world that we live in.

AK: Absolutely. I second that. A lot of times, especially working in the sustainability, philanthropic conservation realm, we hear buzz words that get thrown around a lot that aren’t truly defined for the public. Will you be so kind as to define market-based change? You know, what that means for you, what that means for Lonely Whale. And then kind of piggy back on that for me into how exactly you guys use that market to create campaigns that really do drive a significant impact.

Market-Based Change at Lonely Whale

ER: Yeah. Sure. One of the things that we wanted to solve when we were collectively … I should say that sort of our core team, which is three of us, our executive director, Dune Ives, myself, and our digital strategist Emy Kane have all been with Adrian and Lucy from the get go. So, when we were thinking through what questions do we want to find an answer for, one of those questions were why are there so many campaigns that don’t actually have a nice cherry on top of the sundae? Right?

ER: That market-based solution that when you champion an effort, you get a bunch of people rally behind it, you find some dollars to create cool content. People then can access [inaudible 00:07:10], there’s this whole realm of campaigning that really just doesn’t have, “Okay, great. You’re now enthusiastic, you’ve signed our petition and this is how you then live this on a daily basis.” There really is sort of something missing within a lot of campaigning work that says, “Great. We just got you excited. Take it in, meditate on it every day. This is what you can purchase to be a part of this. And guess what? You don’t have to actually radically change your life to continue living what it is we’re asking you to live.”

Strawless in Seattle

ER: For us, as sort of a group of strategists who again, really would like to apply and have been applying savvy marketing strategies to ocean health, we realized that we also needed to create a market for what it was that we’re going to push people towards. We have a handful of ways that we’re doing it, but the easiest one, probably, for your audience to digest as well as the one that’s been kind of the most widely publicized was our Strawless in Seattle campaign and work. Last September we kind of moved into the city of Seattle and decided that we were going to, within a very specific short period of time … So, 30 days … Run a campaign in which we were able to track collective impact and report back on a very specific data set that was the change that we created in the city by bringing in a market-based solution to a problem at hand; plastic straws.

ER: We brought in an American manufactured alternative; paper straw that’s FSC certified to the city of Seattle, partnered with just about 150 restaurants, the airport, the Seattle Seahawks, the Mariners, the Space Needle, et cetera, and were able to track the collective impact of all of those spaces working together, shifting their supply, measuring that for 30 days, and landing then on a number that together they wouldn’t have landed on otherwise, which is just over 2.3 million pieces of single-use plastic that we’ve removed in 30 days in that city.

AK: Wow.

ER: So, that was amazing. And the reason why we were able to run it in a way in which it was impactful and it was successful and it was edible, right? It became so edible for national and international audience because we said, “Well, yep. This is the alternative.” Easy as that. It’s the same price as a plastic straw, we’ll have it to you the day you order it or the next few days or within the week, and so there’s no reason not to. Your neighbors are doing it, Russell Wilson is championing it. The Mariners love it, why wouldn’t you do this? You have a solution at hand. And that ethos is definitely an ethos that we apply to really all of our work, but very specifically our impact campaigning work.

AK: I love that. And you hit … You said my two favorite words, which are data and tracking. Especially in marketing. One of my coworkers has this phrase and I think about it all the time. He told me that I cannot manage what I cannot measure and that I need to let the numbers do the talking. I’m curious, what are some probably gut wrenching numbers or statistics that you could think of to share in regard to what we as humans are doing to our oceans? No BS here. How bad is it, and what are we doing?

Plastic in Your Sea Salt

ER: Yeah. The two things that get me … I love to cook and I love to go to the beach.

AK: What is your favorite thing to cook?

ER: To cook. Okay. Pasta. Like, no lie, it’s like a four year old’s answer, but I swear to god it’s my favorite food on the planet.

AK: That’s my favorite food.

ER: Is it?

AK: Oh yeah.

ER: I love it. I love it. I love it. And I’ll go through these phases where I do big pesto batches or big … I go over the whole … I’m a pasta through to I’ll make the sauces type of girl. But because of that, I love really good sea salt. If you’re creating a dish and let’s just say you’re building the sauce from scratch as well. You need a good olive oil, a good salt. And someone once said the three things you need in a kitchen are good sea salt, good olive oil, and a good lemon, right?

AK: Yep.

ER: The Guardian published a research … An article on sort of a research project that they did a few months ago. It was maybe four or five months ago. And they tested 12 different table sea salts from around the world for plastics in the sea salt specimen that they had purchased from wherever it may be.

AK: So, you mean to tell me there’s plastic in my salt that I get at the grocery store?

ER: All 12 specimens had plastic in it.

AK: That is heartbreaking.

ER: You’re not only consuming plastic when you eat like a fish, like if you’re in the Mediterranean or whatever it is. Which, by the way, the Mediterranean really doesn’t have actually much fish left in it. But when you’re consuming fish, and then you decide to put a little bit of sea salt with that lemon and olive oil on it, not only are you consuming plastic that’s in the fish already, because statistically, most had plastic in them from consuming it in the sea, but you’re also sprinkling plastic on your fish.

ER: The other thing … I mean, that’s hard. That, for some reason, that to me really sort of sunk in. The other kind of stat that gets me every time I go to the ocean … I love to go hiking. I’m a diver, I love to go hiking. But I go hiking and I’ll hike down when I’m in northern California to a cove called Pirate’s Cove, just above San Francisco. It’s a pretty steep incline, and so it’s quiet. Very few people go down there. But every time I go down to this teeny tiny cove, I find shoes, balls, trash, water bottles, and it’s washed up. Right? It’s completely washed up. Because there’s no one else down there. It’s maybe me and like someone having a small picnic. It’s a small cove.

ER: What’s insane is about 80 percent of the plastic and marine debris that’s in the ocean is already at the ocean floor. So, every time I go hiking and I end up in Tennessee Valley at the beach or at Pirate’s Cove or I go diving and I head out. I’m going down through … Already 80 percent, that’s not it at the surface. 80 percent of what’s in the sea in terms of marine debris is at the ocean floor. We’ll never see it unless we head all the way down there and decide to clean it up at that level.

ER: That, to me … And people think, “Oh, there’s so much trash. There are all those islands.” Whatever those … It’s the size of Texas, it’s the size of Paris, it’s the size of whatever it is. Most of it is actually already at the ocean floor.

AK: That definitely strikes a cord. Also, no wonder why you can eat so much pasta; you’re hiking and diving all the time. That makes sense. Okay.

ER: That’s actually why I hike.

AK: That makes sense. I’m eating as much pasta and just sitting in this podcast studio. One of the reasons why I was so, as the kids say, thirsty … Again, a bad water pun. I’ve been working on them all morning. To have you come on here, was because of, like you said, the easily digestible content and the viral campaigns that you guys are doing. I remember seeing the #StopSucking campaign, and a light bulb went off and I was like, “I’ve got to pick her brain. This is genius.” Tell me a little bit about the Stop Sucking campaign. You touched on Strawless in Seattle, Tick Tock, and some of the other stuff that you guys got going on.


ER: Stop Sucking was really great fun to produce. We produced it in part with an agency based in Seattle. We worked with their Seattle office called Possible. Lovely team. And we thought, “You know what? Let’s try and create a viral social media. Sort of a movement and a moment in time, and let’s kick it off with some fun content.” So, we roped in Van Jones, we called Adrian and asked him to bring in some of his friends. Daniel Franzese from Mean Girls was super into it and we shot-

AK: That’s where I saw it, was on his Instagram.

ER: Oh, I love … Oh my gosh. I see Danny on Friday, actually, in L.A. [crosstalk 00:16:03].

AK: Tell him I want my pink shirt back.

ER: Am I allowed to give a quick shout out to his comedy show in Venice on Friday night?

AK: Do you … Yeah. Plug him. Let’s plug him, please. So, he’s performing in Venice?

ER: He is, on Friday night at 8:00. Oh my gosh, I don’t remember the name of the place. He’s going to kill me. But he’s wonderful. Everyone check out his Instagram.

AK: Google it, follow him on Instagram. He’s hilarious.

ER: He is hilarious. We shot this really fun piece of content at Milk Studio in L.A. and then we thought, “Great. We’re going to run a social campaign.” So Emy Kane on our team, a really brilliant digital strategist, put together what is basically a spider’s web of this is how you create something that’s viral online on social media, and pushed it. Because of the fun nature of it and because it’s corny and kind of cheesy and sort of cheeky, and not something that you would assume that a young ocean health or environmental health organization would promote, it did really well.

ER: Frankly, going back to the top of this conversation, it’s exactly what any company who hired a marketing or advertising team to come up with a strategy around how to get people to stop using some of these plastic straws would push. If you’re thinking about the campaigns that like a McDonald’s or a Starbucks or a Coca-Cola, they’re witty and they’re savvy and they’re bold and they’re kind of silly and controversial. And again, that was exactly what we wanted to do with our work when we created this company, this incubator, right?

ER: So, it was kind of our first go at it in terms of digital media as well as content development, and it was great fun. It was a really, really good time. And it went far and wide. The people that picked it up, it landed in over 30 countries worldwide. It has now been translated into over 25 languages including Creole, including many of the native languages. And you can actually find all of those videos on our website if you’d like to take a look at the diversity of kind of where this landed.

AK: I remember getting an email and the subject header was something along the lines of, “You really suck.” And I was like, “Okay. I need to click this.” And that’s the kind of catch and grab. That’s the gut punch that you guys are serving, and then you’re able to spread your message. It really is inspiring and as someone who works in marketing, there’s a lot that everybody can learn from what you guys are doing. And at Rubicon, we utilize technology to solve, obviously, the global issue of ending waste. I did a fair amount of research before this. I like my homework. And I saw that Lonely Whale partnered with Dell, right? To create a 4D virtual reality experience. Tell me kind of what that was all about. What were the people seeing when they … Was it goggles? How’d you guys do that?

Lonely Whale Partnership with Dell

ER: Yeah. Sure. We have a deep and longstanding relationship with Dell. Dell is a really innovative company that for years has supported Adrian and vice versa. Adrian has supported Dell’s footprint as a social good advocate. Transitioning out of that role and recently about a year ago, we at Lonely Whale, as Adrian’s team, wanted to continue to have a relationship with them and further their interest in ocean health. While Adrian was working with them for about two years, he was able to sort of seed and spark interest in the issue in the company at leadership level, which is remarkable.

ER: So we have two projects with them. One is the 4DVR experience, and the second is an initiative and consortium called Next Wave. So the 4DVR experience is honestly, it’s really fun. It takes you … I can explain the whole thing, though it really wouldn’t be as interesting as trying it out. But essentially, you go under the sea and you encounter a variety of sort of creatures and you encounter sort of an expert witness that describes what it is you’re floating through and towards.

AK: Oh, that’s really cool.

ER: And yeah. Really what was most important to us, what was most important to Adrian and what was most important to Dell while we were producing this was including ocean pollution within the experience. You not only encounter the beauty of the sea, but you also encounter the real issues; seismic blasting, for example, is included in the experience, as are various kinds of marine debris, etc. So that is sort of where it rests at the end of the experience. And our hope and our goal with it … And Dell’s goal really, because frankly, it was Dell’s idea, it was Dell driving this project, and it’s been Dell who’s really taken it now all over the world to the U.N. and New York and further, the importance of really exposing people to the beauty, but then reminding them that we have to keep it beautiful with exposing them to the pollution towards the end of it.

ER: It’s good fun. I hope everyone can experience it at some point. If you’d like to learn more about it, you can as well go to our website and find out where the full experience will be; coming to you, near you, however it is that … I should say that if I was a movie promoter, I’d have it down, but I don’t.

AK: Coming to a theater near you.

ER: Coming to a theater near you. Coming to a … Yeah. Coming to an installation near you.

AK:  One thing that I think that’s unique, especially about our podcast is that I really try to keep the episodes evergreen. You could listen to one in October and then the same episode in July, and I think the content would still be relevant and still hold true. I’m lucky today, though, that we are recording before World Oceans Day. It’ll go out before then, but I … It’s June 8th, it’s about a month away, and just like global issues need global solutions, they also deserve some recognition. So, what is World Oceans Day?

World Oceans Day

ER: Sure. World Oceans Day is June 8th every year. It started in 1992 and it was suggested by Canada’s International Centre for Ocean Development as a way to sort of unify the chatter about ocean health and ocean conservation solutions for the issues that are plaguing our seas. For however many years, the world really has kind of come together on that day and used it as a platform to promote awareness of our ocean. And that is a really, more than anything else … Frankly, it is remarkable how few people that live A, in coastal communities, right? Which always surprises me. And then the inlets, are just unaware of how important our ocean is. Every second breath we take comes from phytoplankton in the sea. And people don’t realize that. People really do not realize that the ocean is dying and with it, we will face, as humanity, some very serious health and environmental issues in the future.

ER: So World Ocean Day really is an important platform, 24 hours, for various organizations, people, entities, etc., to draw attention to the importance of our ocean. We’re a blue planet and we need to continue to be or we will face some very serious, very scary and very trying times in the near future. We’re nearly there now.

AK: Absolutely. It’s terrifying.

ER: Yeah, it is. It is. But you know, there are … I have to say, World Oceans Day is also a really wonderful moment for those of us and people who are just simply aware of it and interested in ocean health to be inspired and to find that energy that I think drove them originally to work on this issue. Because it’s a moment when the world really does talk to one another about what it is that they’re doing, sort of celebrate the innovative solutions that have come to light in the past year, and I think champion future work as well.

Small Business Involvement with World Oceans Day

AK: How can a small business or how can a business or somebody get involved with World Oceans Day?

ER: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I would say look to your local community leaders. It’s become so well known that most cities, most states independently celebrate it, which is wonderful. And I would also say that if your city, if your local leaders aren’t aware of it; aren’t aware of the day, aren’t aware of the importance of driving awareness to the ocean and unifying the community, at one point within a global celebration, it’s your opportunity to create something new and ask them to and sit with them in developing what that looks like for your generation and the generations in your community to follow.

AK: That is some fantastic advice. Now is my favorite part. I’m going to ask you 10 questions. You don’t know what these are. You can have a few minutes or a few seconds to think about it. This segment performs really well because a lot of the content that we talk about on the show, whether it’s sustainability focused or small business focused, a lot of times we’re … have our corporate hat on, so to speak. Now it’s time to kind of take that off, take our shoes off, and I just want to learn a little bit more about you. What is your favorite vacation destination?

Q&A with Emma

ER: Tulum.

AK: What was your first job?

ER: I was a volleyball referee in junior high school.

AK: That’s amazing. You’ve been given access to a time machine; where would you travel to and why?

ER: The 1920s in New York City because I love the Gilded Age. I love everything about it. I love reading about it, I love Fitzgerald, I love it all.

AK: If you had to give up a favorite food, which would be the most difficult to give up? And I think I may know the answer.

ER: Pasta.

AK: [inaudible 00:26:44] go. What was the last movie that you saw?

ER: Oh my god, I watched Caddyshack. Sorry, that took me a moment because I don’t watch movies very often, but I watched Caddyshack recently.

AK: It’s hilarious. It’s still funny in 2018. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten?

ER: This is so corny, but I’m going to say it. I swear to you, every time I attend a beach clean up, I find a sand dollar. And I have them all over my house. I’m not kidding you, I did one a few weekends ago at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and I found a baby.

AK:That’s so cute. That’s not corny, that’s amazing. What does your morning routine look like?

ER: Hot water, lemon, answering emails, really quietly, sort of in the dark before the rest of the world wakes up.

AK: And how do you take your coffee?

ER: Ooh. With half and half. I don’t do that almond milk, I don’t do oat milk, I don’t even do two percent with half and half.

AK: What was your first concert?

ER: Backstreet Boys!

AK: Mine too.

ER: Was it?

AK: Yeah. NSYNC reunited yesterday; that was exciting.

ER: I saw that. I saw that. For their Hollywood star thing.

AK: I know. And they put out a … Okay. I could talk about that for hours. Back to the question at hand. Who is someone that you really admire and why?

ER: I really admire our executive director, Dune Ives. She’s a PhD psychologist and she uses her understanding of human nature, and in a way in which I’ve never seen someone apply sort of that understanding to environmental health ever before. I mean, it’s amazing. Again, that’s also kind of corny, but our team as a whole … I mean, Emy Kane, my colleague Lucy, Adrian, and our whole board, just really amazing people.

Conclusion & Goodbyes

AK: Emma, thank you so much. And before I let you get back to saving the world, let’s plug some stuff. First and foremost, I did my research; Daniel is playing at The Rose Room. Doors open at 8:00 in Venice on Friday. But more importantly, how can people get involved with Lonely Whale? Donations, idea submissions, all that good stuff.

 ER: Yeah, absolutely. Send me an email. We’re really … We’re that inclusive, sort of collaborative relationships. Reach out, be in touch. We want to know what our community is interested in, we want to know what they have questions on, we want to have conversation with you. I would say another really easy way to get involved with us and with the world working on and within ocean conservation issues is stop using single use plastic straws. And then attempt to stop using other single use plastics. [inaudible 00:29:40] frequent restaurants, bars, establishments in your community that are aware of the issue, and if they’re not, just chat with them about it. I think healthy conversation that drives people towards awareness while kind of putting them down a path of having a little bit of fun at the same time is always a good thing. So, yeah.

AK: Well, Emma, thank you again so much. I think we all learned a lot. I know I certainly did. And next time I’m in California, you and I will go on a hike and we will eat some spaghetti.

ER: Yes. That sounds great. Spaghetti on me.

Love The Town Haul Podcast and need more? Check out our other fascinating episodes, including our discussion with The Ocean Exchange’s Millicent Pitts, now!