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MASCULINITY IS NOT a concept one associates with eco-consciousness. But in an era of climate change, #MeToo, and widening social and wealth inequalities, responsible men everywhere have had to ask themselves where they stand on these issues.
For Tom Peacock-Nazil, the answers were obvious: “The modern man is open-minded and socially-aware. He gives back to his community. He treats women as equals.”
In July 2018, Mr Peacock-Nazil took the unusual step of leaving a well-paying job in finance to found a Singapore social enterprise that combats ocean pollution. The 31-year-old Briton, who has an English mother and a Malay father, is aware of the irony of his career change. In the early 2010s, he had worked for the oil-and-gas industry, a major culprit of environmental pollution, before moving to finance.
He says: “When I was a boy, I would wake up at 5am to watch all these TV documentaries on wildlife. I was dead set on becoming a zoologist or a marine biologist. But the system I grew up in pushes boys onto certain paths, such as business and marketing, which promises high pay and the good life. So I pursued International Business Studies in university, and joined the business world upon graduation.”
However, Mr Peacock says he was “never happy” and “always felt there was something missing” in his life.
MEETING A UNICORN
In early 2018, he was vacationing with his then-fiancee (now wife) in the beautiful Thai island of Ko Lipe, famous for its coral-rich waters and pristine beaches. During the night, a storm washed up over a tonne of plastic waste onto the beach, shocking everyone the morning after.
“The island looked like a disaster area. I was horrified. It was then that I realised how incredibly polluted our seas are. And I knew what I needed to do.”
Returning to Singapore, he founded a non-profit organisation called Seven Clean Seas to organise beach clean-ups. The first effort attracted 38 people and took place at the Tanah Merah beach next to the ferry terminal. The second effort attracted 180 people, the third 350. The movement kept growing, until he came upon a second realisation.
“If we could find a commercial way to clean the oceans, then we could allow capitalism to take over and make it profitable for many people to engage in this activity. To us, this is essential in helping to tackle the problem on a global scale.”
A stroke of serendipity arrived in the form of, well, a vegan condom company based in Berlin called Einhorn (meaning “Unicorn” in German). Einhorn condoms are made from natural rubber latex from Malaysia and wrapped in 100 percent recyclable paper. But parts of their packaging are necessarily made of plastic. So the company wants to offset its plastic use by removing the same amount of plastic from the ocean.
Because Einhorn was willing to pay Seven Clean Seas to achieve its goal of plastic neutrality, Mr Peacock-Nazil realised he could persuade other companies to engage Seven Clean Seas’ services too in their CSR efforts. He registered Seven Clean Seas as a for-profit social enterprise and left his job in finance.
“All of a sudden, we started finding companies who would pay us to remove 10 tonnes of plastic in one go. And that's a huge amount of capital which we can then use to grow the business,” he says.
“Because what we're doing is quite cutting-edge, we’ve found a lot of other companies who want to offer us grants. Right now, we're working with some of the world's biggest hoteliers and technology companies who want to fund different bits of our projects through grants. And that’s just amazing.”
Seven Clean Seas has now carried out beach cleaning in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil and the UK. It has mobilised over 3,800 volunteers and recovered over 50,000 kg of plastic – a number that is rising every week. Mr Peacock-Nazil and his team have also found funding to develop an efficient system of scooping up plastic from rivers before the plastics get into the ocean.
Looking back on his journey, he says: “It's so strange for me to see how I've gone full circle. Examining environmentalism and sustainability started off as a hobby, but it has now become my life. And I can't imagine ever going back.
“I think that if I'd listened to myself when I was a boy, I would have gone down the path of zoology or marine biology – instead of working in oil-and-gas servicing and finance... But here I am, having refound myself, and I can now undo some of the damage I’ve done in the past.”
Similarly, other organisations are taking steps towards creating positive change. When Mr Peacock-Nazil discovered the Zegna #WHATMAKESAMAN campaign, he instantly wanted to participate. He admires the brand for taking the bold step of helping men rethink age-old notions of masculinity – on top of the brand’s commitment to sustainability through waste reduction, upcycling and other processes.
On the subject of masculinity, he says: “Some men listen to the global discourse on masculinity and think: ‘Oh no, they’re trying to take my masculinity away. They’re trying to disarm me in some way.’ But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“What many people want to do is to just remove the toxic aspects of masculinity from our culture. What that means is that you can still be masculine in so many areas – but you also have to look after the planet, be fair to women and other men, and give back to the world. If we can all do that, masculinity can be better than it has ever been.”
Seven Clean Seas welcome corporations to contact it for CSR partnerships and plastic-offsetting solutions. E-mail email@example.com