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Pro Bono Profile: Tackling Ocean Pollution for World Oceans Day

By June 7, 2019

sea turtle

Our Pro Bono Profiles series explores how nonprofits use skilled volunteers to make the most of Salesforce technology to advance their missions.

It’s agonizing to watch as the straw is yanked from the sea turtle’s nose. The dramatic YouTube video (not linked due to graphic content) has more than 35 million views and helped to spawn campaigns worldwide to ban single-use plastic straws. But, plastic straws are only a small part of the massive plastic problem plaguing the ocean.

Plastic waste is a preventable problem

Plastic Waste in Oceans is a Huge Problem That’s Getting Bigger

Located about 1,000 miles north of Hawaii, the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is the largest buildup of ocean plastic in the world. It is a broad circulatory current system that is bigger than France, Germany, and Spain combined, according to a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports. The World Economic Forum predicts there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 unless something changes.

Ocean pollution wreaks havoc on ocean wildlife. Animals often die when they mistakenly consume pieces of plastic or when they become entangled in bags and other plastic products. While plastics don’t biodegrade, they do break down into smaller particles, making them a hazard to even the smallest of sea creatures.

Once in the ocean, plastics become a magnet for pesticides, fire retardants, and other toxic pollutants. When plastics are consumed, these toxins then work their way up the food chain from the smallest organisms up through apex predators, such as sharks, polar bears, and even humans.

You Can’t Manage It if You Don’t Measure It

Doug Woodring, a former asset manager turned ocean conservationist, co-founded one of the first large-scale scientific expeditions to the North Pacific Garbage Patch in 2009. He was recognized as a U.N. Climate Hero and a Google Earth Hero for his efforts.

“This part of the ocean is one of the most remote ecosystems on earth, but every water sample we took had plastic in it,” Doug recalled. “It really was a wakeup call that the world’s got a real issue here.”

In 2010, Doug launched the Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) at the Clinton Global Initiative. Using PDP’s baseline assessment tools, companies can now methodically assess the extent of their plastic footprint and set measurable goals to reduce it, something that was difficult to do before.

Companies do have incentives to reduce their plastic waste. There are the potential cost savings of course, but there’s also the growing opportunity to engage with consumers who prefer sustainable products and services.

“Consumers are becoming much savvier,” explained Bill Robberson, a 32-year veteran of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and member of PDP’s Steering Committee. “People are starting to say, ‘Look, I don’t want all that plastic packaging.’”

Cleaning up the ocean

A Solution for Reducing Plastic Waste Is In Sight

More than 20 organizations have completed the PDP survey so far, including U.C. Berkeley, Lush Cosmetics, the San Francisco Airport, and Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels (HSH). Several organizations have used their PDP survey results to reduce the use of plastics, save money, and change the way they focus on products and materials. Take HSH, for example.

The luxury hotel brand created a single-use plastic reduction strategy based on their PDP survey results. “The issue of single-use plastics is incredibly concerning,” said Janice Lao, Director of Group Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at HSH. “The questions in the PDP guided us in understanding our impact and how we can address them.”

The company began implementing its plastics strategy in November 2018 by banning plastic straws in its operations worldwide. It plans to phase out all single-use plastics, including water bottles, packaging, and bathroom amenities by 2020.

Scaling Impact with Pro Bono

PDP was inspired by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which helps companies and cities to assess and reduce their carbon footprints. Last year, 7,000+ companies and 620+ cities completed CDP surveys on climate change, water, forests, and supply chain.

To achieve that kind of scale, PDP needed to digitize its survey tools. Previously, PDP would collect survey responses in text documents. With this method, there was no easy way to capture and compare responses across companies and industries or compare survey results over time. Doug and Bill turned to for help scaling their survey tools.

Through the Power of Us Program, PDP received 10 free Enterprise Edition Lightning CRM subscriptions. Doug and Bill then connected with Salesforce employee Mark Crafts, Industry Alliance Senior Manager, who volunteered his time and talent to get them up and running on Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP), part of Nonprofit Cloud.

Amy Oilman, Industry Alliances Director at Salesforce, also volunteered to help digitize PDP’s surveys – the key to scaling the survey’s reach. Initially, Amy planned to custom build the survey in Salesforce, but changed her mind after discussing the project with Bill and Doug.

“They really needed to focus on their mission and raising awareness of this issue, not learning how to maintain custom code,” remarked Amy. Instead, she recommended installing a pre-built solution from the AppExchange called GetFeedback. They offer an online survey solution that seamlessly integrates with Salesforce.

The 1% Pledge Movement Tackles Ocean Pollution

Amy approached GetFeedback about working together to co-develop a scalable survey solution for PDP. Just like Salesforce, GetFeedback is part of the 1% Pledge movement, donating 1% of products and 1% of employee time to charities.

“Plastic waste is a threat to the environment,” explained Craig Shull, President & GM at GetFeedback. “The PDP team is leading the charge in bringing awareness to organizations across the world and we are proud to support the team in any way.”

GetFeedback agreed to provide PDP with access to their commercial plan, 5 user licenses and 30,000 survey responses for the year. Bill and Doug also got access to GetFeedback’s product and success teams.

Hung Truong, Customer Success Manager at GetFeedback, joined Amy on the project. Like Amy, he volunteered his time and expertise to help PDP scale their survey tools.

“Growing up in California, the beach was always a big part of my life,” explained Hung. “Then a few years ago, I moved to Hawaii and grew new respect and love for the ocean. It made me realize that we need to protect our ocean waters for our future generation.”


Together, Amy and Hung installed GetFeedback in PDP’s Salesforce instance. Amy created new fields to store survey responses in Salesforce. She also set up a workflow that automatically creates Account records for organizations when they take the survey in GetFeedback. Survey responses get automatically pushed from GetFeedback to PDP’s Salesforce instance, appearing in a related list within the organization’s Account record.

Amy’s pro bono volunteer experience has been a deeply rewarding experience. “When I transitioned my career from hydrology to technology, I never dreamed that I could make a bigger impact on water quality by leveraging my Salesforce expertise,” said Amy.

With support from and GetFeedback, PDP has removed some big obstacles to scaling its impact. “By digitizing our surveys, it’s much easier for companies and organizations to participate in the surveys and easier for us to analyze data across companies and industries,” remarked Doug. “We’re reaching a tipping point where thousands of companies will be able to measure their plastic footprint and take meaningful steps to reduce plastic waste.”

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