Interview of the Week: Valerie Craig of the National Geographic Society

Valerie Craig is the Deputy to the Chief Scientist and VP Operating Programs for the National Geographic Society and is talking with us this week about their exciting Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge with Sky Ocean Ventures.

ODP:  The Planet or Plastic NG Magazine cover was so compelling.  What was the public reaction to it? How do you think it impacted the debate about reducing plastics?

VC:  For many, it took a few seconds to see that the cover was a plastic bag and not an iceberg, but once they realized what they were looking at, it really resonated. When it comes to the plastics problem, we really do only see a small part of a much bigger problem. Overall we’ve seen an incredibly positive reaction to the Planet or Plastic? initiative. We first launched Planet or Plastic?, our multiyear, global initiative aimed at raising awareness about the global plastic crisis and reducing the amount of plastic reaching the world’s oceans, with the release of the June 2018 National Geographic magazine. We were excited to see that the importance of the topic resonated deeply with our audience, as evidenced by the cover going viral on social media.  There were over 200 million impressions for our Planet or Plastic? content across our own social channels alone, and it was great to see the issue was also widely discussed and shared by the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Reese Witherspoon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marc Benioff, Lonely Whale, and more.

To date, we have prevented nearly 200 million single-use plastic items from reaching the ocean by asking consumers to join us in taking our Planet or Plastic? pledge. Beyond the pledge, National Geographic is continuing to leverage our award-winning storytelling, unparalleled social footprint, scientific expertise and strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations to explore the causes and impacts of plastic waste in our ocean and develop solutions to address this growing crisis.

ODP:  What are the goals of the NG Planet or Plastic initiative?

VC:  Our Planet or Plastic? initiative is a global, multi-year commitment to significantly reduce the amount of single-use plastic that reaches the ocean by raising awareness, elevating science and education, advancing innovation and inspiring action. There is an urgency that is supported by the facts:

  • Each year, 9 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean.

  • Some estimates suggest this plastic could remain in marine environments for 450 years or longer, and the problem is only getting worse.

  • This is a recent problem. Nearly half of the plastic ever made was produced in the past 15 years.

As the amount of plastic reaching the world’s oceans continues to grow, National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic? campaign asks consumers to make a choice: choose the planet over single-use plastic.

ODP:   What was the genesis of the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge with Sky Ocean Ventures?

VC:  At National Geographic, we are all about bold people and transformative ideas, and we want people everywhere to step up to help us address the world’s growing plastic waste crisis. This is why we’ve just launched the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge with Sky Ocean Ventures – a global search for alternatives to single-use plastics.

ODP:  How many winners will you select and what kind of support will they receive?  

VC:  The finalists and winners from each track will be entitled to a cut of the $500k prize purse with select winners eligible to a share of $1 million in investments from Sky Ocean Ventures. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Up to 10 finalists from the design and circular economy tracks will receive $5,000

  • Up to 4 finalists from the data visualization track will receive $2,500 (equivalent to £1930 GBP/€2205 EU)

  • The winners of the design and circular economy tracks will receive $100,000. Second place of the design and circular economy tracks will receive $45,000.

  • The winner of the Data visualization track will receive $10,000.

ODP:  Who is selecting the winners and what are the criteria?

VC:  Submissions will be reviewed by an expert judging panel, comprised of highly-qualified, diverse and credible judges with recognized expertise. We’re currently in the process of recruiting approximately 6-8 judges for each of the three Tracks. Judging of the Challenge submissions will take place in two rounds:

  1. Judging and selection of the Finalists during the week of July 8, 2019.

  2. Judging and selection of the Winners, which includes pitch sessions to the Judging Panel. All winners will be announced in December 2019.

The specific judging criteria are different for each track and can be found in our rules document about the challenge, available here. Anyone who has a good idea and can build it out is eligible — we do not require that participants meet any criteria (except 18 years or older) in order to participate — they do not have to have formal education, or work experience, or a science background — it is open to everyone, and we find that many times the best ideas come from outside the known industry experts.

ODP:  How can people register and when is the deadline?

VC:  You can participate in the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge alone, or form a team, by registering at The deadline to submit solutions is June 11, 2019. Submissions will be reviewed by our expert judges and finalists will be announced in July.

Thanks, Valerie!  Very exciting!  We look forward to hearing more about the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge this summer when the winner is announced.  

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