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8 minute read

Innovation Workshop: Reducing Single-Use Plastics in Business

Discover how we ran an innovation workshop with sustainability leaders to help reduce the use of single-use plastics
IMG 4394
29 August 19
  • Innovation

Earlier this year, our Creative Director, Thomas Michalak was invited to travel to Edie Live 2019, the sustainability leaders forum to facilitate a thinkathon. Edie Live is a yearly conference that focuses on empowering sustainable business. The conference drew thousands of energy and sustainability professionals from all over the country to Birmingham for two days of innovative talks and workshops. The theme for the 2 days was turning “ambition into action”. The thinkathon that Thomas facilitated, focussed on creating solutions to help consumers and businesses reduce their use of single-use plastics. Later on in this blog post we will be looking deeper into some of the groups key ideas including solutions for reducing plastic in pens, pet food packaging and plant pots.

In this blog post, we will be exploring the process of innovation and how Thomas used his facilitation skills and design thinking techniques to encourage those that attended the workshops to innovate. The techniques are similar to those that we use in our innovation workshops that we regularly run with our clients. 

The thinkathon acted like a compressed version of a design sprint. Instead of the full 5 days that would usually be used for a design sprint, the workshop was run in a day (similar to how we run our design sprint training workshop).

The Thinkathon - Part 1

In part 1 of the workshop, Thomas focused on; setting the process, understanding the big picture and identifying opportunities.



Thomas begins innovation workshops by discussing what the group are expecting from the day or session. It’s great to set expectations around what the team are looking to achieve and make sure the workshop stays on target for delivering these outcomes. Thomas asked the group if they could think about their expectations and wrote them on a whiteboard to reflect back on at the end of the session. This session would be about participants working together to develop plastic-free business models for their industries, considering barriers to achieving these. 

Agenda & process

To make sure the team understands how the session will be run and so everyone is on the same page, Thomas runs through the key design thinking principles to help spark innovative thinking. 

He also runs through the design sprint framework for actionable innovation that he will be applying during the thinkathon.

Goal setting & highlighting the issue

Set the long term goal

The ultimate goal for the thinkathon was to find a way to achieve a sustainable plastic-free future that is loved by consumers, viable to businesses and accessible to all. The group agreed to focus on brainstorming some ideas for the elimination of single-use plastics and that it is a growingly vital consideration for sustainability professionals. This section of the workshop is similar to day 1 in a design sprint in which as a team we work with clients to pick an important focus point for their business and a problem we want to solve. 

Starting at the root of the problem

The next stage in a design sprint is to map out the problem and all of the contributing components within it. Thomas prompted the thinkathon team to pick out some examples of single-use plastic that people currently use day-to-day and ask the questions; “What is the purpose of this single-use-plastic?” and “What could stop us from removing single-use plastic in those scenarios?”. It is then helpful to group all of your answers into themes/topics e.g. single-use plastic within the food industry etc. The group then focused on the priority of these themes, defined by the effort, value matrix. As we have learnt from our workshop facilitating experience, it can be tricky to size the effort and value of implementing innovative ideas, so this exercise can easily be ignored by teams. However, this exercise is vital in ensuring no time is wasted and work is focussed toward making the biggest positive impact.

Reflect & conclude

At the end of part 1 of the thinkathon Thomas asks the team if they have covered their expectations. This highlights just how much progress the group has made within the session and if there are any outstanding requirements, we can ensure these are addressed within the next part of the workshop.

The Thinkathon - Part 2 

The second part of the workshop focussed on taking advantage of opportunities, with a toolkit  for problem-solving.

Refresh & Recap

After a break away from the conversation it’s always helpful to recap on what was achieved and discussed in the previous session. Thomas re-iterated the long term goal and prioritised themes agreed by the team in the first part of the session.

Solutions & benefits

In CX workshops, we often use something called ‘future wheels’. A future wheel is a helpful technique to identify how much impact a change or update could have and if it is worth it. At the thinkathon, Thomas asked groups to pick one of the themes highlighted in part 1 of the session and write it in the middle of the wheel. Then, stemming out from the middle write what may be the outcome of that event, and so on along the stems. 

When running design sprints with clients, once the team has decided on the solution they’d like to move forward with, we use an exercise called ‘crazy eight stories’. This activity allows everyone in the sprint 8 minutes to individually sketch 8 phases of the new customer journey, before sharing their ideas with the group. The idea of this exercise is to get as many ideas as possible within a short amount of time. Once you’ve got an array of innovative thoughts on the topic, in a design sprint we ask the group to vote on their favourites before we begin to turn the designs into prototypes or minimum viable products (MVPs).

Crazy eight stories in the Edie thinkathon involved sketching out 8 different solutions or steps of a solution for eliminating single-use plastics. We had some great ideas being discussed amongst the group;


Brandprintcolour consultant Paul Horton, raised the issue of non-recyclable pens with toxic ink which are regularly used and bought globally. As a solution, Horton presented a re-fillable alternative, encouraged by community refill stations. He highlighted that a fully recycled and recyclable version of the pens, could also be sent to schools and charities to use. Then when a pen is no longer usable, they could be sent back to the producer to remake.

Pet food

As an alternative to plastic pet food packaging, a Sustainability Manager from a pet retail chain suggested using paper sacks or recyclable plastic boxes for dry pet food, which could also be re-used and re-purposed. The Manager also explained the idea of in-store return points, so that customers could return their packaging, and it would then be sent in electric vehicles to be cleaned or refilled. 

Plant pots

Environment Agency’s plastics and Sustainability Project Manager Fiona Tovey wanted to replace plant pots with reusable alternatives that you pay a deposit for and receive it back once you return them after use. Alternatively, she suggested that we could use pots made out of mushroom-proteins that biodegrade outside of industrial conditions and provide nutrients to the soil.

Reflect & conclude

At the end of the workshop, the original goals were revisited and the team reflect on their ideas, learnings and results from the thinkathon.

Thomas and our experienced team are extremely passionate about delivering bespoke customer experience focused digital products for our clients in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector. We often start with an innovation workshop or design sprint. If you are interested in our design and innovation workshops and would like to find out more, get in touch via the form below!  

You can read Edie’s blog post to find out more about the thinkathon single-use plastic solutions that the team came up with here

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