Social entrepreneurs: Innovative ideas benefit the ocean.
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Social entrepreneurs: Innovative ideas benefit the ocean.

Marisa Drew, CEO of the Impact Advisory and Finance department, Credit Suisse, in a conversation with Javier Goyeneche, founder of Ecoalf, a sustainable fashion company.

Javier Goyeneche, according to a recent study, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. What can we do to prevent this?

First of all, we have to invest in education. People need to understand how dire the situation is, and they need information. When we go into schools and tell the children about what we're doing, they get it right away. People sometimes ask, "What kind of planet do we want to leave to our children?" but the real question is: "What kind of children do we want to leave to our planet?"

How did you end up starting your company, which makes stylish clothing from recycled materials?

I started a fashion company in 1995, which I sold in 2008. After that, I wasn't really interested in the fashion business anymore. I wanted to get involved in sustainability. For two years I searched fruitlessly for a suitable project in Spain. Then I decided to create something myself by combining fashion – an industry I'm versed in – with sustainability. My son Alfredo was born around then, so I called the new company Ecoalf.

What a wonderful legacy. Help us understand your business model a little better: Which raw materials do you use to make clothing?

We recycle six different materials. Many people are not aware of how many different quality levels of plastic there are. Fishing nets, for example, are made from Nylon 6.6, the highest quality. They require only seven chemical steps to be turned from a raw material into a piece of clothing. Petroleum, for comparison, requires 17 steps to get to that state. For a down jacket, we need approximately 80 plastic bottles. Also, we work with a company in Taiwan that collects used coffee grounds, dries them and mixes them with plastic. This mix has excellent characteristics and doesn't need many chemicals. The resulting fabric is odor resistant, quick drying, and sun protective. We invest a great deal in cotton recycling, because cotton production is not very sustainable due to the tremendous amount of water required. Finally, we recycle normal wool and make flip-flops out of used truck tires.

In financial circles, there is a lot of focus on impact investing, which means investments that – along with financial returns – strive for positive social / environmental benefits.

I think it's very important for investors to find ways to both make a profit and create a positive effect when they invest money. Credit Suisse is doing some truly pioneering work in this area. All companies need money to develop, and for those that make sustainability a central component of their strategy and face the associated challenges, it is important that there are opportunities for investors to engage in long-term, targeted investing in a sustainable way.

Tell us your hope for the future.

I believe there is a good chance of saving the world. Environmental activists tell me that in field tests they have been able to restore 90 percent of sea life within five years. We should remain optimistic while also getting to work immediately. There is no alternative, no Planet B.