For every piece of clothing it sells, the Philadelphia company, United by Blue, pledges to remove a pound of trash from oceans, rivers and creeks.
Volunteers and company employees keep that promise by descending upon temporary garbage dumps that contain just about everything you’d find in a typical landfill. But instead of the trash being properly disposed of, it had been a part of the six billion kilos of waste that pollute the ocean each year.
“The potential for that getting into the food chain and that polluting fish and ultimately us for eating fish is a big issue,” says Brian Linton, who has always been passionate about the ocean.
When he founded United By Blue in 2010, he decided his clothing company would make clean water its focus. For every item sold, he has pledged to remove a pound of trash - half a kilo - from rivers, oceans and other waterways.
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“Doing something that matters is going to make our business successful and the environmental initiatives that we have successful,” he says.
United By Blue makes a statement about both fashion and the environment. Linton believes the world is connected by the oceans and his company lives up to its name by holding one or two cleanups every week each summer, using employees and recruiting volunteers.
“I think these cleanups can make a big change, and if you have enough of them, then it can make a big difference to people,” says Ally Canestri, a cleanup volunteer.
That’s true for Nick Tannahill, who’s on his second cleanup with his college fraternity and they plan to keep coming back.
“With any cleanup, really, it’s just hanging out with my brothers," Tannahill says. "Because we’re not at school, we don’t have to worry about work, we’re just doing something that we know is right, helping the community.”
This United by Blue t-shirt, as seen on the company's website, sells for $34. (Courtesy United by Blue)
The 60 cleanups United By Blue held last summer removed more than 36,000 kilos of trash.
“It’s really important for us to clean the waterways, the riverbanks and the shores that are close to where we live because it’s that last chance we have to grab that trash before it makes its way up to the ocean,” says employee Alli Blum, who believes protecting the ocean is a community responsibility.
United By Blue spends between $2,000 and $5,000 on each clean-up, which includes salaries for employees, food and beverage for all the helpers and disposal costs for the trash they collect.
Jaine Lucas, who heads the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute at Temple University, says the cleanups add value to United By Blue clothing.
“A lot of people will do that type of thing simply as a marketing ploy," she says. "And where Brian has been very successful is that his passion for oceans and water conservation has been sincere and very authentic to him.”
And to Linton, that means being more than another company that sells T-shirts.