Case study: Josephine Vermilye

Zero Plastic Waste Consultant and Sustainability YouTube Influencer

“Science is like a language you have to learn and it’s a level of academia that can be quite inaccessible. I made myself read a lot of research papers to understand the conversations around me. Now, I’m looking into studying Earth Sciences to fill the gap in my skills.”

I run a sustainability YouTube channel with a viewership of half a million people and have helped institutions including London’s Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens reduce their single-use plastic. YouTube gave me autonomy to be my own boss when I was in school. My video, ‘ten tips to reduce your waste’, went viral, launching my work as a sustainability consultant.

I hope to help build a bridge between the scientific world and the public, and to share scientists’ work, giving them space to be creative.

Creative skills in PR and communication help me talk to consumers. What if we could use the same techniques that persuade people to buy things to help them cut down on plastic? Making plastic ‘unsexy’ would be the best thing.

Developing a successful campaign is a scientific process requiring research, test groups and methodical thought. Using Google Analytics, we’ve seen that ‘health’, unlike ‘sustainability’, has remained important across many years, so changed our communications to focus on plastics’ impact on human health. More ‘green’ jobs will appear, and we’ll need a more nuanced understanding of building an audience.

My parents taught me to be a self-starter: taking charge of your own learning is so important. I went to school in Switzerland where arts are taught differently in the International Baccalaureate, so at 16 I took my education into my own hands and moved to a school in the UK.

The frivolity of fashion is inherently unsustainable, and during my gap year I realised that by studying the fashion industry I could change it. I studied Fashion PR and Communication at the London College of Fashion. While my formal education focused on the arts, I was fortunate to grow up around scientists. My school encouraged me to apply for arts degrees, but I now know I could have studied Earth or Materials Science to learn more about the science I was trying to teach myself. Now, I’m retraining in Earth Sciences and studied at Stanford for a summer.

The model of getting a degree to do one job for the rest of your life doesn’t hold anymore. I didn’t know what to do after school, but embracing the unknown allowed me to pursue entrepreneurship. I’ve hit lots of dead ends: those are major learning points. In Silicon Valley they have graveyard parties to work out why apps failed, and I do the same for my videos.