How To Organize & Run a Brand Audit

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Introduction

Welcome to your guide to running a Brand Audit in your community! Thank you for taking part in this global week of action in coordination with the #breakfreefromplastic movement. This guide contains everything you need to know to organize and run a successful brand audit event where you live. Remember: we’re here to help make your event a success! If you have a question that isn’t addressed in this document, you can email us at brandaudit@storyofstuff.org.

This document was adapted from the #breakfreefromplastic Brand Audit Guide

Let’s Talk About Plastic Pollution

Before diving into the nitty gritty of organizing a brand audit near you, we wanted to review how we at The Story of Stuff Project talk about plastic pollution. It’s important that we’re on the same page with our messaging! We suggest reading or paragraphing this text to volunteers at the beginning of your event:

Much of the conversation about plastic pollution focuses on waste in the ocean – we’ve all seen the heartbreaking images of a turtle stuck in a six-pack ring or a seabird with a stomach full of plastic. And truly, what is happening to our oceans is deeply worrying – but it’s also just one part of the story.

In reality, plastic pollutes at every step – not just when it enters the environment. Plastic begins its life as fossil fuels, so when we talk about plastic, we also have to talk about the risks and consequences of fossil fuels – from fracking pollution to leaky pipelines. After the extraction step is production – and here, too, we see pollution. The plants that produce plastic and its various chemical ingredients release a variety of pollutants, poisoning the surrounding communities. What’s more, these facilities tend to be located in low-income and other marginalized communities, where people may lack the political power to fight back.

So clearly, plastic pollution isn’t just about plastic in the ocean – there’s a broad upstream impact, long before plastic gets thrown out.

What about disposal? How is plastic ending up in the ocean and the environment? Big Plastic wants us to blame individual litterbugs, or for citizens of the Global North to point the finger at countries in the Global South. In reality, countries in the developing world are being flooded with low-value plastic that can’t be recycled – much of it being produced by multinational corporations like Nestlé, Johnson & Johnson, and Unilever. And because these countries often don’t have the same type of waste collection infrastructure – like curbside trash pickup – that we enjoy in countries like the U.S., there is nowhere for that waste to end up except the environment.

What’s more, for decades countries in the Global North have been exporting their trash to Asian nations. Valuable recyclables get sorted out, but again the low- and no-value plastic gets burned or released into the environment, eventually ending up in the ocean.

In either case, the multinational corporations that produce and sell single-use, low- and no-value plastic that can’t get recycled bear ultimate responsibility for what happens to their products at the end of its life. These multinational corporations are the real litterbugs that need to be held accountable.

But despite the fact that 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year, Big Plastic plans to grow production by 40% over the next decade. We have a crisis on our hands – a crisis that is disproportionately impacting frontline communities and citizens in the Global South.

That’s why the global #breakfreefromplastic movement has developed a unified strategy to take on Big Plastic and create a future free from plastic pollution.

#breakfreefromplastic is a global movement of almost 1300 organizations with a unified strategy to end plastic pollution. One of the main pillars of that strategy is to reduce the amount of plastic being produced, with a focus on low- and no-value plastics.

First, we need to identify the products and packaging that most often ends up in the environment as plastic pollution. To do so, a #breakfreefromplastic member group based in the Philippines developed a strategy called a brand audit. Now, organizations around the world are mobilizing to conduct brand audits under the banner of the #breakfreefromplastic movement in order to create a global data set that will help us hold companies accountable for their waste.

Organizing a Brand Audit

Brand audits are an important first step in our effort to end plastic pollution. Brand audits are a way to identify the plastic that is polluting our environment, so that we can hold the original producers and distributors of that plastic waste accountable. That’s why The Story of Stuff Project and our partners in the #breakfreefromplastic movement are planning a global week of action to conduct brand audits from September 10-16. The data we generate will be used to create a comprehensive report about plastic pollution around the world, and will help steer our campaigns in the months and years ahead.

For this effort to succeed, we need Changemakers around the world to organize a brand audit in their community. Here’s what’s involved in organizing an event near you:

Plan  

Your first step is to choose a location for your brand audit. The location needs to be a public place that you are allowed to be, and where there will be waste to collect. This could be a beach, a park, or a roadway. You’ll want to check out the space before hand to make sure that it’s accessible and safe. You’ll also want to pick a meeting point for the start of the event, and consider questions like parking if it’s a place where people will be driving.

Once you’ve selected a location, set a time and date for your event. Your event should happen during the global week of action, September 10-16. We recommend setting aside 2-4 hours for the event.

After you’ve determined all the details of your event, register your brand audit with us! Use this page to let us know when and where you’re holding your event. You can enter extra information for attendees, including directions to the location and special instructions. Don’t worry about explaining what a brand audit is; we’ll include that information in the event template. However, you might want to let attendees know about any supplies you need them to bring, or how they can help make the brand audit a success.

Note that your event won’t be live right away; it needs to be approved by The Story of Stuff Project staff. This is because we want to keep an eye on where these brand audits are being organized; if we get multiple events in the same area, we’ll put both event hosts in touch with one another so that, hopefully, you can combine the events and share the work of organizing it. We might also connect you with other local environmental groups in your area.

Prepare

Once you’ve registered your brand audit with us, it’s time to prepare for the day of. Here are the supplies that you’ll need to make your event a success:

  • Print or download this how-to guide
  • Print a sign-in form
  • Print the data entry forms; use your judgement as to how many pages you need to print
  • Print copies of the material identification guide, to help volunteers identify the different types of plastic
  • Pens/pencils
  • Clipboards, or another hard surface to write on
  • Gloves to handle waste safely
  • Optional: Tongs, grabbers, or other gear that will help with waste collection
  • Trash / recycling bags to dispose of the waste you collect
  • Optional: supplies for volunteers, like snacks, water, and sunblock (if you’re not providing these, you should remind your volunteers to bring them)

Promote

Now it’s time to build your team of helpers! Start off by thinking about how many volunteers you can accommodate. The amount of trash, size of the area and equipment available should help you determine how many helpers you want joining the brand audit. Next, reach out to your networks: friends, social media networks, public forums, environmental groups, volunteer and civic groups, anything you can think of.

Think about the different groups who are connected to the issue or to the location you’re cleaning up, and which people might have an interest in joining a brand audit. Although we can’t make guarantees about the number of Story of Stuff Project supporters near you, once you’re event details are live on our page, we’ll invite our supporters to join in with your event too. We may also get in touch with you to connect you with other environmental groups or organizers in your area, who can help steer volunteers to your event. 

Running the Brand Audit

Supporting Documents

You’ve planned, prepared for, and promoted your event. Finally, it’s time to run the brand audit itself!

On the day of your event, be sure to arrive early, before volunteers start showing up. Be sure to welcome everyone and thank them for participating – this is a great opportunity to welcome new people to the movement to end plastic pollution or to grown your own network as an activist.

Start by asking people to add their details to the sign up form and then delegate roles. We suggest delegating roles around picking up trash, recording details of the trash, and documenting and spreading the buzz on social media.

Getting Started

To begin, welcome your volunteers and thank them for attending. Introduce yourself and invite everyone to do the same (if your group isn’t too large). We would also appreciate it if you would pass around a sign-in sheet. As it says on that sheet, by sharing their email address people are signing up to receive emails from The Story of Stuff Project. If you, as the event organizer, also plan to do anything with those email addresses, you need to let people know how you plan to communicate with them and obtain their consent to do so.

Next, we suggest reading or paraphrasing the “Let’s Talk About Plastic” section from this guide. This is a great opportunity to educate people about the plastic crisis, and to make sure that we as a movement remain aligned in our communications about this issue. This will also help volunteers understand what a brand audit entails and how it fits in to the broader effort to tackle plastic pollution.

Finally, describe to them how the event will run. You might split your volunteers up into two groups; have one group start collecting waste, while the other group starts collecting the data about that waste. Or, you could have your whole crew collect together then start the audit together. It’s up to you! Either way, make sure that everyone understands what is expected of them. Be sure to leave time for folks to ask questions!

Collecting waste

Your object is to collect as much litter from the area as you can. Be sure that everyone who will be handling litter is equipped with gloves and, optionally, tongs or grabbers to make their job easier and keep them from needing to touch trash with their bare hands. You should be collecting all the waste you can, whether it’s plastic or not! We want to leave these areas better than we found them.  Of course, if you find anything that is unsafe or unsanitary to handle, don’t pick it up! You can use bins or bags to hold the waste you collect until you’re ready for the next step, auditing the waste.

Recording the data

The next step is to audit the waste you collect. Start by filling in the details of your audit on the top of your data entry forms. Please complete this information on every page you use; this will help us keep that data organized. You will need to to include your name and email address (or the name and email for another coordinator of your event), the local coordinating organization (if you’re organizing with a local group), the location and area of your audit (city, region, and country as well as the area where the audit happened, such as the name of the park or beach you’re cleaning), and finally the audit type (ocean/sea coast, freshwater shoreline, on/under water, or other land).

Next, you will want to sort out all the plastic from the waste you collect; for this action, we are only recording data about plastic waste. All of the other waste you collect can be sorted into recyclable or trash – cans, glass bottles, and so on should all be recycled. Once you have separated out the plastic waste, you can start your audit. There are three data points that we aim to collect for each piece of waste:

    1. Brand – What brand is this product? It could be a Starbucks cup, a Dove shampoo bottle,
    2. Product Type – There are three options for the product type. Please be sure to stick to these categorizations so that everyone’s data around the world remains consistent:
      • Household products (“HP): detergents, cleaning products, bleach, cleaning tools, cigarette butts, textiles, etc.
      • Food packaging (“FP”): cookies, fast food, candies, sauces, ready-meals, drink bottles, etc.
      • Personal care (“PC”): soap packaging, shampoo bottles, toothpaste tubes, etc.
    3. Material Type – There are eight options for material type – see the guide.

You may not be able to identify all three data points for every item you collect. That’s OK! Just try to record as much information as possible. Each unique item that you identify should be recorded on its own line on the data sheet. If you find multiple of the same item, use the “pieces” column to keep count. If an item has multiple components of different types of plastic – like a plastic bottle and its lid, record those as two items (in this example, a bottle and lid, they would be the same brand and product type, but two different material types).

Sharing your brand audit story   

This action is a great chance to help change the conversation around plastic pollution. Together, we can work to shift the narrative about who is really responsible for plastic trash in the environment! You can help shift the conversation by sharing photos and videos of your event with us, or by tweeting at the companies responsible for producing the trash you collect. Please do not share any photos or videos of people without obtaining their consent, first! Here are some ideas for sharing your brand audit story:

  • Take photos of branded trash in the environment, or piles of branded trash. Tweet photos at the company responsible for that trash, using the hashtags #breakfreefromplastic and #isthisyours? You can use sample tweets below:
    • “Hey @brand, we found this plastic trash with your name on it in [location] – #isthisyours? Let’s #breakfreefromplastic to create a future without plastic pollution!”
    • “Hey @brand, #isthisyours? Your plastic trash is ending up in the environment and harming communities around the world. We need to #breakfreefromplastic!”
    • “This single-use plastic from @brand got used just once before ending up here in [location]. We need to #breakfreefromplastic and hold companies responsible for all the plastic trash they create.”
  • Take a photo or video of your volunteers at work! Make sure you obtain consent from people before sharing their photograph online.
  • Take a before and after photo of the area you cleaned up.
  • You can even do a short Facebook live video to tell your friends what you’re up to and why. Get in touch with us at brandaudit@storyofstuff.org if you’re looking for tips!

Dispose of the waste

When you’re finished with your event, recycle as much of the waste as you can and dispose of the rest in a trash can.

After the brand audit

Please send us:

  • The brand audit data as soon as you can, no later than 5pm on Sunday, September 16th. You can get your data to us in one of two ways:
    • Log your data as an excel file and email it to us at brandaudit@storyofstuff.org. Make sure to include the information about your audit (contact, date, location) in the body of the email or at the top of the spreadsheet
    • Scan or take a photo of your data sheets and email them to us at brandaudit@storyofstuff.org. Please make sure that your data is legible!
  • Any photos or videos that you took, indicating whether or not you got consent from the people in those photos for us to share them. By sharing photos and video with us, you are giving The Story of Stuff Project permission to republish them online on social media or elsewhere. If you want to share your photos but don’t want us to publish them, make sure to clearly indicate so.

What comes next?

Story of Stuff Project will submit the data we collect to the #breakfreefromplastic movement, which will be using it to learn more about the problem of plastics and the worst corporate offenders. Through brand audits, #breakfreefromplastic aims to hold polluting corporations accountable, drive calls for innovations in product packaging and waste management, and to bring people together to take action for a future where beach and community clean-ups are a thing of the past.

Stay tuned for the next stage of the campaign and how you can get involved. In the meantime, look up #breakfreefromplastic and #IsthisYours? On Twitter to see the other brand audits happening across the world!


Frequently Asked Questions

What’s a brand audit?

A brand audit is a tactic developed by the #breakfreefromplastic movement to understand and gather information about which brands are producing the plastic that’s filling up our planet. We’re asking individuals and groups to collect information about the brands of the trash they find during clean-ups in beaches and parks etc. to hold the biggest corporate polluters to account for their plastic footprint.

Where can I sign up to host a brand audit?

You can sign up here

When can I do it?

Many people will be doing the brand audit on 15th September as more people will be available on a Saturday, but you can do it any time between 10th – 16th September. If you want to do one before or after this date get in touch with us at brandaudit@storyofstuff.org

Where shall I do my brand audit?

Wherever you think makes most sense. The location needs to be a public place where it is safe and legal to hold your event, and where there is waste to collect. This could be a beach, a park, or a roadway. You’ll want to check out the space beforehand to make sure that it is accessible, safe, and that there is plastic trash to collect there. You’ll also want to pick a meeting point where volunteers can assemble at the start of the event, and consider questions like parting if it’s a place where people will be driving.

How much should I collect?

It’s totally up to you! You can set a limit by area, amount or time.

When do I need to return the data I collect by?

The sooner the better, and no later than 5pm Sunday 16th September

Where can I find all the documents I need for the day?

You can find them all under the ‘supporting materials’ section of this page.

How many people should I try to recruit to join in my brand audit?

The amount of trash, size of the area and equipment available should help you determine how many helpers you want joining the brand audit. It’s also worth thinking about the roles you want people to play on the day for example you might want help from people documenting the clean up with photos, social media and video to help communicate about the brand audit?

Do you want me to record unbranded trash?

We suggest collecting all the trash first and sorting it, and then recording all the data you can about the branded trash. If you want to record data about unbranded plastic trash you can do that too.

Can I do more than one?

Absolutely! Just organize them individually to avoid confusion

Don’t you think that people are responsible for littering too?

We agree that people should dispose of their waste and recycle as best they can but here’s the thing — this isn’t really about litter. Plastic pollutes at every stage of its lifecycle so the litter part is only a small part of the problem. For the most part there’s no good way to dispose of plastic; disposal typically comes down to burning it, putting it in the ground or sending it for other people to deal with.

How are Story of Stuff Project and the #breakfreefromplastic movement connected?

The Story of Stuff Project is a founding member of #breakfreefromplastic — a global movement of almost 1300 organizations worldwide tackling plastic pollution.

How can I stay involved with the campaign?

If you’ve signed up to join our live discussion or to host a brand audit we’ll keep you in the loop and will be asking for your input as the campaign develops.

How can I get in contact with the organizers if I have a question that hasn’t been answered?

Have a question that hasn’t been answered? Get in contact with us at brandaudit@storyofstuff.org