Cyrill Gutsch is a man with a mission: To develop long lasting strategies and effective remedies for the crises facing the world’s oceans today. Known for his trademark glasses (he settled on them years ago after deciding it was frivolous—and wasteful—to keep buying different pairs), Gutsch is the founder of Parley for the Oceans, an organization that aims to find innovative and practical solutions to address the problems that plague our environment—over-pollution, over-fishing, and estuary deterioration. He raises awareness for his cause, one collaboration at a time.
When first stepping into the stark, white Parley offices in downtown New York, you can’t help but feel as though something is missing— many things, in fact. The look is decidely Spartan with just the bare necessities; there aren’t papers or ornaments lying around, and each object serves a clear purpose.
The office is an embodiment of Gutsch’s philosophy: Use what you need, be thoughtful and smart in your purchases, and think about the practicality and environmental impact of what you use (trust us, Gutsch knows he’s asking a lot, but he tells us “it’s easier than you think”).
Gutsch wasn’t always this way, though. Getting his start in creative marketing and consulting early on in his career, his focus was on how to make money, not how to save the oceans. However, after deciding to form his own agency and draft a rough business plan on a long haul flight, Gutsch had a chance encounter with Pamela Anderson at Art Basel Switzerland (she was wearing a Sea Shepherd t-shirt). The pair got to talking about Captain Paul Watson, a marine wildlife conservationist and environmental activist who had been arrested, trying to prevent Japanese ships from killing whales. He awaited his sentencing in Germany. Almost immediately upon hearing of his plight, Gutsch hopped a plane to Frankfurt, and Parley was born.
Since its inception in 2012, Parley for the Oceans has partnered with creative individuals and companies such as Adidas, G-Star, Pharrell Williams, and Jefferson Hack to discuss how in collaboration, they and Parley can work together to create effective solutions and raise awareness— the type of change that has staying power to profoundly impact our earth.
As it currently stands, all the coral reef ecosystems in the world will be gone by 2025. Leading environmentalists predict the end of most sea life in six to sixteen years. Most people are blissfully ignorant to these ugly truths—a fact that Gutsch is eager to change. One of his earliest supporters was artist Julian Schnabel, who was the first to step onboard by hosting the inaugural Parley for the Oceans talk. He remains a close confidante of Gutsch’s. “What brings us forward is working together with environmentalists, scientists, artists, and designers, and ideally doing stuff together. I think that’s the ultimate moment where I feel Parley makes sense,” explains Gutsch. “At our Parley talks—which are a platform where we present key people and they present their approach and ideas for their collaborations—I always have that feeling that suddenly there is something magic in the room, where the unexpected can happen. This is the recipe of Parley. It’s a stage in combination with a workshop.” Schnabel created the Parley logo, helped garner worldwide attention, and brought along many of his compatriots to join in the Parley crusade. But why now, and why the oceans? Simply put, we don’t have time to wait.
As a young boy growing up in Germany, a trip to the sea did not come often. But when Gutsch did see the ocean, its magnitude and force stayed with him his whole life. “I grew up in the mountains, in the forest, so being at the sea was something so luxurious, so special and so unknown,” he explains. “There was always a very strong desire to be at the beach and to be in the sea, to be submerged in it. It kind of cleansed me. It was always a place in my mind I could travel back to and refresh, even if I couldn’t be there so often. The oceans mean a lot for me.” Combining his love for the ocean with his mind for business, Gutsch hopes to form long lasting partnerships between creative individuals and companies in order to generate a powerful environmental message that will resonate with people. Hearing Gutsch speak about Parley is perhaps the biggest rallying cry of all. Of course, he’s aware of the challenges, but he has the ingenuity and drive to overcome those hurdles.
You can’t help but be inspired by the sheer passion with which Gutsch speaks. “Perfection kills innovation. It’s not possible [to find a perfect solution] because there are so many things happening at the same time and our knowledge is still so…what do we really know? Sometimes the biggest solutions became the biggest problem. People used to toss tires into the oceans and thought that they were creating natural reefs! They thought that it was a good way to deal with tires.”
Effective solutions that aim to repair the damage we’ve caused are what continue to drive Gutsch. In 2014, Pharell Williams unveiled the first ever denim line made from recycled ocean plastic fibers—the spring/summer 2015 G-Star 'RAW for the Oceans' collection—at a Parley hosted Ocean Night on Wall Street. In 2015, Parley partnered with Adidas on a new, innovative footwear concept: A 3D-printed Ocean Plastic shoe midsole, demonstrating how a multi-billion dollar, worldwide reaching company can contribute to the prevention of ocean plastic pollution. How does it work? The upper of the shoe is made with plastic content, retrieved from the ocean, and the midsole is 3D printed using recycled polyamide and gill net content. Adidas is also a founding partner of Parley, and is working to implement other strategies within the company, such as phasing out the use of plastic bags in stores and plastic bottles in headquarters. They are also big supporters of Parley’s comprehensive Ocean Plastic Program, A.I.R., which stands for Avoid, Intercept, and Redesign. “The thing that thrills me when I wake up in the morning is our partnership with Adidas,” says Gutsch. “Adidas was the first brand I ever worked for in my life, really. But then I didn’t work for them for a long, long time and when we started Parley and I looked at all the brands and companies I knew, I suddenly thought, ‘I want to do this with Adidas because they are true collaborators.’ They have a culture of working with all these teams and all the designers, and they’re leading in the game of collaboration. They have it in their DNA and as an organization, they’re extremely focused on innovation.” Gutsch has other plans in the works. The company already reaches out to the Maldives, Jamaica, and Palau; but in 2016, they plan to go a step further via the Parley Ocean League. Essentially, Parley will create soccer teams around the world where team members will exchange trash for uniforms and equipment. “We’re starting with kids in schools and then we’re rolling it out across the whole society. It’s really the idea to make change fun,” says Gutsch. “That’s something highly inspiring for me and I like the idea of the transformative power of sports. We’re already in arts, we’re already in fashion, we’re already in design, and now I think sports is something we really want to do. When you got to these countries, for example in the Maldives, these kids all love soccer, but they never went diving or they never went into the water. There’s a quote that I love from Cousteau, ‘People only protect what they love,’” explains Gutsch. “So we’re trying to combine something people love, something that they do, to unite them with the sea.”
The project brings together all of the elements that Parley wants to encourage around the world— a unified, universal community that seeks to protect something that people love and sustains us all. “It might sound weird, but I think beauty and soccer can change the world” says Gutsch.