Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Anthony Newman of ape2o Is Helping To Change Our World

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Funding your start up will take a lot longer than you think — we first started looking at outside funding in 2016, it wasn’t till 2019 that we got our first investment

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Newman.

Anthony is the Founder/CEO of ape2o — water without plastic — a feel good way to get the purest bottled water on-the-go and save the environment. He has had a varied career — a Cambridge Economics Masters graduate, working in the music and then advertising industries, then building businesses in soft drinks (UK) and craft brewing (Australia), before embarking on developing ape2o since 2016. The company launched after he first saw the effect of marine plastics on sea life on the Great Barrier Reef and resolved to do something about it.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve been in the drinks industry for a long time now, having been involved in soft drinks since 2005 in the UK and starting a craft brewery family business in Australia in 2008. I suppose you could say it’s always been about all things drink related, but it wasn’t until I was living in Australia by the Great Barrier Reef and seeing beautiful sea turtles maimed and debilitated by marine plastics that I realised that I’d been part of the problem in the past, selling single use products in various containers over the years. My girlfriend and I had been invited to help build a turtle sanctuary in 2015 at an island by the reef, and it really hit home how damaging that plastic (from bottles, nets, packaging) could be, as they mistake it for food, and it messes up their insides or damages their flippers. I was looking for what to do next in my life and thought it might be possible to reverse this trend in plastics growth by coming up with a way to eradicate single use plastic water bottles. This started the ape2o journey and a lot of research in other markets around the world, before building the team and setting up in the UK, where we get through eight billion plastic water bottles each year!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

We called ourselves ape2o. This might seem a strange name, but it was inspired by the fact that we’re small, we don’t have huge resources, and we’re going to have to be inventive and dig deep to change consumer behaviour. In short, we’ll have to use “guerrilla tactics” to show that we’re “fighting back against bottled water.” “Guerrilla” became “Gorilla” which in turn became “ape2o”, because it’s fun, it’s a pun that people can figure out that links to what we do, and ultimately, we want to make people “go ape” about this plastic bottle problem and inspire them to make the change. It’s time to GO APE2O. So the funny thing is, because of our name, we became close to the plight of Gorillas in the wild and, via my very clever young cousin, Emily, who was working for The Gorilla Organisation, I got enrolled in the Great Gorilla Run a few years ago and managed to complete an 8km run through the City of London in a full head-to-toe Gorilla suit and raise £3k for the charity. Needless to say — Gorillas will be a species we will continue to try to protect alongside their sea-faring cousins.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we were helping to build the Turtle Sanctuary in 2015, it was actually one of my first dates with my girlfriend, and I managed to drop a wrench from height as I was working on the roof, and it landed on her foot nearly breaking it, leaving her bruised for weeks. So that was almost a very costly mistake! Thankfully she forgave me and moved back to England with me as we were continuing the ape2o journey and is now the mother of our little boy. I learned to be a bit more careful with tools and working at height and we can laugh about it now.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

ape2o is a certified B Corp company (which means we champion Planet and People as well as Profit), and we were recently awarded Top 5% Best of the World B Corp for our impact business model and its community impact outcomes. Our core business is all about substituting plastic bottled water with a far cheaper, circular, and philanthropic refill solution. Ultra-filtered chilled and sparkling water hygienically dispensed in high footfall public city locations for 25p a refill, 100% plastic free steel water bottles in stores/online, and 10% of all our topline sales donated to marine and freshwater conservation and clean-up projects, helping people to feel part of the solution, not the problem. We’re putting our money where our mouth is and offering the public a true choice and alternative to single use plastic bottled water.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I spend quite a lot of time checking out the way the machines are used by the public and occasionally talking to people when they want to share any thoughts. A couple of our city locations are super popular with key workers, taxi drivers, couriers, cyclists, and security guards. I’ve had some amazing conversations with people saying they love the taste of the water and the fact it’s chilled and sparkling. One such conversation was with a security guard, who said it was his daily routine to get his full two litres a day (the recommended national daily water intake) from the machine he uses. It was making his day and work so much easier. That’s a great vote of confidence. And the fact we donate to ocean clean up and conservation projects makes them feel great. The resounding feedback is why aren’t these all over London, to which I always respond, they will be soon and in cities across the UK too.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Single use plastic water bottles are a relatively new habit; they didn’t exist when I was growing up in the seventies and eighties. Now they seem so engrained in everyday life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Each one litre plastic water bottle uses 160g virgin crude oil and 100g CO2 emissions in its production. Let’s encourage people to refill when out and about and make a decision each day NOT to buy a plastic bottle, and instead carry a refillable bottle and fill up at quality water points where one can trust the quality, the taste and the hygienic dispense of that water.

1) Politicians can help by starting to set up economic incentives to encourage people to use plastic bottles less — e.g., deposit return schemes, plastic taxes, outright bans, educating about/promoting refill alternatives

2) Businesses can help by providing more alternatives to the public for getting quality water at home, in the office or on-the-go, in each key area offering better alternatives to plastic bottled water

3) Councils and communities can help by supporting and installing more refill initiatives, making refilling in the public domain safe, hygienic, and comparable if not better, than plastic bottled alternatives.

Most people do care about this planet and preserving it for future generations. Give people a credible sustainable choice (i.e., better, and cheaper than the polluting alternative) in all walks of life, and we might be surprised how keen we all are to make a switch.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is two things when thinking about a team. Firstly, it’s acknowledging, as a potential future leader, what your own strengths and weaknesses are, and therefore what sort of team you need to build to build upon those strengths and neutralise those weaknesses. Secondly, it’s ensuring that every team member gets the freedom to work to their greatest strengths, has the motivation of a well communicated corporate mission, and a vision of the future where their career path can grow with that mission. Be swift to acknowledge individual achievements and never take the credit for others, as that sets the right example for everyone in prioritising the brand mission and the team that’s making it happen.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Funding your start up will take a lot longer than you think — we first started looking at outside funding in 2016, it wasn’t till 2019 that we got our first investment

2. Having a crystal-clear mission at the start is so important — often called the “why” rather than the “what” of your business. We got lucky with this in that the business was formed around the mission, but I never fail to see how important that has been on a daily basis, even now, a few years into it.

3. Just start. Do your research of course, but once you’ve done that, just start. I can be a perfectionist and had an idea of our perfect business model and product offerings. If I hadn’t been encouraged to get our first product offering out there by founding team members, we might not have launched for a lot longer and that would have meant losing out on such valuable real-world feedback and experience. Looking back, I can see that would have been a mistake if we’d delayed any further.

4. Outside events happen and there’s nothing you can do about that. Timing is so important in business and a lot of businesses succeed or fail due to good or bad timing. Covid has knocked the world for six. What’s crucial, if you’re thinking of starting a business is the context of now and next — can your business survive and/or thrive in recession and cash crunch times?

5. It’s ok to make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes. Just learn the lessons quickly for how you can do better. Apologise if there’s someone to apologise to and communicate how you’re taking action. I think that works in business and in life. And it must be sincere right down to your soul because everyone, and most importantly you, will know if it isn’t.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We are being very singular at ape2o in our mission to eradicate single use plastic water bottles, by inspiring a refill movement that makes sense and enhances, rather than detracts from convenience and quality of life in the modern world. What would be amazing is, if, that simple decision by individuals to not buy a plastic water bottle each day, gets multiplied millions of times across the country to effect real change, and if that simple decision inspired those same individuals to remove unnecessary single-use-ANYTHING from their lives…that could scale to enormous change. And taking that one step further, if people in the UK can lead the way in the developed world by making and demanding this sort of change, then Big Business and Government will follow suit, and we might just turn the tide on waste and excess consumption plaguing the modern world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be kind and be curious.” Some of my best adventures have come from being curious, and without doubt the greatest contributor to my peace of mind comes from being kind, and the reaction that gets from the people you engage with in your life.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Sir David Attenborough. He’s been doing it right for nine decades. He’s provided a vital visual context to his passion for the Natural World, accompanied by his unique, calm voice that has inspired at least three generations all around the World. My goodness he’ll have some good stories.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please follow our ape2o journey via our socials @ape2o, sign up to our newsletter, try our water, buy our bottles, and find all our locations on Every penny you spend is contributing to solving the problem. It’s time to go ape2o!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Anthony Newman of ape2o Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.