Making Waves: Sustainable Projects Protecting Our Oceans

Projects worldwide are protecting vital ecosystems through innovative solutions. Explore how environmental monitoring and sustainable products are shaping a greener future for our planet.

Written by Project Management Institute • 6 June 2024


Around the globe, project professionals are leading teams that strive to protect our planet’s vital ecosystems. And companies like Ellipsis Earth and Apara Global are at the forefront of this effort. From environmental monitoring to promoting sustainable products, these initiatives illustrate the power of innovative problem-solving and the belief that every person has the power to make a difference. Join us as we explore how these efforts are shaping a greener (and bluer) future.

Ellipsis Earth: Combining environmental technology with purpose.

Ellie Mackay, founder and CEO of Ellipsis Earth and Future 50 honoree, grew up on coastlines and spent a lot of time at sea.

“I'm very connected,” Ellie explains. “I do a little scuba diving and I've always had a love of our oceans.”

This love of the natural world led her to establish Ellipsis Earth, a company focused on environmental technology and data-driven solutions to address plastic pollution.

“My background is in environmental science and particularly real-world data collection,” says Ellie. “I was working as an extreme environment specialist, going into areas that are inaccessible — flying drones in the Arctic, active volcanos and war zones — and I was seeing this simple, safe method of covering huge areas of land to capture imagery. And then on the other side I was working with AI image recognition, which increases accuracy and removes human bias and error. I combined my areas of expertise.”

Using advanced technologies like drones, satellites, vehicle cameras and more to capture images, and then utilizing artificial intelligence-powered software to map, monitor and analyze waste, Ellipsis Earth provides invaluable data to inform cleanup efforts, policy-making and preventative measures.

Based in London, the company works all over the world with staff in eight countries, current projects in 12 countries and an education platform across 16 countries.

“Working in stages, imagery is gathered and then the AI is used to identify waste. The company’s system recognizes 47 different categories of waste, such as toothbrushes, tin cans, rubber, and plastic bottles and straws. But that’s not all. Ellipsis Earth can also track diseases on trees, logging rates, the spread of seagrass and algae, soil health, coral health and more.

“If you can see it in an image, we can tag it and identify it,” says Ellie.

Each of Ellipsis Earth’s surveys generates about 2 and a half billion data points, and then deeper level analytics are performed to identify patterns. “For example, from the data points, we can inform waste management teams and they can use this information to optimize their operational efficiency,” says Ellie, “We're massively accelerating environmental data beyond or outside of the academic limitations."

Combining agile project management, AI, and big data.

Given the speed and complexity of work at Ellipsis Earth, Ellie has found that agile project management practices work best for her teams as they continuously integrate feedback and go through testing phases. “Sometimes what is actually best from a scientific perspective is not what's best from the client perspective,” she explains. “So, the agile method allowed us to respond in a quicker and more targeted way to client changes and client feedback.”

While the work Ellipsis Earth does is not focused solely on our oceans, Ellie says it all comes back to protecting them.

“I think what's interesting about the work we do is that that we don't have to be working with the oceans to have an impact on the oceans. The work that we're doing in the inner cities, in the middle of landlocked countries, will be feeding into legislation. It will be feeding into the reduction and the environmental impact. It's removing those items out of the environment and keeping them in a circular loop or eliminating them from the supply chain. And that is having a direct consequence on the health of our oceans,” says Ellie.


I think what's interesting about the work we do is that that we don't have to be working with the oceans to have an impact on the oceans.

Founder and CEO of Ellipsis Earth

Apara Global: A sustainability project that answers the call.

Ayanda Nyikana, founder and CEO of Apara Global, senior vice president rising leaders and youth ambassador, both for PMI’s South Africa Chapter, and Future 50 honoree, believes she is who is because of her community.

Ayanda explains that her hometown of Zwelitsha, South Africa, holds great significance in her life. “This small town has played an enormous part in the person I am today,” she says. “I grew up having been involved in town affiliated children’s groups, social programs and events. This positive involvement allows me to help my neighbor, the next person, to experience and build the same community experience I received.”

When visiting a school in a village not far from where she was born, Ayanda noticed a few students wearing school jerseys with no shirt. That moment led her to create Apara Global, a fashion and retail company focused on sustainability through producing clothing from recycled trash.

The company sources plastic caps from sustainable suppliers and uses eco-friendly production methods, all while supporting fair labor practices to ensure minimal environmental and societal impact. South Africa is a contributor to marine plastic pollution and thousands of tons of plastic each year are carried into the ocean. Due to this, Apara Global aligns itself with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 14.1 and 6.3, which both aim to reduce marine pollution.

“Eco-friendly fashion has become increasingly important in today's world as awareness grows about the environmental impact of the fashion industry,” explains Ayanda. “The clothing industry is one of the largest contributors to pollution, waste and water usage, making it essential for consumers to make more sustainable choices.”

Project management skills for sustainability.

Ayanda believes project management skills are essential for sustainable projects and socially responsible initiatives. She shared the key lessons that have been invaluable to her like building trust and maintaining alignment with sustainability objectives by setting clear, achievable goals that align with the company's values and mission. She also suggests implementing effective risk management to identify and address potential social, environmental, and ethical risks.

Regular measurement and evaluation of a project’s impact ensures that necessary adjustments can be made along the way to meet sustainability goals. This should be done through tracking key performance indicators, gathering stakeholder feedback, and conducting reviews.

Communication is also key. “Project managers must be able to effectively communicate with stakeholders, team members and partners to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to sustainability goals,” says Ayanda. “Clear and transparent communication can help to build trust and foster collaboration, which are essential for implementing sustainable practices in a fast-paced industry like fashion.”


Project managers must be able to effectively communicate with stakeholders, team members and partners to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to sustainability goals.

Founder and CEO of Apara Global

Building project management skills for the future.

Both Ellie and Ayanda have focused their efforts where they matter most—the next generation.

Ayanda has expanded Apara beyond fashion with the Apara Global Academy, which teaches self-awareness, project management and leadership skills to 14- to 18-year-olds and mentors them in recycling and upcycling. “One of the key benefits of mentoring young people in recycling and upcycling is the development of environmental awareness and responsibility,” she says. “By teaching them about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling materials, we can help them understand the impact of their actions on the environment and inspire them to make more sustainable choices.”

The Apara Global Foundation provides school clothing to disadvantaged children and refurbishes schools. “By refurbishing schools, we are not only promoting education and improving the quality of learning environments for students, but we are also contributing to environmental sustainability. Many schools need repair or updates to be more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly,” explains Ayanda.

Ayanda’s work has also implemented recycling programs in local communities. “By providing education and resources on proper waste management and recycling, we have been able to significantly reduce the amount of plastic and other pollutants that end up in the ocean,” she says.

Ellipsis Earth created an online education platform for real-world environmental sciences. The interactive student-led citizen program includes education courses and interactive webinars that inspire students to make changes in their schools and communities.

“They get their schools to ban plastic, to ban different materials in the school uniform, it's just amazing,” explains Ellie.

The students also learn project management skills. “It's fostering a sense of collaboration, so that hopefully when they go into the into their workplaces, whether that's a hospital or whether that's a management, consulting, a bank or wherever they already have that idea of collaborative communicative kind of reactive project management skills which they don't get in school,” Ellie says.

In the program, students plan their own research projects and perform risk assessments, create timelines and come up with strategies and group roles.

“We work with young people all around the world and we're generating an entire generation of eco warriors, ocean guardians who are so much more connected to how they can play a role,” says Ellie.

You Might Also Like…

  • Elevating Earth: Stories of Sustainable Innovation and Global Impact—The PMI Blog ǀ Read
  • Using Technology to Make a Positive Social Impact—Projectified® Podcast ǀ Listen
  • On the Front Lines With a Sustainability Project Professional—The PMI Blog | Read
  • ESG Resource Hub—Thought Leadership | Explore


Project Management Institute
Author | PMI

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