15 minutes with: Tony Perrotta

Tony Perrotta

By Tony Perrotta

Our experts are at the forefront of bringing ingenuity to life for our clients. They accelerate new growth ideas from concept, through design and development to commercial success. And they revitalise organisations with the leadership, culture, systems and processes to make innovation a reality.

In this series, you’ll meet some of the brilliant minds creating change every day.

Tony Perrotta
Tony Perrotta, a sustainability and regenerative economy expert at PA, is helping clients around the world get to net zero and beyond.

What is your background and how did you come to PA?

My background is a little unique for PA – I’m not a consultant by trade. My background is in sales leadership, revenue mapping, market narrative – very traditional business development, but always with a keen eye towards sustainability and the regenerative economy. Prior to joining PA, I ran sales for a company called Plastic Bank. It was a super interesting, disruptive business model. In essence, Plastic Bank worked with impoverished communities around the world to invite them to use plastic waste as a currency to buy food, Wi-Fi, medical attention, and school tuition. We operated in some of the world’s toughest economies – the Philippines, Indonesia, Haiti, Brazil, and Egypt – doing amazing, purposeful, mission-driven work.

As fulfilling as it was, I came to realise that we weren’t tackling the source of the problem. We weren’t stopping the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean or into those communities. At the same time, a close colleague of mine, Jamie Stone, said I should take a look at the unique work PA was doing around the root cause of the challenge to really make an impact. I met with some of the team at PA and I decided, you know what, there’s something here.

At PA, my focus is sustainability and the regenerative economy, helping clients around the world get to net zero but hopefully, and more importantly, beyond net zero. What that looks like day-to-day is co-leading our proposition around Dry Molded Fiber, which is a technology called PulPac that we’re driving in a number of ways.

What makes PA different?

The thing about PA is the fact that we actually roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. PA’s ability to apply critical strategic thought to achieve real-world implications was the missing ingredient I was looking for. PA has deep pedigree in material science, design, engineering, and that was really critical for me.

How would you explain your role to someone who might not have heard of the ‘regenerative economy’?

I would typically describe my role as sustainability, as it’s a concept most folks readily understand. But, if I’m honest, I think sustainability is a misnomer. First, I’m deeply of the opinion that sustainability in its current sense is not appropriate or future-fit. None of us want to sustain the activities that have been going on. There are enormous schools of thought, particularly in the scientific community, that suggest net zero will not be enough at this point. We now need to go beyond net zero, and really bring a beneficial impact to our participation in the economy. Regenerative economy is critical, and differs from the circular economy. The circular economy is an appropriate and acceptable next step, but I don’t think it’s the final destination by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a complex and difficult idea to bring to life, hence the excitement at being part of PA where we bring our significant strength to really tackle that challenge.

Tony Perrotta

How has your work has changed in recent years?

A big thing for me is radical ownership. We all have outcomes we want to achieve that can be attained faster by taking radical ownership of the entire problem. An example is the work we do with PulPac. Typically, we engage with a brand, understand the brand’s needs, and then find a solution. In a radical ownership sales approach, we engage with the brand but also their suppliers, technology owners, and the larger ecosystem – both upstream and downstream. Yes, it’s more complex, but it’s much more resonant and impactful when done correctly, and moves the needle faster.

A second change is a new view of collaboration. As anyone who’s paid attention to the UN Sustainable Development Goals or climate conferences knows, collaboration constantly comes up to the point where we’ve gotten fatigue. People talk about the work that should be done, but how do we actually do it? PA has taken this notion of collaboration – or a ‘collaboratory’, if you will – to the PulPac Blister Pack Collective and Bottle Collective.

We’ve identified significant global challenges that are too large for any single organisation to tackle alone, and brought multiple stakeholders together to attack the problem with a shared mission and purpose.”

Make no mistake, we’re not the first to consider a collective or a coalition, but our approach is different. Most coalitions are loosely or rigorously formed of organisations in the hope that someone acts as project manager. In our PulPac Collectives, PulPac is the technology owner and inventor, while PA, with our rich legacy of 80-plus years of rigor and discipline across complex challenges, is the driving force at the centre. We collect insight and feedback from all Collective members, allowing us to take a scientific approach to the problem.

Tony Perrotta

How does ingenuity come through in your work?

It’s a combination of things. It’s thinking differently, or laterally, if that’s your preferred term. It goes beyond not being afraid of complex systems-based challenges to actually running towards them. What I’ve been incredibly proud and excited to see at the Global Innovation and Technology Centre, within our PulPac teams, and across PA generally, is immense passion and curiosity around complex problems. I don’t know many organisations with that appetite, or teams that get quite the joy that we do.

Which project are you most proud of?

PA’s work with PulPac was a product of curiosity and a drive to solve complex challenges. Phil Fawcus and some others at PA became aware of PulPac, and, pre-empting client questions about the move away from plastics, they realised PulPac was a unique solution to offer to the world. Dry Molded Fiber seems to be one of the very few solutions that we can commercially scale, with speed, to work at a feasibility level that goes beyond the lab level. It can reach industrial scale at the speed and cost to enable more broader commercialisation. There aren’t a lot of other technologies that can do that. Examples would include applications like lateral flow and diagnostic kits and helping fuel a refill system in the beauty industry. Plus, as part of the PA and PulPac Bottle Collective, we’ve teamed up with global drinks leader Diageo and others to pioneer a Dry Molded Fiber (DMF) paper bottle made from sustainably sourced plant fibers.

What’s exciting you at the moment within the area of regenerative economy?

Once the world achieves clean, abundant, cheap energy, that will be the lever that enables vast change around the world. It will unlock the ability to solve weather crises, provide potable water that makes it possible to feed the world, and help address everything from nutrition deficiency challenges to fuel better global literacy.

In my mind, clean, cheap, accessible energy is truly the lever that will move the world.”
Tony Perrotta

What advice would you give to somebody who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

I was blessed early on with mentors, both formal and informal, who taught me to model my career and life on the key challenges I really wanted to solve. We all have different answers, and there’s a beauty in that. For me it was the issue of sustainability and plastic pollution, and the provision of clean, affordable energy to enhance literacy and education around the world. These challenges are so bold, and so large, that they allow us as individuals to evolve into them. We all have to become different people in order to participate in the solution, and that’s a natural way to grow.

One piece of advice I’d offer to anyone in any career is that we’re all in sales. So, learn how to communicate, how to present, and how to engage with individuals. Learn how to craft narrative. Learn how to convey complex messages in a simple way. This is a skillset that will continually pay dividends.

Another tip is to find a way to constantly add value to your clients, your team, your leadership, your family, and your community. Any time you add value, value flows back in kind.”

That’s been a keystone for me in my career, and one that I’ve only recently given proper due.

What are your goals for the future?

We talk about work life balance, but there are some different schools of thought on what that actually means. A personal goal is for me is to be present, and take those holidays in a scheduled way. That’s a key personal goal. From a professional standpoint, we are here in 2024 on the precipice of massive change in the joint multi-fiber business. This is the year for us to demonstrate in the market that yes, this technology works and will continue to flourish. But when we miss things, we’ll need to go back to the drawing board. So, I’m exhilarated and exhausted at the same time for what’s ahead. I think the next six to eight months will be absolutely critical.

About the authors

Tony Perrotta
Tony Perrotta PA sustainability and regenerative economy expert

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