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Collaborate to Zero: Seep

Collaborate to Zero: Seep

How can we achieve net-zero carbon and halt the climate crisis? By working together to drive widescale, meaningful change.

To this end, Delphis CEO Mark Jankovich meets fellow eco-entrepreneurs to swap insights and inspiration. This week, we’re honoured to welcome Laura Harnett, founder of sustainable cleaning retailer, Seep.

 

Mark Jankovich: A big welcome, and thank you for being our second in the series after Toast Ale!

 

Laura Harnett: Toast was actually one of my inspirations, so this was clearly meant to be.

MJ: Excellent. Please start by telling us about your background and the story of Seep.

LH: I was a buyer, a consultant, and then I went into Selfridges as the chief of staff, but my corporate life was at odds with how I was living, the products I was using, alongside being very aware of things going on in the world, and at some point you can't live this kind of separate life. Then I was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer, and that puts a fire in your belly. I’d had the idea for Seep for quite some time and at the beginning of lockdown I decided to finally go for it.

MJ: What is the idea, in a nutshell?

LH: I believe it should be easier for people to make sustainable choices. I was in my local Waitrose and I had my recycled toilet paper and my organic food in the trolley, but then I went down the cleaning aisle – bin liners, sponges, cloths, washing-up brushes, mops, all of that bumpf – and it looked like the 1950s. There wasn't a sustainable product anywhere to be seen. I wanted to put in some innovation, to give people an alternative.

 

MJ: I think you've succeeded in that for sure, Laura. And as you say it should be easier to make better choices. What do you think businesses should be doing to drive this impact at scale?

LH: You have to keep peeling back the layers of what you've got in your supply chain, because it’s not ingrained. The guys doing our packaging and our printing, they don’t automatically think of sustainability unless you ask questions. And if they come back with a crappy answer or say, "oh, it’s biodegradable", that’s not good enough.

MJ: I hear you work with On A Mission. How are they different from the 55 million others doing carbon offsetting?

LH: They are scientists and engineers who work in reforestation. They’re very data-driven, there’s no ego, no flashy branding, just great decision-making and backup for how they choose their projects. If I feel that somebody has the same sort of ethics as me, that goes a long way.

MJ: Did they help you with your LCA, the Life-Cycle Assessment?

LH: Yeah, we’re at the early stages of doing that as part of our B Corp certification. They look at what your products are made of, how they’re made, how you're shipping them, the mileage, and then they give you a carbon footprint based on the way that you're currently sourcing. We offset three times our footprint, but the idea is that you keep the money the same, even though your footprint – hopefully – comes down, so you’re offsetting more and more over time. How have you done it? Any tips?

MJ: For us, scope one and two was easy, the hard piece is scope three. It's auditing our factories at a real deep detail. They are moving in the right direction, but I'm almost at the point of panicking about scope three and how we can draw that baseline. Because you can't say you’re going to race to zero and not know where you started.

LH: Exactly. I mean, it's really great to hear, because that's the stuff I endlessly beat myself up about, you know? How far back can we go? But knowing that even someone like you, Mark, is still worrying about that sort of thing, actually makes me feel better. If I can just chip away at it and understand where I'm at, anything that I can move forwards is a little victory.

MJ: And the whole point of this session is that it’s 100% our responsibility – 100% our responsibility! – and it winds me up that you have massive corporates that are putting their heads in the sand and saying, it’s not me! We are talking about such systemic change and you're not seeing it on a massive scale. The only one is Tesla where, at a binary level, they’ve redesigned the entire infrastructure and that's what we need. We need somebody to blow a billion dollars and be broke and be crying on the floor because he's got cars that nobody wants to buy and be within seconds of shutting down and then… make it! Everybody's now copying him, and governments are going we need to stop combustion engines!

LH: I couldn't agree more, it's the big disruptors that are prepared to challenge their industry. I'm biased, but I think Selfridges has done some really good stuff in that space. They did the ‘No More Fish in The Sea’ campaign years before it was the thing that caught on. It really comes from the top, so Alannah Western, the chairman, and the MD Anne Pitcher, they baked it into the strategy.

MJ: Alannah is a real stand-up leader.

LH: And brave. Because she said, "Look, it's going to impact our bottom line, but I believe so much in this".

MJ: What's so important about case studies and telling stories is we need to tell people that stuff is happening, things are changing, and this is the way you can behave, and they'll follow. If we can keep telling great stories and can collaborate on how we can work together, we will move the needle.

LH: If you can get people to love a brand, and an ethos, and a great looking product, and it also just happens to be sustainable, I'm good with that. A great example is Stella McCartney who, when she became a designer, said, I'm not using any animal products. Another example is Good Club. Are you listed with them?

MJ: Yes.

LH: Okay, so they’ve really thought it through from beginning to end. You get the crate that you can decant when you’re buying it loose, and they’ve made it super easy for the customer. The ethos they have on the buying side, being really clear about what they think is okay and what is not, I think that’s a real challenge to other grocery retailers.

MJ: The more I learn about them, the more I like their passion. What about your journey to getting B Corp certified? How’s that going?

LH: We are very early days, but I wanted to build Seep from the ground up in a way that was right, and I knew that B Corp was kind of a North Star that would guide me in the decision making. What works really well with me is, if I make a public statement about something, by God am I going to make sure that it happens!

MJ: I remember doing my B Corp submission. Oh, my God, that was hard yards! You know, Laura, it's amazing the overlap, because my ethos has also been, we’ve just got to do it, we've got to keep going and we've got to be true to ourselves. We have to think through all of our procurement, we have to make those better choices.

LH: Yeah, and it's tough when you're a new business, because those choices add cost. And you don't have the budget sometimes, so they're not choices that you make lightly. I think that's the hardest thing actually, how do you tread the balance of being as sustainable as you can be without killing your margin along the way?

MJ: I mean, that’s the reality of being an entrepreneur and a disrupter and delivering something completely new. I've got long-suffering shareholders who have been around for three times longer than they'd hoped, but you've just got to keep going and hope that it will come right. Last question. Where did the name come from?

 

LH: My husband's an orthopaedic surgeon and he loves an acronym. He came up with Sustainable Eco Everyday Products or something, and I thought, God, that’s naff! But then I thought, hang on a minute, it spells Seep, it’s got a lovely sound and a graphic designer would get quite excited about it. And it stuck.

MJ: That’s pretty cool. Well, thank you for taking time to talk.

LH: I mean, I have a ton more questions but they're all really practical, like plastic bottles and inks and, you know, no end of it. I’ll have to set up another time to pick your brains!

MJ: That is the point of Collaborate to Zero. I want to share what I know, my suppliers and so on, and get tips from others and kind of help push the whole thing. So, watch this space…

 

      

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Collaborate to Zero: Toast Ale

Collaborate to Zero: Toast Ale

How can we achieve net-zero carbon and halt the climate crisis? By working together to drive wide-scale, meaningful change.

To this end, Delphis CEO Mark Jankovich meets fellow eco-entrepreneurs to swap insights and inspiration. First up is Louisa Ziane, co-founder and COO of Toast Ale.

Louisa Ziane, co-founder and COO of Toast Ale.

Mark Jankovich: Welcome Louisa, thanks for finding time to talk. I’d love to start by understanding the story of Toast, where you guys came from and how you developed this amazing, sustainable approach to craft beer.

Louisa Ziane: My pleasure, Mark. We started Toast over five years ago when we saw that there was a huge problem with food waste. Did you know that in the UK, 44% of commercially made bread is discarded?

MJ: That’s appalling.

LZ: But thanks to a visit to a brewery in Belgium we learnt that the origins of brewing and baking are intertwined, because the original recipes for beer actually used a fermented grain like bread. This brewery created a delicious beer using surplus bread, creating a circular product. And we saw that we could marry the huge problem of food waste with the growing market opportunity of craft beer and create a really tasty solution. Now we dedicate our profits to a charity called Feedback, which was started by my Toast co-founder Tristram Stuart, to campaign for systemic change in the food industry. And of course, it’s also a communication tool, beer being the perfect way of starting a conversation. We know that the industrial production of food is the biggest contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss, yet we're wasting a third of everything that we produce. It's nonsensical. So it's a fun and delicious way to solve the problem, where we're not asking people to make concessions, but to value all of those natural resources and the human resources that we’re expending to produce food in the first place.

Toast Brewers Adding Bread To The Mix

MJ: Drinking beer is nearly as much fun as cleaning your bathroom, but I would say that…! My ‘ah-ha’ moment was in Italy where I saw a shop owner pour a bucket of soapy brown water into the storm drain, that literally went straight onto a crowded beach. And I realised it’s such a massive disconnect between this person who owns the shop, who wants us to shop there, but really is there because of the beach. So the question was, how can I create a cleaning product that doesn't have an impact on the environment? And then think through everything that we're doing to try and remove and reduce the environmental impact. The logic was obvious, like making beer from discarded bread, but the tricky bit has been telling the story and getting people to come on the journey and that took a lot longer than I thought. But there are lots of similarities around there being a fundamental need to be more sustainable and then delivering a product and a solution. How was your journey to becoming B Corp certified?

LZ: I was previously a climate change consultant at the Carbon Trust and before that I did a master's in environmental sciences, so I’ve known about the movement for quite some time. And when we started Toast, I saw some really interesting brands that were engaging with it, for example my daughter was six months old, so I was using Ella's Kitchen products. Ben and Jerry's is another B Corp. It was then connecting the dots between these fantastic brands and this greater purpose that maybe I hadn't been aware of as a consumer. I did the B Corp impact assessment just to see what it was all about and it opened my eyes to the fact that, yes, we're a fantastic environmental business, but there's still a lot more that we could do. I used the assessment as a framework to help me build a responsible business and our environmental mission, then it was a natural step to then go through the certification process. And it was the most wonderful experience for me, because I love everything about B Corp.

MJ: Yeah, I mean, we get asked every day to join some form of eco club. When we started there were none so am delighted that others are now on the journey, but I'm quite strict on sticking with very few and sticking with the best. And B Corp, I think, arguably is the toughest. From a provenance perspective, very few companies have it. There are a lot of massive competitors of ours who can't get it. We've got high-level product endorsement and at the corporate level B Corp arguably is the best or the toughest to achieve in that respect. My key driver with any club is collaboration and conversation, and B Corp make all of the members do the work, which is genius. We're having conversations with people and then we feed back to B Corp, but it works for us because it enables us to have strong conversations with people we wouldn't ordinarily have. And that’s the only way we’ll get to net zero carbon, don’t you think?

LZ: It's going to be very challenging. It requires partnerships, not just between businesses, but with government and civil society as well. You know, we all have a role to play and I think the structural changes that are required are huge. More than we've experienced over the last year with the lockdowns. But I saw in the news this morning that the UK reported that we're 50% of the way there to our target. And we're seeing some other countries switching away from fossil fuels. China is making a huge investment in wind, for example. And we've also seen the investment community moving away from investment in the old structures. I think all the players are there, the people in organisations that want to make this happen, and we've set these ambitious targets. It will be interesting to see what happens at COP26, whether we and other countries go with ambitious enough plans. So I'm hopeful, but the scale of the challenge is not to be underestimated.

MJ: We're going to get there, but it's either going to be collaborative or incredibly painful. I mean, it's going to be painful whichever way we look at it, but we're going to get there. But I think, to your point, the level of disruption is something that nobody is currently thinking about. And I think that's where conversations like this are super important because we are going to need to disrupt so fundamentally everything that we think about

LZ: Yes, there's a huge element of behaviour change to overcome. For example, one of the reasons there is so much bread waste is that supermarkets purposefully fully stock their shelves to create a feeling of abundance and luxury when you shop. And then the bread is fresh daily, usually, which creates so much surplus. A lot of it goes to charities, but some of those charities have too much bread. I don't know if you know the app OLIO?

MJ: Yes.

LZ: Where people go and they actually collect food direct from supermarkets and other retailers and then they distribute it to the neighbourhood? There's always bread on there because there's so much of it. And it's a short shelf-life product. Often charities have to turn it away or they end up with a waste problem and cost for themselves. So we have to incentivise the reduction of overproduction in the first place, as well as incentivising the use of that waste, you know, shaming some of these companies and working with them to re-educate, to change people's expectations of how we buy our food.

MJ: Absolutely. The way we operate businesses, the supply chain, the way we consume, the entire infrastructure and framework needs to be completely unravelled and re-woven, to orient it to a new way of doing things.

LZ: Exactly.

MJ: Last question. As a consumer, what could I be doing differently to make more sustainable choices? Besides drinking lots of Toast ale, of course?

LZ: I would say, don't feel like you have to be perfect. Don't feel like you have to fix everything in your life, focus on one thing. For example, you can can look at one room in your house. What’s under the kitchen sink? What are my cleaning products? Replace one at a time and find what works for you. Think about what interests you, like fashion, then find out what brands are doing something, like looking at alternative materials. Or if you're a real foodie, focus on where your food’s coming from and what changes you can make. Everything needs to change, but each of us individually doesn't need to change everything all in one go.

MJ: Wise words. Thank you, Louisa, and all the best with Toast.

LZ: Thank you, Mark.

To summarise, green businesses must do more networking and showcasing of best practice so we can learn from each other and drive scale change. And as consumers, we have the power to move the needle, from deciding what cleaning products and beer to buy, to how products are packaged and so on, it has a massive ripple effect.

   

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