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#AskMark – Made in Britain for the planet

#AskMark – Made in Britain for the planet

Summer’s here and the sun is out. Once again, it’s time to dig out my cricket whites and get back to the crease with a bunch of old mates.

While playing ‘dad’s cricket’, a pal of mine – a ship broker by trade – had some grim news that he wanted to share. “Things are going mad in the market and it’s going to be bad for everyone.”

Shipping prices are a pretty good early indicator of inflation and national prosperity, it turns out. And container shipping, especially from Asia, seems to have lost its mind. Where forward rates for ship hire were recently around $8,000 a day, they are now hitting a staggering $146,000. And these are prices that are locked in… for at least five years.

As someone who runs a growing SME, the intricacies of the container market had passed me by. But pandemic imports like PPE and medicines, a growth in online shopping demand and low ship availability have created a perfect storm. Or as my mate said, it means everything imported is going to get way more expensive. “The government should watch out – inflation is coming like a bullet train.”

Of course, inflation is bad for business because it forces up interest rates, hurting investment and hitting jobs. However, that wasn’t the issue that got me thinking.

At Delphis Eco we have been passionately pro-British since the off. Not in a creepy jingoistic way, but more to do with wanting to do the right thing to deliver on our environmental promise. For me, supporting local businesses supports local communities, it also means we can share our eco-vision and standards with suppliers and cut the ‘carbon miles’ of our products.

Sadly, over time Britain has become a manufacturing wasteland. There is no doubt that we have some of the brightest and best minds in this country, yet successive governments have seemingly given up on the idea of supporting companies that make ‘stuff’. The attitude seems to be that third world countries will produce cheap goods and we should just leave them to it, no matter that it means products have to come halfway round the world to us.

Recently there has been plenty of bluster about how the post-pandemic world will be a chance to ‘build back better’. A ‘green revolution’ is going to take place, with Britain at the forefront, apparently.

For our business, the lack of homegrown manufacturing capability has been a real bind. Trying to find a UK firm making lotion pumps and spray triggers for our bottles (we want them made of 100% recycled plastic, of course) has proved totally impossible. Look around your house and you’ll find virtually every one of those trigger sprays on domestic products was made in China.

It’s the same for washing powders. We’d love to get into that market and have a great recipe ready and waiting but I’d have to go to France to get it made (a 30-second phone call would do it), so still our search goes on to find a British partner.

Plastic as a raw material costs the same here as anywhere else in the world, and machine-made mass-produced items have virtually no cost of production. My big gripe is how – as a nation – we’ve got ourselves into such a state. All the small, simple consumables that we import from the Far East could easily be made here if only there was concerted political will to give SMEs a break. As a solution, why not make stuff here and do away with the crazy global supply chains on items that do not require specialist know-how?

Instead, Politicians go for headlines rather than having a joined-up approach. SMB’s make up 99% of UK companies and employ 61% of the workforce, accounting for 52% of the UK’s turnover. They love this kind of stuff and are happy to take risks but unless you are a huge company with a massive lobby budget, you’re invisible to politicians.

For example, on the green front, the recent announcements of Nissan’s decision to base future battery production for new electric models in Sunderland is undoubtably great news. But the 1,600 direct jobs it secures – plus 4,500 more in the firm’s supply chain – is just a drop in the ocean compared to what the wider business community could offer.

From an environmental perspective, people have to see the bigger picture. As a nation we’re signed up to a legal pledge to cut emissions drastically, yet the issue of carbon miles is overlooked and rarely articulated.

Offering SMEs tax incentives to invest in the UK would bring back huge amounts of manufacturing to these shores and create millions of worthwhile jobs, while simultaneously doing away with the need for wasteful, high-emissions imports. I can’t help wonder that if the government gave some kind of incentive to SMEs to invest in machine manufactured goods, we would see a huge lift in locally made products, creating jobs, supporting local communities and cutting C02 units.

It would also spark innovation, meaning businesses like ours could find someone here to make our new washing detergent and triggers for our bottles.

Unfortunately, calls such as this can often be viewed through a distorted Brexit lens. This isn’t about being ‘Little Englanders’, but more about understanding that global commerce in its current form definitely doesn’t work for the planet.

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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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The Power is ours - Vote with your wallet

The Power is ours - Vote with your wallet

I keep hearing that it’s the Government’s responsibility to fix the environment - false. Ikea didn’t wait for approval to mandate that they wouldn’t sell non-LED light bulbs. Yes they were more expensive and yes they had to take a huge hit on margin to make them more affordable for homeowners but their buying power drove manufacturers’ prices down and everybody, including the environment, is a winner.

There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean, weighing up to 269,000 tonnes. The toxic cycle of plastic-filled oceans, animal ingestion and human consumption at the top of the food chain means the effects are potentially catastrophic. We cannot wait until we face irreversible damage and the collapse of society.

It’s in our power to tell shops to have free water fountains, to tell supermarkets to relinquish fruit and vegetable packaging or to tell schools to reduce waste in kitchens. Systemic change is essential to create movements.

Our entire business model is predicated on being as environmentally friendly as possible. This means that my suppliers need to understand and live our beliefs or lose our business. It’s inspiring to know our main factory has installed a massive rainwater capture system to use in the manufacturing of our products.  Our box suppliers have worked really hard to not only provide a 100% recycled cardboard box but also to ensure that the inner liner, which is normally virgin paper for rigidity, is also 100% recycled. 

If we don’t ask, we won’t get and it’s 100% down to us.

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