Pricewatch: Trying to do business the sustainable way

Companies cutting out plastic, sourcing local supplies and using natural ingredients

Gráinne Mullins from Grá Chocolates

Last summer, Glenisk brought its organic milk on a journey through time as it re-introduced old-school cartons with a cardboard spout that customers could open themselves. Gone were the plastic caps.

It was – on the surface – a simple step and one which would take many thousands of plastic caps off its production lines virtually overnight. Some customers were pleased but many more were not. They complained that they had no clue how to open the milk now that it didn’t come with the cap.

So Glenisk then had to publish opening instructions on its carton and it released a video showing people how it was done.

Anyone who grew up in a world where spouty (not an official term) milk cartons were the norm might shake their heads at the need for instructions for something so simple but the company’s commercial director Emma Walls isn’t shaking her head.

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She accepts that the move – one step in making Glenisk carbon neutral by 2022 – was necessary. She says helping people to understand how the new packaging worked was just one of many challenges the company has faced as it moves its milk away from plastic.

She points out that an emphasis on sustainability and the environment is “a massive and personal part of what the brand is”. The company’s MD and founder, Vincent Cleary, is she says, “an environmental evangelist who has been on this mission for years”.

The revamped milk and yoghurt cartons – which have also dispensed with plastic – have been facilitated by a broader acceptance across the industry of the need to do things differently.

“We don’t make pots or cartons and we have to rely on suppliers,” she says. “We have been banging on the door for a long time for more and better solutions. We are not there yet and we still have single use plastic and we don’t’ claim to be the most virtuous company in the world and we have a way to go yet.”

She says that while the company did have to deal with some negative feedback about the new milk cartons, it was a conversation worth having. “The caps are just so unnecessary on milk cartons and we have worked through issues with our customers.”

Walls says the Glenisk move will see close to 100 tonnes of plastic taken out of circulation each year but accepts that it comes at a cost to the company and to its customers. The price of its yoghurt, for example, has climbed from €2.29 to €2.49, although she stresses that Glenisk is absorbing substantially more of the cost.

It is of course not alone in wanting to do better when it comes to packaging.

Business baby

Having an epiphany after the birth of your first child is not uncommon but there aren’t many people who have used the moment when the world suddenly shifts from being largely about themselves to being almost entirely about someone else as the starting point for a new ethically focussed business.

That is what James Jardella did. Despite having spent his professional life working in consumer goods – mostly in the health and beauty arena – he realised he had absolutely no idea what chemicals he was washing his son with when he was born four years ago.

That is how his business baby, Skin Sapiens, was born. The skincare range which has recently arrived on the Irish market has fewer ingredients, details of which are listed on the bottles in a way a normal person might understand.

James Jardella of Skin Sapiens

Jardella points out that as consumers we are used to looking at the packaging on food to see how much sugar or salt or fat a product contains, and can use that information “to make informed decisions”.

“Everything we make is made with natural products and we can put the origin of every ingredient on every pack. It is certified Cosmos – the natural and organic certification for cosmetics – as are all our suppliers. We are certified with the Vegan Society,” he continues. “We don’t want to be preachy about whether or not people should be vegans but when it comes to beauty, it is about how you look and feel and no one should be suffering.”

He says when he was working for large multinational companies and selling millions of units of products to big supermarkets “not once did we have a conversation about the packaging”.

“I really believe in conscious consumerism and if we are more open, then people are able to make better choices both for their skin and their planet and that is the core of our ethos,” he says.

He acknowledges that his brand is more expensive than some alternatives found in retail outlets around Ireland but says it is not wildly so. “We want the price to be fair to a consumer. We are trying to create a solution for sustainability and if we price it too high then we are pricing it only for wealthy people, so we have tried our level best to price it at the most affordable we can based on the ideology that we want to cater for as many people as we can.”

He says one reason his products are more expensive is because his brand pays more for recycled packaging, something he describes as “bizarre”.

Jardella questions why he has to pay more for “recycled content than if we were buying fresh plastic made out of oil that has come straight out of the ground”.

He believes that across the EU – and in the UK – governments should impose taxes on “virgin plastic and that revenue should be diverted to fund recycled plastic which would make it cheaper and shift the industry in a certain way”.

His business, based in Bracknell near London, has also joined the charity 1% for the Planet. “Anyone that is part of it makes a commitment to give 1 per cent of their sales to charity irrespective of whether they are a making a profit or not. It doesn’t matter what we make, everything we sell makes a positive difference.”

‘Small steps’

Gráinne Mullins wants to make a positive difference too and not simply by making amazing chocolates. She set up Grá Chocolates at the start of the pandemic and since the beginning has put sustainability front and centre. The former pastry chef says that “having worked in restaurants I was always very conscious of waste and when I started hiring people I stressed that I wanted this to be a sustainable business”.

She managed to dispense with protective bubble wrap by sourcing delivery boxes that snugly fitted her chocolate boxes while the packaging is either recycled or recyclable. She has also ensured that all the boxes come with a magnetic clasp so they can be re-used by her customers. “They are nice boxes that people can put on their shelves to store other things. Our customers have sent us pics of our boxes with crayons and even a diabetes kit.”

Galway-based Mullins says that where possible she sources her ingredients locally and always asks her suppliers what they can do to reduce their negative impact on the environment. “We have been taking small steps from day one so we don’t have to implement something new in the future. And yes, I suppose our product is that bit more expensive but that is because we use ethical producers and always seek to have an environmental and sustainable approach.”

10 small changes you can make

While the main focus of James Jardella from Skin Sapiens is on minding his own business, he has also drawn up a list of 50 small changes he thinks everyone could do to make the world a better place and he rejects the idea that we as individuals can’t make a difference.

“If you have the whole world making small changes then the world changes,” he says. “Social movements are about lots of people getting together and saying we have a shared issue that we need to deal with. And climate change is the issue of our time.”

We don’t have room for all 50 of his small changes so here’s our top 10.

1. Think about what you're buying and the brand or company's environmental impact or contributions, whether that's replanting trees or membership of 1% for the Planet.

2. Have Meat-free Mondays and Vegan Fridays: We all know we should eat less meat but the benefit of a vegan diet is not just health based, it reduces methane and nitrous oxide production, as well as greenhouse gases and supports marine ecosystems. Even reducing consumption to two to three days a week can have a positive impact.

3. Eat locally sourced vegetables that are in season rather than imported vegetables that come with thousands of air miles and huge carbon footprints.

4. Support local suppliers and designers. They make great gifts and are often unique. Some people swear that honey from local bees helps their allergies.

5. Buy loose fruit, vegetables and produce, using your own mesh bags rather than plastic or even paper ones in store.

6. Use glass containers for leftovers or bamboo lunchboxes, but make sure you use any plastic containers that you have over and over again.

7. Forget fast fashion for a while, set yourself a challenge to go without new clothes for one month, then make it six! Swap clothes with friends and scour vintage and charity shops. Recycle or upcycle older clothes in your wardrobe too.

8. Don't automatically pop the heat on if you're a little cold, wear a jumper or cardigan, turn off the lights and electrical appliances as you go along and use LED and energy efficient lightbulbs.

9. Ideally we'd all be driving electric cars or hybrids, but in the meantime ensure your car is serviced regularly and drive carefully to lower emissions. Ensure your tyres are properly inflated to save fuel. Walk or cycle more and carpool.

10. Encourage family and friends to adopt small changes into their daily lives, campaign for better waste management in your area, contact local councils and suggest more wildlife pollinators, compost heaps, recycling and volunteer your time for street clean-ups or beach clean-ups.