Brianne West - Founder - Ethique
YOU CAN LISTEN TO OUR CHAT WITH BRIANNE BY CLICKING HERE.
Brianne West is the living breathing example of a Kiwi who's taken science and pushed through the barriers of commercialism to deliver a range of products to the market that are authentically good for humankind and the planet.
Founder of Ethique, one of the world’s first solid shampoo bars, Brianne was driven by her passion for the planet by removing the traditional plastic bottle and creating a zero-waste bar of shampoo that does just that and leaves no mark on the planet. From humble beginnings, Ethique is now across 26 countries with huge growth plans. Brianne wears many hats - Scientist, Change Maker and Leader - to take us into the world of tomorrow were plastic and single use is no more.
She's been able to change the habits of hundreds of thousands of people and with competitive products coming to play, she's always one step ahead. anticipating new trends in the area of sustainability.
She's already saved 20 million bottles from landfill. In recent years, sustainability has been a big driver in businesses and as a front runner in leading change, Brianne and her team are incredibly inspiring to be around. It poses the question though, with all the positive changes that have happened over the last 10 to 15 years, what does tomorrow's world really look like?
So, Brianne, you've achieved so much in such a short space of time. When you eliminate 20 million plastic bottles, that is serious proof that you're a massive change maker. That's a lot of people who have changed their habits. Can you tell us more about how you got so many of us to use shampoo bars and change our beauty habits? What's your secret? Was it a conscious decision when you started?
If you make it easy to do something good, you're far more likely to have that success to change habits. So way back when we started we knew these products had to be as good as, if not better than the leading liquid alternative that was number one.
Alongside all the sustainability and regenerative decisions the products had to be amazing. And really, that is a massively understated point of importance for Ethique, because there are plenty of competitors out there, as you mentioned, but we stand out because our products are really good and that has created the fact that people want to use them and therefore they want to change because the underlying story of it.
You rid the world of plastic bottles and you support a company that makes all these other good decisions such as fair trade and so on. That's a bonus, but people aren't going to buy your product for that reason. Well, the vast majority of people aren't going to.
You have to be producing a product that's functionally sound, don't you?
You do and there's this belief that environmentally friendly products are rubbish because years ago they weren't fab, let's be honest. Now they're a lot better.
So, thinking about change, we're all starting to make small habit changes in the way we operate in a day to day for example I stopped using cling film years ago and using less single use items and so forth. On top of that, you see governments adding bans on plastic implementing more green initiatives. Once we have implemented the changes we're setting in motion now, what do you see as the next wave of changes in households or for people that we're going to focus on?
It's almost like we're going to take a step back. So, convenience culture has been largely where this issue has developed from, because single use stuff is handy to have. I totally get it. And, there is a wave of innovation in creating compostable single use products, so compostable plastics, which obviously have an absolute plethora of downsides. There's some interesting development in terms of seaweed, (whether that is potentially an actual biodegradable home compostable product), and there are some home compostable products out there, right? But I think people are going to take a step back and say, single use is not the convenience that I think it is.
It's convenient for me here in the moment, but where is it when I throw it away? That is still a resource and people are beginning to understand the supply chain and the resources associated with the products they use and buy.
If you really don't need it, don't buy it. With some single use products, you need them in certain situations. The medical field, for example. We’re probably never going to get rid of single use plastic in the medical field, and that's fine. But you don't need a sandwich bag. There are plenty of reusable options.
So, you've always been on the forefront of trends and anticipated and created changes. Based on your experience what you see in your own networks are there new trends that are coming either in terms of products or habits, or even a new way of thinking that we should be looking out for? And can you tell us a little bit about your thoughts on this?
I don't think you can avoid the rise of impact driven business. No longer is it acceptable to most consumers that a business simply sells something, and doesn't worry about where it came from or where it's going at the end of its life. Now I think 86% of consumers expect a company to be working to resolve social and environmental problems, and I know a whole lot of people think of businesses sole purpose is to make profit. Consumers no longer agree with you.
And if you don't have a purpose beyond making money as a business, I don't believe you're going to survive the next decade, two decades because consumers are demanding better and beyond that, they're also demanding transparency. So not only are you saying, oh, we're going to plant a million trees, (and I'm not talking about a certain car company at all), but they want you to show that it's actually doing good and to show they're actually doing it, and that is a trend that's not going anywhere, I guess.
So therefore it's not a trend. It’s a movement. The idea that business has to be better than just selling product. I have always believed that business will create faster positive change if employed in the right direction.
I think you're right. There’s an expectation from consumers now you've actually got to be doing something good and the money will come down the track.
Well purposeful businesses are more profitable, they grow faster, they last longer and they foster more customer loyalty AND they keep their team for longer.
And so in tomorrow's world what do you see are the habits being that perhaps we either a.) don't think about today or b.) today perceive absolutely unthinkable to change, and I'm thinking in terms of the way we consume. It could be mental health, it could be a diet or a whole range of other things.
I think it'll be a whole range of things in certain countries around the world. It is incredibly commonplace to use disposable products such as paper plates for your everyday meals whilst you're in your home and that is madness to me, but it is a cultural thing that is quite common.
So those are the sorts of things I expect in 10 years, but simply won't be done because we will understand the waste that it is causing and the resources that it is using.
You can’t ignore the rise in plant based diets. Not just going vegan, but actually using meat substitutes or dairy substitutes made from pea protein. Or, cell culture meats which is certainly very interesting. I am obsessed with impossible burgers. I do not know why, but I think it's because it's mostly made of potato.
I think you will start to see people being really conscious with what they use, eat, buy, make and again it will come back to this rise of consumers demanding better.
So, looking back over the last 20 to 30 years, you see international brands like The Body Shop.
I was absolutely obsessed with Anita Roddick back in the day. They placed ethics at the absolute core, the absolute heart of everything that they did or all that they do, and but at the time they were an absolute anomaly, weren’t they?
So, in the future more businesses I think will place significant emphasis on sustainability not only as a differentiator but actually as a purpose.
We've already seen this with a number of green startups, those focused on creating environmental change while also turning a profit. As a leader of change, how do you see sustainability as an actual business model? And I know you've just touched on that, but around things like B Corp certification for example. Is it going to be a norm or an expectation from people for all companies to be B Corp certified?
I think in 2015 and we were the second company in New Zealand to become B Corp certified which was great. It was hard, but it was worth doing. It actually set in stone a lot of the foundation values at Ethique because it quantified things. So, our 2% of sales or 20% of profit which we donate to charity and have done since then because that what B Corp said was a good thing to do.
That was better than average, and it's a good number, so that's why we stuck with that and B Corp helps companies make good decisions. Now there are hundreds of companies across New Zealand and Australia that are certified B Corp.
So that shows you the growth in, again, purpose led business and that was driven by consumers, but also by those businesses being started and run by people who care. Businesses who actually give a damn and that is very exciting. You cannot deny the change in just demanding better. So, more sustainability certifications are demanded but also more robust ones. There's a lot of ones out there that are grey, shall we say, with limited standards, but those are getting more robust as people go along. People learn more. People understand more about it. People are more inclined to set higher standards and do better anyway.
With circular economy being such a thing that a lot of governments are talking about at the moment,
when does that become a natural household word? Do people think about circular economy when they're purchasing and consumerism? How are you seeing circular economy both in the way you operate Ethique, but also in the way that you see some of your customers demanding and the trends you're seeing?
I only heard about the term circular economy, probably two or three years ago, and Ethique by definition is circular because everything we produce whilst we won't reuse it, (our packaging is not reusable but I guess you could use it to plant something), it is literally compostable, so it recirculates those nutrients for other organisms to use to grow.
That's the whole point, and I think a lot of organisations could make themselves much more circular with very little impact if they thought about their packaging. But I also kind of have a slight issue with the way circular economy is defined. Well, not defined, but the way some organisations implement it, because again, they only look at the end user. The problem is no one looks at supply chain and that is a really common thing as supply chains are really dirty, wasteful and incredibly unethical.
But it’s least marketable so people don't talk about it as much. But if we were just looking at packaging in theory, if a company produces products that are entirely packaged, they're in biodegradable and entirely packaged in recyclable plastic in theory, you've got a circular product. You don't because of the problem we have with recycling in general and the fact that it's way under resourced for where we need it to be, so really we need to be turning off the tap rather than just trying to recycle it. We have enough plastic on earth that we never need to make anymore, ever.
So, if you as a business are wanting to implement more circular techniques there are some great resources out there and sustainable business networkers, great courses, great learnings to help. But certainly the first thing I would look at would be packaging. How can you make that better? And I know a lot of organizations like all will be recyclable by 2030. Honestly, I think that's a cop out. Do it faster.
Do it now. We don't have time to wait.
Our Beauty Kitchen in the UK actually are a good example of a company trying to implement as much circularity as possible. They have aluminium bottles in a lot of situations, vastly superior to plastic. However, a lot more resource heavy, so you have to reuse it and recycle it.
But they also have solid products, so they have more compostable packaging and they are partnering with a lot of retailers to create that refill. So, they are tackling circularity from a variety of standpoints, but I guess thinking about it circular economy is not a new notion at all.
Reduce, reuse, recycle, which you know, we've all seen the symbol that is literally a circularity objective.
That is circularity with a different name. So, we all know about it, we all know what it is and it makes perfect sense. The Earth is a closed system, we only have a finite amount of resources.
We are running out of rare earth minerals to make phones and if I was focused on (and again, with my limited knowledge about those sorts of things), I would think we really need to focus on E Recycling.
I mean, I don't know about you, but when I was in my late teens and early 20s I was obsessed with every time there's a new phone I would go and buy it. Now, I don't give a toss. But unfortunately, their attitudes are very prevalent. You don't need a new phone, and what do you do with your old one?
I used to have a drawer full of old ones and I've sent to recycle them, but it's actually not common to do so. Those are the sorts of things we need to be working on more so than refillable products.
Is it companies that are responsible to push these new habits out, or is it the consumer that's responsible for changing themselves and making the changes themselves?
It's real chicken and egg. Businesses are responsible for the waste they produce, the emissions they create for everything. They need to be held accountable. They need to hold themselves accountable.
But consumers can do that and consumers have all the power in the world to go and ensure brands do better. So, it's not consumers obligation to fix it because they didn't break it. Businesses did, but businesses aren't going to necessarily hold themselves to account, so consumers need to do that.
Yeah, that really resonates with me. You personally, because you're sort of considered one of the leaders of change in terms of sustainability in New Zealand, do you look towards or have an icon or a person that you looked to as a real leader in change or leader in sustainability worldwide, a person or a company that you aspire to?
Patagonia. Honestly, they're not even perfect and people don't understand why I say Patagonia, but Patagonia are honest and transparent. They do so much good. They support activist groups. They produce a product and not all of those products are circular because they by definition cannot be and they're always working on it. So they’re transparent about it which is a huge thing. I respect it immensely because that's hard because consumers will kick you down, and rightfully so.
Again, consumers need to hold their brands to account, but Patagonia does so much more good than it does bad because it supports those activist groups and grassroots organizations that are out there solving problems. We say we want to be the Patagonia in the beauty industry. It's actually a post on my social media list.
We’re going to go right down to some of the more personal, practical sort of side of things there now. Looking at a perfect eco day for you, what does that look like in your world?
I look at it probably a little bit differently. I like to be scientific about things. You cannot have a ‘no impact day’. Everybody does bad by simply existing. I try and do more good than I do bad because I'm going to do bad so, I just try and overly do good. I am delighted to be able to travel again now the borders have opened up, but obviously it comes with significant greenhouse gas emissions.
So, we double offset it so the company offsets all business travel 1 1/2 times and I offset all travel personally twice. So yes, offsets are not the answer, but they are certainly helpful whilst we develop electric aircraft for example, so that is simply what I mean by doing more good than bad.
So, I don't go in with the focus of doing no harm because you're immediately setting yourself up to fail and you will feel guilty because you want to achieve it. So, I just try and do more good.
It’s a really good point because we talk about this almost on a daily basis that people find the idea of making massive changes, or trying to be perfect, just too cumbersome, and so they just give up.
If you were to give 3 takeaways of how people should behave to prepare for tomorrow's world, is there anything you would recommend? So, just easy, manageable, bitesize pieces that they can take away.
Think about what you buy, do you really need it? And if you do, that's fine. Don't feel guilt for buying something that you need but try and buy consciously and I appreciate there is a smidgen of elitism in that comment because unfortunately sustainable regenerative products do cost more, and not everybody can do that. If you can, great. If you can't don't feel guilty about it because that's OK, that's always my biggest take away.
The other one, the way to change the world is through business for good. Business for good is created by consumers demanding better. Demand better, it doesn't mean you have to go camp out in front of the BNZ or something. It means perhaps switch to a bank that doesn't invest in things that you don't like. It means write a letter to your local brands saying, hey, I love this, but maybe you could switch packaging to this.
If it's done in a really respectful manner, I've never meet a business that doesn't love good feedback like that, and if they don't love good feedback like that, perhaps find another business.
We have a bit of a saying at Good Change, ‘be better than yesterday’. Just do a little something and demand better from your company and treat today like it's the first day of the rest of your life.