The Importance of Working with Purpose with Rebecca Percasky

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Rebecca’s business The Better Packaging Company has made real impact on the world of plastic. Here Rebecca talks us through her journey into the world of compostable courier bags and also gives us insight into the changes she has made to shape her life into a more sustainable one.

YOU CAN LISTEN TO OUR CHAT WITH REBECCA BY CLICKING HERE.

Rebecca Percasky, founder of the Better Packaging Company. She started as an entrepreneur in her early 20s and went on to be the COO and director of Starship IT giving her the insight and peek behind the curtain when it comes to logistics and packaging. Rebecca was involved in the end to end process, which allowed her to notice what in the current system was broken and needed redesigning. The Better Packaging company, a sustainable packaging company, doing good things here in New Zealand. Working with purpose has been a huge driver for Rebecca, and her business success.

Good Change

Rebecca, we’d love to start by hearing a little bit more about your journey and what Better Packaging actually does. How did the idea actually come about?

Rebecca

I sort of always laugh when people ask me why I started a packaging company. And the reason being is I actually hate packaging. And that's not a word I use lightly because hate is not a great word. But I've always been incredibly aware of it. And it's something that I've noticed from an early age. And I think it has something to do with the way that I was brought up. So from the age of six, my parents and brothers and sisters and I traveled the world in a motor home making and selling jewelry. And there's not a lot of room in those things! So we didn't have a lot of stuff. Everything we had we loved and it was well used. And I think that just lay a foundation for the waste free life that was to come. But like all of us, I really like the good things in life, you know, I love fashion and eating out. So it was really easy to fall into the habit of collecting stuff. But then I had this awareness that there was a lot of waste that went along with the way that I was living. And I just felt this urge to do something about it.

But, what got me really moving was when my little seven year old daughter, did a school project on saving the planet. And she came up with these really simple ideas and she had chosen to do this, so it wasn’t anything to do with me. Like switching off light switches and walking to school. And it actually broke my heart. Because this little person who I love more than anything in the world had this huge issue on her shoulders, and it was something we'd created. So I sat up that night and I wrote a list of five things that I could do. Four were in the packaging space. One of them was to make a sustainable courier satchel. So here we are three or four years on and we've diverted over 35 million single use plastic bags from ending up in nature by offering a better packaging alternative.

Good Change

What also really resonated with us, when we heard about your business and your story is how you always wake up with a bit of purpose every morning, I think we talk a lot about purpose in our business and how it's important to look yourself in the mirror in the morning, know why you're doing what you're doing. Working with purpose - what does that mean to you?

Rebecca

Absolutely, we always say that we're a values led business. So we always put the values at the front of everything we do and quite often, it doesn't make financial sense. So we make our decisions based on what's best for the environment, what's best for our team, what's best for the people that we interact with. And that drives everything that we do. And an example of that in the early stages was, we always thought that we would be supporting really large corporates or large companies. And when we first sort of did some market research, we did all these smaller companies saying that we really want sustainable packaging, and they wanted it in units between 20 and 100. We were just like, oh my goodness, we don't know how we're going to do that because we were imagining that we'd be doing it in really large units. But we were like, right, we've got to do what's right for the customers, with what people are asking for. And so we decided we would do this side business to support these customers. And we set up an online shop and it's actually become the fastest growing part of our business. So when we originally did that, we thought there was going to be no monetary gain from that. But it actually turned out to be a really good thing. So, I think when you follow with your values, good things happen, and we've learned that time and time again. But it goes through everything we do, like all of our office, we've purchased everything secondhand. We're trying to enable and empower the team that we have. We try and run it through everything we do. We've become B Corp certified. We're offsetting everything. So it's just ingrained in our whole culture.

Good Change

It's amazing because a lot of companies just pay lip service to it. But if you're actually living and breathing it and letting it infiltrate through the business, it's amazing.

Rebecca

Yeah. And I think, what we have learned and what we're showing, is it does pay off.

Good Change

I was just wondering, Becs, in the four years you've had the company, you saw a big growing demand in the small to medium sized businesses. How has that developed in the four years that you've been in business?

Rebecca

Yeah, so look, we launched the business just over three years ago. And the early adopters were those small to medium customers. And what we're starting to see now, especially in the markets that we've been in, for a long time, like New Zealand, and Australia, we're starting to see some of those more mainstream, larger customers come on board. But what you realize is it does start with those smaller, more passionate people. The larger corporations have got whole departments they have to get these things signed off by so it takes time. Whereas an owner operator can make a decision, literally overnight. And I think the really neat thing about our product, which I should just say, as a home-compostable courier satchel, is that it's so similar to the plastic alternative, except that it breaks down in a home compost, and it's nontoxic, that these businesses can just change the packaging overnight. It's a really quick win. They don't have to do anything to their processes. It's really powerful for people so it's a really neat way to make a quick change. And I think that's what's resonated with a lot of companies as well.

Good Change

The first movers, the passionate people that drive a lot of change in any space (we're talking about sustainability and purpose here) but I think really, when it comes to anything, you have the first movers that need to push something across. And then that's how you sort of change the load. And then the bigger ones will follow when it comes to choice.

Rebecca

Absolutely. And I think that just shows that anyone can make a difference. These smaller companies have driven these larger corporations to make that change. And that's really neat and powerful.

Good Change

Just out of curiosity, when you say your packages are home compostable, do you know what happens when it breaks down?

Rebecca

Absolutely. We've since launched other products. So we have compostable bubble mailers, compostable labels, flow wrap pallet wrap, garment bags, dry cleaning bags. There's a whole range of products that we've gotten and we've got quite a few coming. All of our products are certified. So, it's really important to us that they have the certifications associated with them. We wouldn't sell anything that wasn't certified. I think if anyone's listening in, it's really important to make sure that you're getting those certifications, or doing that due diligence and not just taking it on face value. Really look behind the scenes and see what is happening because there is a lot of greenwashing out there and a lot of false claims.

Good Change

I'm sure there's been a lot of things that you've learned both professionally and personally on this journey. What would be your biggest learnings professionally? And what about personally?

Rebecca

Absolutely. So I think from a learning perspective, something for me is that I've actually learned to lean into the mistakes. We make a heap of mistakes, and we're making them daily. And, in the beginning, you'd sort of go “Oh, you know, what are we done? This is crazy. How are we going to recover from this?” And now we almost embrace it and say “how are we going to learn from this? And what are we going to get out of this?” So almost in the middle of issues or mistakes going to the team “Right? This is terrible. It sucks, but how are we going to move forward?” So I think that's something that I've learned is that to make mistakes is okay as long as you're constantly learning from them. I feel that we're running the company that I always imagined in my head but didn't know was possible. I always thought there was a better way to do business or a better way to operate. And so I've learned that you can have both you can have a values led business and a successful company and I think that's probably my biggest.

Good Change

I think that was something we've talked about, in our story as well, like you would have probably too - Would we have had the courage to do this in our early 20s, where we've had the courage to think is there enough of a secure money in a sustainably purpose led business? Or is it more of a nice dream that you can do later on? But, it's nice to actually see a business like yours, doing so well, spreading across Australia as well with the values and being hugely successful.

Rebecca

Yeah, and we are business woman, I love business. It’s great. And that's what I get excited about. But we're also adding value. So what we're starting to see is, when we're looking for employees, we're getting the most amazing selection because people want to do both. They want to have a great job, but they also want to be making impact. And I think it just shows you can do both and have it all.

Good Change

Yeah, I read somewhere recently that if you tried to run a business in the 21st century, the same as you'd run it 20 years ago, we just want to go out and make money. It just doesn't work that way anymore. You've got to have a little bit more giving back or a little bit more purpose or something positive.

Rebecca

Yeah. And we're trying to roll that over into our team and the way we work with them and sort of getting rid of that structure and just letting everyone work autonomously. And its really exciting.

Good Change

So, where do you see packaging in 5, 10, 15 years from now?

Rebecca

Oh look, we envision a world where there's no waste and rubbish bins don't really exist. You imagine your phone is fully repairable upgradable. So every little component you can replace, your lolly pop wrapper might be fish food, we just see the world changing?

Good Change

Do you have an education side to your business at all, like where you're going out and educating people on sustainability?

Rebecca

Absolutely and that's why we're doing the podcasts. A big part of our mission is around communication and education. So we've got a lot of information on our website. We do a lot of speaking, attend a lot of events and talk about the circular economy, which is the Ellen MacArthur circular economy where they believe that waste is a design floor. You know, we try and educate our customers about designing waste out of their products. And in a funny way the packaging is almost a means to an end, to get that message across.

Good Change

You're seeing sustainable packaging, and it's helping the planet. Is there anything, any wrapping tips or anything you can give people when they look into packaging, anything from Christmas presents to any kind of wrapping or packaging they’re using?

Rebecca

I think to begin with start small, otherwise, you get really overwhelmed. I always just say to people to just choose one thing to change. But just think about how you can reuse it. Every time you reuse something, the carbon footprint halves of that product. So like with the wrapping paper, I've got so much of it that I just reuse. And there's just so many opportunities to do that. And I also think about the choices that you make at the supermarket and the products that we support. Consumers are the ones who are dictating what's happening, and we get to vote with our wallets. So I think we've just got to make choices around that, not buying the cucumber wrapped in plastic and those sorts of things.

Good Change

Reusing the packaging. Because that's what my grandparents used to do. I remember as a child I would always laugh and think “oh the stingy grandparents there they go again, carefully unwrap the tape to not ruin the paper”.

Rebecca

My grandfather had a ball of tin foil. So he would keep his tin foil and just keep using it and wash it and put it back around. Yeah, I think we need to go back in time and a little bit but without losing any of the comfort. We don't need to do that. And I think that's what products like what we're creating show and what you lovely people are doing as well is it shows you can have the convenience and the sustainability together.

Good Change

I mean, we work in the same space, kind of the same space as you. We've got that big sustainability focus too, but I feel really uplifted talking to you and hearing about the amazing things that you're doing, all the secondhand stuff that you've got in your office. And you just sound like you're on an amazing journey.

Rebecca

Yeah, we love what we're doing. And I think one thing I would just say is when we started this company, I was feeling really worried about the state of the environment and where we were heading but there's so many people who are excited and doing these incredible things like meeting you guys and I just think there's so much hope out there. And I think it's a really great place to be if we lead this with hope and energy. It’s a really exciting time of the world to be a part of.

Good Change

Becs, you focused on one small area of sustainability but out of interest, do you have any stats around non sustainable packaging and how that is impacting the planet?

Rebecca

Absolutely. Waste and wastefulness and the numbers associated with it sit quite heavily with me. I think it's something like 1/3 of all the food we produce rots; there's 85 billion parcels are sent worldwide and when you think they're all packaged in an additional layer of either plastic packaging, or bubble wrap. Millions of tons of waste created from the fashion industry. You know, we're just polluting this world at an incredibly alarming rate. So I think, we need to start looking at the way we interact and the choices that we make. Like a friend of mine sent me a photo the other day, and she had deconstructed her moisturizer bottle that had like 10 pieces. And she was like, “I can't recycle this”. Whereas, if it was a glass container, or something like that, it's just so easy to recycle it. Aluminium is incredibly easy to recycle. I think another thing that I'd be really aware of is the plastics that we choose. And I don't think many people know that the number one and two are the most valuable, with the number clear to being the most valuable. So if you have a black plastic or a colored plastic, it loses all of its value. So if you've got a choice between a milk bottle, you go for the clear milk bottle, over those white ones, it's just little things like that. A meat tray. Rather than choosing your black meat tray, choose the clear meat tray. And I've even got to the point now where I turn it over and see if it's a flight plastics, because it's already being recycled. So there's just little changes like this that we can start to make to put pressure on the companies to really make change. And as consumers, we have that voice.

Good Change

And I've heard a lot of people talk about shopping from around the outside of the supermarket as well. So you're gathering the fruit and the vegetables that are not wrapped in plastic.

Rebecca

Yes. There's like three or four aisles that I don't go down at all. And the other thing is, we get a lot of our veggies through Ooooby, like out of our own backyard. So it's all organic, it comes in a box. There’s no plastic. There are options out there for people and you’ve just got to think and just make small, tiny changes, build on that change and better and then make another change.

Good Change

How do you tell if someone something is flight plastic?

Rebecca

So you just turn it over and it’ll say on it. So they are quite a big deal for the meat trays at the moment. And it'll have a little number two that says flight plastics are this is recycled plastic, and they’re doing amazing things in New Zealand too to get that recycling going. The thing about recyclables is that there has to be a market for it. So we need to be supporting those companies that are buying recycled plastics. Because if there's no market for the recycled plastic, then it's not going to stay in loop.

Good Change

How do we find the businesses that are doing that?

Rebecca

That's a really good question. So at the supermarket, I'm one of these crazy people, it does take me quite a long time to shop. I’m turning over the products, but then you get to know who they are. So I kind of now start to know. But you can also email them and put some pressure on them. Same with a lot of our merchants start using us because their customers have been demanding that they start using better packaging. And yeah, and just look out for it I think.

Good Change

I wonder if legislation will come in down the track from the government or from our higher body?

Rebecca

I hope so. It has to.

Good Change

So in terms of which industries are the worst, like fashion or food? How do the consumers or our listeners, what can they do to make sure that they're putting the least sort of bad impact on the planet and doing the best they can?

Rebecca

Look, there's so many things that we can be doing. In our office, we realized that the team was going out and getting a lot of Tank juices. So we went and bought three reusable Tank containers, and now they're using those so suddenly, we're not throwing away 10 of those plastic ones every day. So there's little things like that, you know, in our office, we've given everyone Tupperware so that they can go and get their sushi or whatever they want to buy. Little small things you can do in your office or at home. And I think something that I've started doing a couple of years ago is I buy a lot of secondhand clothing. There's some thriving secondhand markets now through designer wardrobe etc. And you also end up saving a lot of money. And that's a lot of fun. So there's a lot of changes we can make. I think food waste is a big thing that I'm focusing on in my own life at the moment because we throw away too much food. I think making sure you just cook and eat enough and order enough for what you need. So it goes across everything that we do. But you've also got to live and have a life and have fun. So, I think rather than getting too worried about trying to solve it all, really focus on one thing at a time, and embed that, so this year for me it's food waste. Last year was recycling, and using secondhand things, and then just bed that down and try something new every year or every month or whatever it is. But don't give yourself a hard time if you fall off the bandwagon.

Good Change

And that's what we do in our business as well. Our whole focus is around small changes, not trying to be perfect, because I'm not always going to be wearing I think they call them muesli wearing outfits. But you know, if you can have little changes that you make along the way, and those things can add up to bigger changes totally.

Rebecca

Totally! I bumped into a friend at the supermarket the other day and she went running away from me, she's like, “I don't want you to see my trolley”. That’s just crazy. I'm not judging at all. I'm just worried about what I'm trying to do. And I think you've just got to do what's right for you and your family. But just be aware of it. The first step is awareness and just being a bit conscious.

Good Change

Yeah, we get that a little bit as well. Friends not wanting to wear synthetic clothes around us. But as we say, we don't judge because everybody likes convenience. So, it's just about changing what you can change. And I think once you start doing one little thing, it starts escalating slowly. I like your idea with setting yourself a goal be it for a month or a year to just focus on one thing so you don't beat yourself up.

Rebecca

Whether it’s a keep cup or water bottle, or whatever that is just do that one thing. And then once it becomes, “oh, my goodness, I could never get a regular coffee cup”, then move on to the next thing. And I think that's the only way forward.

Good Change

So I think what's really come through after our talk to you Becs is that the consumer, the individual person really has a choice, even though it's a small voice, but really has a power to affect change, and to make a change out there which is quite a powerful statement to hear from you.

Rebecca

Yeah, absolutely. I think if you look at the change my daughter made in my life, and she was only seven and the difference that's made, you know, 35 million plastic bags that aren't in the environment. imagine what all of us adults could do.

Good Change

That’s amazing. I think that's a good note to finish off on that we can all think about that if a seven year old can change your mindset, I think we can all we can all do our little bits.

Rebecca

Absolutely. And I think we're going to regret it if we don't. Well, I know we are.

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