The ethical, environmental and better-for-you trends have continued to grow in recent years – but so, too, is the number of brands and companies trying to position themselves as making a difference when that may not necessarily be true.
Gaining independent, third-party authentication of sustainability claims is becoming increasingly important, says Steve Messina, the Australian GM of New Zealand-headquartered household and personal products manufacturer Ecostore.
“Now is the time for organisations to drive the agenda on social wealth creation and environmental responsibility to make the world a better place,” says Messina, who has shared with Viable.Earth the Australasian business’ success in recently achieving B Corp certification.
Ecostore was founded by Malcolm and Melanie Rands in 1993 in a small ‘eco village’ community in Northland, New Zealand. Four years later they opened a store in Auckland city offering refills and bulk products before growing to a point it could start to supply supermarkets.
The Kraus family became involved with the business in 2003 and took full ownership in 2015, with Pablo Kraus now the CEO.
Ecostore’s products range from surface cleaners and detergents to personal-care items including handwashes, shampoo, mouthwash and baby goods.
People, planet before profit
Messina says the foundations of the Ecostore business have always centred around putting people and the planet ahead of profit, with an emphasis on social wealth creation and environmental responsibility – making the world a safer place, putting people’s health first and giving consumers the choice of products without nasty chemicals.
But communicating those ambitions is one thing – qualifying its success is another. That’s why Ecostore embarked on achieving B Corporation certification for its trans-Tasman operations.
“This accreditation represents the highest independent standard that organisations like Ecostore can undertake to demonstrate to customers, consumers and partners alike that Ecostore does all it can to make the world a better place,” he explains.
“The process to achieve this independent certification was long, rigorous and challenging. It required us to look at the way we do business and ensure we act in the most responsible way that benefits our environment, our consumers, our workers, other key stakeholders and the community as a whole. By being certified by B Corporation, when somebody picks up one of our products, they can be confident that they’ve made the most socially and environmentally responsible choice,” he says.
“By achieving B Corp certification, not only does the planet benefit, but Ecostore will be more resilient and future-proofed.”
As B Corp describes, certification goes far beyond product- or service-level certification: it measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance, including how the operations and business model impacts its workers, the community, the environment, and customers. From supply chain and input materials through to charitable giving and employee benefits, B Corp Certification proves a business is meeting the highest standards of verified performance. The certification also commits companies to consider stakeholder impact for the long term by building it into the company’s legal structure.
The process is tough. Only about one company in three that apply will attain certification and the process usually takes six months to one year to complete. For larger companies like Ecostore and Australian-headquartered T2 (now a subsidiary of Unilever), it took two years, in part because materials are sourced from multiple markets around the world. The global B Corp-certified community now numbers around 4000.
“To become a B Corp, Ecostore had to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability,” says B Lab Australia & New Zealand CEO, Andrew Davies. “Seeing more household brands like Ecostore make this commitment is a positive sign that a purpose-driven business has entered the mainstream.
“By supporting B Corps, people are supporting organisations that are actively working to change the culture of business and our economy. They are making big investments to reduce inequality, design a healthier environment, and create more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. It’s up to each of us to think about our daily choices and how we can choose businesses that have made these commitments.”
Eyes on the journey, not the destination
Messina sees attaining B Corp recognition as a milestone in a longer journey rather than an endpoint in itself.
“Having gotten the fundamentals right by joining the fast-growing community of B Corp-certified organisations, we are keen to grow the Australasian business. The last 18 months have been especially strong for Ecostore – despite the Covid-19 pandemic, we have continued to grow the Australian business. There have been channels that were negatively impacted by lockdown and the reduction in foot traffic, however, we’ve offset this through other channels that have benefited from lockdown, mainly grocery and online retailers. The trend towards the consumption of eco-friendly and ‘better for you’ solutions is not going away.
“Now more than ever, we see the need to do even more, especially in the face of critical events such as the pandemic and the ever-increasing impact of climate change.”
Messina says the company witnessed a significant spike in demand when Covid-19 hit in early 2020 and has continued to cycle that strong growth, with sales up by about 12 per cent this year.”
Having achieved B Corp certification, Ecostore now has three primary goals as the region begins to emerge from the pandemic:
- To reduce the carbon footprint of its operations and increase the use of renewables and offsets. The company has set a company-wide Emissions Reduction Plan for its Australasian operations.
- To empower Australia’s circular economy. As it continues to recognise the plastic waste problem, Ecostore is developing solutions like innovating and designing plastic out of its products with the trialling of refill stations, and the recent launch of plastic-free haircare bars. Where there are no plastic-free solutions, Ecostore seeks to use the most sustainable options – a mix of sugar plastic, a renewable plastic that captures CO2 as it grows – and locally-sourced recycled plastic.
- To enhance sustainability by making a public commitment to work towards ambitious targets of 100 per cent of its plastic packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2023, 100 per cent of its bottles made from renewable or recycled content by 2025, and to progressively move from single-use to reuse by selling more bulk packs (via refill stations and consumer purchase) over five years. The company has signed up to packaging commitments A Line in the Sand, the New Zealand plastic Packaging Declaration and the ANZPAC Plastic Pact.
“The team is working hard to optimise our plans and spread the brand’s positive message of delivering highly efficacious eco-friendly products to as many consumers as we can. As a result, we’re always working to secure more listings in new retail channels, launch meaningful innovation and communicate what we stand for through marketing messaging,” says Messina.
Beyond Australia and New Zealand, Ecostore is finding its way onto the shelves of supermarkets and health & beauty stores abroad, including in Malaysia, Japan and Vietnam; and is sold online on Lazada.
On the manufacturing front, Ecostore achieved carbon-zero certification of its Auckland manufacturing facility in 2010, and has since offset 769 tonnes of carbon.
An investment in sugarcane packaging has resulted in an average of 121 tonnes of carbon each year from the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the company continues to give back to the community, not just as a key requirement of B Corp certification, but as part of the company’s founders’ and owners’ ethos.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in Australia, Ecostore has donated more than $600,000 worth of stock to Foodbank, Children’s Ground, Second Bite, St Kilda Mums, The Happy Boxes Project and The Beauty Bank in Australia. It has also supported community initiatives in countries where it sources raw materials.
Main image: Pablo Kraus, Ecostore’s CEO, hand drew the labels for a limited-edition range of Ecostore products released in September to help endangered New Zealand native birds.