Brianne West is the founder and CEO of Ethique, a New Zealand-based sustainable, plastic free and cruelty free skin and hair care range.
West sat down with B&T to explore what genuine environmental sustainability looks like, and how brands can better respond to eco-conscious consumers.
B&T: Why are we seeing a rise in eco-conscious consumption?
BW: Because access to information is easier than ever (though important to note, still not equitable) so more people are aware of what we are doing to our planet and how it will affect them. It is becoming very clear that businesses and our current buying habits are proving harmful to the planet, so they must change. Consumers are demanding better of businesses because they know better.
Are there differences between the ways small businesses and big businesses can adapt to be more eco-conscious?
While small businesses may be more agile and therefore make quicker changes with more ease, larger businesses have more clout. Small businesses could focus on big, sweeping changes as they are likely to have agency to implement them – such as an across-the-board switch to compostable packaging. Large businesses could focus on investment projects for carbon sequestration and renewable energies or greening their supply chain which would have huge impact, but come with a large cost and you would need significantly more buy in. Strong leadership is needed with big business in order to inspire wider teams.
How significant a role should brands play in actively fighting climate change, pollution and plastic wastage?
Make no mistake, business has an enormous role in the world we live in and played a strong part of the problems we face, socially and environmentally. Brands have a huge responsibility to actively fight climate change, pollution and plastic wastage because it affects everyone. If they don’t, the trajectory we are on, business as usual will no longer be possible. If businesses don’t do anything, consumers will start to desert them in droves. Both reasons are acts of self-preservation. No one person or organisation can solve any of these environmental issues alone, a collaborative effort across people and businesses is needed.
Do you think consumers are becoming more vigilant about brands ‘eco-washing’ rather than being genuinely eco-conscious?
Absolutely. Genuinely environmentally conscious brands (Patagonia, my fave, for instance) have set great examples of how to be transparent, highlighting the good work they are doing but also being honest and accountable about what remains to be done.
Additionally, the power is in the consumer’s hands to ask what they’d like to know – about supply chain, ingredients, operating ethics – and the onus is on the brand to provide the answer the consumer is looking for. If they can’t, the consumer will simply move elsewhere.
Consumers seeking out eco-conscious brands are well acquainted with what is real and what is fake, can easily identify between the two and are happy to prioritise their spending with a brand they trust.
As your business grows, what eco-conscious practices will you maintain?
All of them. To recap, our practises are currently:
- Plastic free, certified home compostable packaging
- Palm free ingredients (until such times as its sustainable cultivation/manufacture can be reliably verified without a shadow of doubt)
- Our Climate Positive status (offsetting more carbon than we have ever emitted)
- Planting trees with every order
- Always optimising how environmentally we can work – warehouses abroad, working to source ingredients closer to home
- Renewably sourced energy to run our office and factories.
- And many more.
What does authentically ecologically minded production look like from your perspective?
Using ingredients that are sustainably sourced means no monoculture, no human-rights abuses, no unfair trading and no environmental degradation in pursuit of more efficiency of growth. Sourcing ingredients locally where possible, working with similar minded partners and using ingredients which are of course not endangered or on an ‘at-risk’ list.