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South Auckland enterprises benefit from Auckland Council’s approach to procurement (November 2017, The Listener)

Source: The Listener  

A new breed of business, the social enterprise, is more intent on benefiting the community and protecting the environment than on maximising profit.

It was a eureka moment, though it played out not in a bath, but in the shower. University of Canterbury biology student Brianne West was washing her hair when the idea struck her: why add to the world’s mass of plastic waste simply because shampoo is so diluted it needs a plastic bottle? After all, there was plenty of water coming out of the nozzle. It was, she says, “one of those lightning-strike moments”.

That was in 2012. A mountain of research, a load of experimentation and a rush of Facebook advertising later, revenue from West’s Ethique brand of solid-bar shampoos, cleansers, moisturisers and cleaners – all ingredients, down to the cardboard wrapper, biodegradable – is expected to hit $2 million this year from sales here, in Australia and the US.

A successful crowdfunding campaign in 2015 attracted the highest number of female investors in PledgeMe’s history; a second investment round this year raised $500,000 in less than two hours through crowdfunding and the same amount through wholesale investors.

“We are interested in growth because we want to rid the world of plastic bottles,” she says. A big ask, she agrees, “but it’s a goal we are completely serious about”.

West regards the goal of business as creating something that will make people’s lives better without destroying something along the way, so sustainability is important to the bottom line. Operating from a new 800sq m laboratory and warehouse in Christchurch, Ethique is certified climate-neutral and carries the international B Corporation (or B Lab) certification issued to for-profit companies that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance. There is no child labour in the supply chain, no testing on animals and no waste.

The business buys its coconut and cocoa butter ingredients from co-operatives in Samoa and the Dominican Republic respectively.

“People care about what we are trying to do,” West says. “They are interested in a plastic-free lifestyle, in companies that do good, and they demand authenticity: they will not continue to buy a product, and we will not change the world, if we expect them to compromise, because they simply won’t do it.”

Across town, on an inner-city corner section vacant since the 2011 earthquake, a pedal-powered trailer of green waste bins collected from local cafes and restaurants is being unloaded. Here, as part of an urban garden project called Cultivate, the waste will be turned into compost, which will be used to grow vegetables, which will, in turn, be sold back to restaurants, cafes and the community.

Along the way, says the project’s co-founder Bailey Peryman, young people are learning how to grow food, the neighbourhood has access to fresh produce and restaurants have solved their green-waste problems.

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