This is the transcript of Episode 20: Conscious Consumption of the How to Make a Difference podcast. Go to the episode page to listen to this episode and for the show notes. Furthermore, we encourage you to read our blog post on conscious consumption.
Catherine Weetman: So if we think about car sharing: The average car in Europe is sitting idle for 23 hours a day, but if it was in a car share system we might be using it for 8, 10, 12, even more hours a day. So we’re getting much more productivity out of those same resources.
Jay Siegel: The term sustainability is just too ambiguous. Our podcast is here to fix that. Hi, this is Jay, co-host of the Sustainability Defined podcast. For over 5 years, me and my partner Scott have been defining sustainability one topic and one bad joke at a time. Helping professionals, teachers, and students understand complex topics in a fun, easily accessible way. Check us out at sustainabilitydefined.com or wherever you get your podcasts.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Hey everyone,
Alicia Lee: Hey everyone.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: I’m Elisabeth.
Alicia Lee: And I’m Chinmai.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: No, wait, I’m Chinmai. I’m… I’m Chinmai.
Alicia Lee: What a mess… And I’m Elisabeth.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Just kidding. I’m actually Elisabeth.
Alicia Lee: And I am not Chinmai.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Chinmai is actually on leave this month, so we have a guest moderator: Alicia.
Alicia Lee: Hi my name is Alicia. So just to briefly introduce myself: My background is in biomedical engineering. I previously co-founded a plastic biodegradation startup. Unfortunately, that startup has closed down, but I’m very keen to continue working in sustainability and to help people adopt more sustainable practices. So I was very excited when Elisabeth and I got in contact and she offered me to be a guest moderator for this episode this month.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I’m actually really glad I… I had you, because, I’m sure you remember one of the interviews we did: My internet broke completely. And if it hadn’t been for you there would be no interview.
Alicia Lee: Yeah, no worries. Don’t worry about it.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah so, really cool to have you on.
Alicia Lee: Very happy to be here.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Before we dive into the topic for this month, there’s a small announcement I wanna make, which is that this is actually the last topic we will be discussing in Season 1 of the How to Make a Difference podcast, and then we will go into a short summer break. And during the summer break, we will be planning out what we will do in Season 2. And it would be really, really helpful if we could have a little bit of feedback from you, our listeners. And we made a survey for that and please bear with me: I know everyone hates surveys, but this one is really, really short, so it will literally just take you one minute, maximum two to fill it out. And it would be really, really cool if you could just go to the show notes, click on the link, and let us know your thoughts.
Yeah. And now, let’s jump into this month’s topic. Alicia, do you want to do the honors of announcing the topic?
Alicia Lee: Sure! So this month, we’ll be talking about conscious consumption. And what do you think conscious consumption means for you?
Elisabeth Ignasiak: For me, actually lots of trouble. I mean, you know, I’m trying to be a conscious consumer, or I have been trying to be a conscious consumer for so many years, and it’s so difficult. I’ve spent so much time researching, you know, the most sustainable product for certain things, and it’s just really really time-consuming. So I hope that with this topic we can make our listeners’ lives a little bit easier than it was for me in this journey.
Alicia Lee: Yeah, I could definitely relate to spending hours online researching, does this actually more sustainable than that and does that make a difference? So I think having this kind of series will be very helpful, not just for our listeners, but also for me as well.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. Yeah. So, what do you associate with conscious consumption?
Alicia Lee: So before I started working on this series, it was more, maybe about buying more sustainable products, buying organic, buying recycled. But, I think, after going through our different interviews, I realized it’s actually reframing my mindset entirely: so not just what am I buying, but do I even need to buy this in the first place.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Actually, that’s really well-spoken. And maybe to throw in a little bit of statistics, of why we’re talking about this in the first place. So I found… it’s actually a CO2 calculator from the German Environmental Ministry. And they say that 30% of your personal carbon footprint comes down to consumption. I think that’s actually a huge number.
Alicia Lee: Wow!
Elisabeth Ignasiak: And maybe to get a bit more precise: When we say personal consumption, that does not include things like electricity, like fuel, and all these things. They’re already included in other categories.
Alicia Lee: Oh okay. Is there… is there a breakdown of what would go into this personal consumption? Just like food, and clothing, and…
Elisabeth Ignasiak: No, food is actually, again, a different category.
Alicia Lee: Oh, okay.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: So it’s its own category. So consumption is really you know, buying electronics, buying cloth, you know, basically, let’s call it shopping for simplification. So it actually does have a… a big impact.
Alicia Lee: Wow. I didn’t,… I didn’t realize that just that process of shopping itself can take up to 30% of our carbon footprint.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. At the same time, conscious consumption is a really difficult topic. Like it’s huge in terms of impact. This is why we wanna talk about it. But at the same time it’s also really, really complex, right? Because it’s… consumption, it’s not like one thing, like electricity, you change your supplier, but it’s like, 100 different little things that together make up this big footprint, right?
Alicia Lee: Yeah. One thing that kind of stood out to me is that we currently consume resources 50% faster than they can be replenished. Which means, actually, we need about two Earths of natural resources by 2030 and then about three Earth by 2050. So that’s pretty insane that we are depleting our natural resources, at this rate.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, that is actually a crazy stat.
Alicia Lee: So one thing about our current economy is that it’s a kind of a use-throw system. So once we use the resources, it kind of goes through our pipeline and then we discard it. But then, in a circular economy, we try to keep all these resources and this energy in constant use. And also designing the whole ecosystem so that we use less energy overall and use it more sustainably.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. And, I think maybe some of our listeners have heard about the circular economy before, but maybe others haven’t. So this is why we wanted to give a bit of an overview of what does the circular economy actually mean. It can be described very simply, but it’s also at the same time very complex and to dive into this topic, we invited two guests.
Alicia Lee: Yes, so our first interviewee is Catherine Weetman. She’s the host of the Circular Economy Podcast and also an expert on circular economy in general.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: And she basically gives us quite a nice overview of what the circular economy means, in broad terms.
Alicia Lee: So our second interviewee is Erin Andrews, she is the host of another podcast called Inner Circle – Making the Impossible, Possible.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: And with Erin, we go a little bit more specifically into what we can do as consumers. But before we jump into the actual interviews we want to give you a short overview of what you can expect this month. When we talk about conscious consumption, we’re not just talking about shopping more sustainably, there’s actually a few steps before that. The first one is to reduce our consumption. That means not buying things that we don’t need. And this is what we will dive into in next week’s episode, where we will be talking about the zero waste movement.
Alicia Lee: So the week after that we’ll be talking about reusing. So how do we reuse objects instead of buying them ourselves? And this could be through buying secondhand, or rental, or from sharing.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah and then in the last episode for this month, we’re gonna be diving into the actual shopping side of consumption. So if you can’t reduce, and you can’t reuse, then you might have to buy something new. But if you do buy something new, there’s obviously better ways how that can be done. And this is what we’ll be diving into in the last week of this month.
Alicia Lee: Without further ado let’s get started with our first interview.
Interview with Catherine Weetman: 9:10
Alicia Lee: Today, we’re speaking with Catherine Weetman. She is the author of the Circular Economy Handbook: How to Build a More Resilient, Competitive and Sustainable Business, the director of Rethink Global, and the host of the Circular Economy Podcast. Welcome, Catherine.
Catherine Weetman: Hi Alicia and Elisabeth. Thank you very much for inviting me along to your podcast. I’m keen to explore the circular economy with you and your listeners.
Alicia Lee: Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
Catherine Weetman: Sure, I help small businesses and communities to understand and use the circular economy to make a better world, in brief. So that’s helping them understand what it could mean for them, how it would make their business, or their social enterprise more resilient, more profitable, have less impact, engage people more. All those kinds of things.
Alicia Lee: Would you be able to describe in two sentences, what the circular economy means to you?
Catherine Weetman: Sure. The easiest way to think about it is to say that it’s the exact opposite of our extractive throughput economy, what people sometimes call a linear economy. That’s based on very short term thinking and companies trying to persuade people to consume ever more stuff ever, more quickly.
So, in contrast, in a circular economy, we keep products and materials in the loop, recirculating, by designing them to last longer, be shared, be easy to repair, upgrade, and even remake, and eventually to be recycled.
Alicia Lee: So basically, the circular economy seeks to keep the materials, and the energy and all the different resources within constant use and recycling, as opposed to the current economy that just use and throw.
Catherine Weetman: Sure, but it’s important to emphasize that recycling is our last resort, and often people get confused and think that the circular economy is just about more recycling. But if we think about what we do when we make a product: At every stage, we’re putting extra inputs in, whether that’s water, energy, human labour, human knowledge, maybe process chemicals and so on. So, if we rely just on recycling, we still have to use all those inputs, again, to recycle it, use the recycled materials back in a new product. So instead we try and design things so that they need less effort to keep them in use, you know, at a high value. We’re not expecting everybody to have battered, out of date products that don’t work well. A great example is Fairphone, which has been designed using modules making it really easy for the user to repair. You need just one screwdriver and you can see how to do it online, and because it’s only half a dozen modules, it’s easy to take out the bit that needs repairing, and it also means the phone can be upgraded. So, if I think a better camera lens is really important for me, then I can choose to upgrade that one component. So it means that products can easily stay up to date if the design on that modular and easy to work on basis.
Alicia Lee: So it’s less about recycling which, as you mentioned, is kind of a solution to the symptom – kind of a last-ditch solution. It’s actually more of a design of the overall economy and how everything is working together.
Catherine Weetman: Yeah, so it’s the design of products, obviously, but also the design of business models. So, the circular economy tries to encourage people to have access to things. So we’re getting more familiar with pay per use city bikes, pay per use cars, you know car shares, or car rental, or even ride-hailing apps, where we’re just paying for the service of that car and maybe the driver as well. So to encourage more of that, and sharing, subscription services rentals, all that kind of stuff, instead of us wanting to own everything. The reason that strategy is better is that it means we can get more use out of the same product. So if we think about car sharing: The average car in Europe is sitting idle for 23 hours a day, but if it was in a car share system we might be using it for 8, 10, 12, even more hours a day. So we’re getting much more productivity out of those same resources.
Alicia Lee: I see. Thank you. Could you describe what is the link between the circular economy design and climate change?
Catherine Weetman: Sure. We now understand that the production of food, and other products, you know, the growing of materials, the extraction of materials, all the manufacturing, and getting them into the market accounts for over half of global greenhouse gas emissions. And so anything we can do to slow down the rate of production, by keeping things that use for longer, or by making them shareable so we don’t need so many, immediately reduces our greenhouse gases from that production process. In addition, another branch of circular economy, if you like, is regenerative agriculture. And that has the potential to lock up even more carbon. So not just reduce what we’re doing now by reducing waste, but to employ different agricultural methods going back to, no tilling, not using chemicals, using nature to help us, and encourage nature and biodiversity all around the farm, and make nature work in harmony with our systems. So there’s massive potentials there, to draw down carbon and really make a big difference.
Alicia Lee: I like what you mentioned about using the nature to help us with the circular economy design and not just focus on the product design.
Catherine Weetman: Yeah, I think, more and more people are realizing that actually nature, you know, whilst it hasn’t designed itself, it works in harmony, generally. You know that there are things that aren’t that good for us in nature, pesticides and viruses, we’re now aware. But there are an awful lot of services that we take for granted and it’s easy to forget that everything we have comes from the Earth. You know, whether it’s a natural resource, or living resource if you like, or a finite resource, metals, minerals, and fossil fuels. They will come from the earth, and they’re finite. We can’t make more of them. We can’t discover more of them.
Alicia Lee: So where would you say we are now in this transition, or in this push towards a more circular economy?
Catherine Weetman: I think, lots of big companies are getting switched on to the opportunities of the circular economy. I worry that too many of them are focused on advertising how much you know recycled content they’re putting in something, or putting in inverted commas more sustainable materials. And the bigger companies don’t seem to be focusing on really slowing things down, they’re hoping that we can carry on with our fast throughput economy which is still take-make-waste, but, you know, we do it with more recycled materials. That’s not going to make a big enough difference. We’re in a race now, to resolve the problems of climate change and biodiversity loss. And so what I’m encouraged by is the number of small businesses that are being really disruptive. It’s smaller businesses are starting subscription models, and rental models, the Fairphone example, I gave earlier, of designing things to be modular and proving to those big companies that this is possible, it’s profitable, people love it, and they think that’s the future. And I think if big companies aren’t careful they run the risk of having, what are sometimes called Kodak moments. Kodak, you may know, employed the person who invented the digital camera but didn’t think it was ever going to be a thing so carried on with their print film. And eventually, they went bust, because they failed to capitalize on the opportunities that they had at their fingertips.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. I actually heard about that story. So how do we get to a circular economy? I mean, you already talked a lot about companies. So is there a type of roadmap? What can companies do to help in the journey towards a circular economy?
Catherine Weetman: Yeah that’s a great question, and there are resources out there IDEO, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, have put together a design guide. And in my book – both editions of the book, the second edition came out last autumn – I put together a framework, looking at the entire value chain, and thinking about all the places where you could intervene to make something more circular. And I then break that down into how you do that. So it looks at business models, it looks at product design, the kind of materials that you’re going to use – so they should be safe and sustainable. The way you design the process – so manufacturing and the rest of the supply chain. And then how you recover the materials at the end of use, and get them back into the system to be used again. And underpinning that are enablers, they’re different ways of looking at things or different materials and technologies, and accelerators so they might be collaborations with other companies, policies and taxation changes that are coming down the track that you need to be aware of, and that can help encourage a circular economy. So, using that kind of framework allows people to look at their business and decide where they want to start, then take low-risk baby steps, if you like. to begin with, to see how something’s going to pan out, build up confidence within the company convince any sceptics, learn more about how it changes things with their consumers, and make a better business case for bolder, more strategic steps. Or if you’re a startup, you can go for the full circular economy from the word go.
Alicia Lee: So, this is from the company side, what about more of the individual side? What can us as individuals do?
Catherine Weetman: I think we can all try and take a mindset that’s more aligned to being a citizen instead of being a consumer. And I like to remind people that we’re being persuaded or manipulated if you like by very clever people in marketing in lots of brands around the world that we need to have this latest thing, or that we need to look trendy and wear this colour, or this pattern, and, you know, have all this stuff that we hardly make use of. And that’s not really what we want to do at all. You know the the fix, the hits that we get, you know, the high from having bought that thing may only last a few minutes, and then, you know, then it’s gone. And I think we realized during the pandemic and lockdown, that actually the things that matter most to us are our families, our friends, our communities, and of course being in nature. Lots of people have discovered that. So try and have that mindset that, you know, this is an advert, do I really need this? If I do need it, can I rent it instead, or can I buy one that’s already used? So I’m not putting anything else into the world. And just start with something that you really care about maybe you really care about fashion, or technology, or food. So start investigating that, so you can learn more about it so that you don’t get caught out by conversations in cafes and bars. You know, when you’ve… you’ve tried to convince somebody to do the same thing. You’ve been asked an awkward question and you can’t answer it. So choose something quite small that you can get up to speed on quickly and just start there. And my experience is the first thing that you do really energizes you and encourages you to the next thing, and it kind of accelerates from there. So I think, have the mindset of a citizen, not a consumer.
Alicia Lee: Right. Nowadays, the consumeristic mindset is so prevalent, and we really need to adjust and focus more on making those small steps in order for all of us as a society to move towards a more sustainable model.
Catherine Weetman: Yeah. There’s a book recently published by Roman Krznaric, I think he’s pronounced his name. It’s all about being a good ancestor. So, you know, thinking ahead lots of generations: What do we want people to have thought of as living in this time now? You know, are we really thinking about the wellbeing of future generations, or are we just thinking about, you know, what’s gonna happen to us tomorrow and listening to those clever marketing messages too much.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I mean, one thing is to take baby steps, both for companies and for individuals, but I also think it’s nice that you mentioned things like rental. Those are sometimes not so intuitive models that people might not even aware that it’s a possibility, which I think is really cool.
Catherine Weetman: Yeah, and it’s really growing fast in things like fashionable clothing, and babywear, and tech. In Germany, there’s a company called Grover, that allows people to rent all sorts of tech. So you know, mobile phones, laptops, cameras, all kinds of things. So if you’re somebody who wants to have the latest model all the time you can choose to do it through that, or if you’re happy to have something that’s not quite so new, you can also rent that through the same platform but for less money. And they undertake to repair things and get them remade and properly recycled at the end of life. So this model of the producer owning the products and taking full responsibility for, it because it comes back to them, I think, is a really helpful one. And we need policies that encourage that.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Well, I think that ties it all together very nicely. Where can people find you if they want to learn more about the circular economy, what they can do themselves, what companies can do? So where should people go?
Catherine Weetman: My website is rethinkglobal.info, so you can find me there. You can also search for the Circular Economy Podcast on your favourite podcast app, or again, on the web circulareconomypodcast.com. And you can find me on LinkedIn, Catherine Weetman. W e e t m a n.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Cool. We’ll put all those links in the show notes, to make it easier for people to find.
Catherine Weetman: Thank you.
Alicia Lee: Thank you so much for being here today. We really learned a lot.
Catherine Weetman: Thanks Alicia and Elisabeth. It’s great to be here and thanks for inviting me onto the show.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Our listeners might have noticed that this was the interview where my internet was broken, because I was completely out for the first half and you handled it really nicely, Alicia. So it was actually kind of interesting because I was technically part of the interview, but at the same time when I relistened to it I was like: Oh, I hadn’t heard that before! I didn’t realize this was something we talked about!
One of those things was actually the Fairphone. When I relistened to the recording, and she mentioned the Fairphone I was like: I have one!
Alicia Lee: You should try to get a sponsorship deal from them.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: For sure! I love the Fairphone. I think it’s so clever, to have a phone where you can,… whenever something breaks, you can replace it. And I’ve had mine for four years now and I’ve replaced the battery, I think the microphone module was broken once, but that’s it, you know. If it had been another phone, I would have had to throw away the whole phone, and this way, you know, you have these instructions and how you disassemble it. And then you just take out the broken part, you put in the new part: done! New phone.
Alicia Lee: Yeah, I can definitely relate to having to replace the whole phone, just because one little part works. Actually, my current phone: the mic is broken, but I cannot bear to throw away the whole phone. So I just kind of try to finding workarounds with, you know, a mic headset and that kind of thing. So it’s a bit inconvenient. But yeah.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: So what stood out for you from the interview?
Alicia Lee: I mean, one thing that really stood out, I kind of mentioned already, is that circular economy is not just about recycling. I think when we hear about circular a lot of us, for me at least, I assume a lot about just keeping the resources in constant use. But Catherine mentioned that it’s actually… recycling it’s only one part of the whole system. You really need to design the overall economy so that everything works together to reduce consumption overall and to keep high-value products in circulation.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. One thing that also surprised me, it was also something that I missed in the actual interview was her talking about regenerative agriculture, and that also being part of the circular economy.
Alicia Lee: Yeah. Yeah. I think I, for me, I also don’t really put it together. The fact that you can actually design the system so that it also locks down carbon is actually very, very interesting for me as well.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. I also liked her frame in saying, you know, it’s about slowing things down. I think my immediate association is, it’s the opposite of fast fashion, right? Where you like, every day you want to wear something different. And this is the exact opposite: You want to, you know, slow down consumption, keep things in use,…
Alicia Lee: Right, and something else she mentioned which I thought was really interesting is that a lot of what we here now, our consumeristic mindset, is driven by marketing. So a lot of campaigns to persuade us: Oh, we need to have this newest product. We need to follow this latest trend. So we need to consciously disengaged from that, and to be more conscious about whether we actually need this new product in the first place.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: And that’s actually the perfect segway to our next interview with Erin. With her we talk more about, you know, what we as individuals can do to be more conscious consumers. So yeah, let’s jump into the interview.
Scott Breen: Hi everybody. This is Scott, the other co-host of the Sustainability Defined podcast. So many of us are passionate about sustainability and that’s awesome. What’s not awesome is the ambiguity associated with the term sustainability. Sustainability needs to be explained in a more engaging and accessible way. That’s where our podcast, Sustainability Defined, jumps into the ring. Each episode we dissect a new topic within the enormous field of sustainability, break it down starting from square 1 and then connect with an expert guest to dive a little deeper. Our more than 60 episodes include topics such as sustainable beer, supply chain emissions, and green burial. Each episode leaves you that much more informed about a critically important field within sustainability. Come have a listen at sustainabilitydefined.com or wherever you get your podcasts.
Interview with Erin Andrews: 25:38
Elisabeth Ignasiak: We’re speaking with Erin Andrews, today. She is the founder and executive director of Impact Zero, a circular economy educator, and the host of the podcast Inner Circle – Making the Impossible, Possible. Welcome, Erin!
Erin Andrews: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Maybe we can start with you just telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
Erin Andrews: I am the founder and executive director of Impact Zero, which is a nonprofit in Toronto working to build the circular economy right next to small businesses. So we have a network, we have an accelerator program and we do a lot of activism work for individuals to get involved as well.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: You mentioned that this is a sort of accelerator type thing. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Erin Andrews: Yeah, so with the nonprofit, as you mentioned, like we have education but our main programming is our network and our accelerator. So we take on two projects. Currently, we’re working with a local startup called CASE, which is a reusable takeout container initiative. The second project is called Circulr, which is a washing service for CPG brands. So what we do is: it’s a 16-week program, we connect them with resources we have a whole project management system, accountability, all that good stuff, to make sure the entrepreneurs that go through our program are held accountable. And within the 16 weeks, we run a pilot with phase one and phase two so we can kind of test consumer behaviours, and all of those kinds of questions you need to answer when you’re startup, to make sure that the solutions are actually going to scale. Because at the end of the program we connect you with investors and city officials to help grow the initiatives across the city of Toronto, which is where we operate.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, that’s really cool. So basically you’re helping sustainability startups to scale and ask the right questions, make sure it’s actually solid what they’re doing.
Erin Andrews: Exactly. And getting that proof of concept which is really really important, because if you don’t do that small scale pilot, then investors won’t trust you. People who are going to be providing granting – you typically can’t get them without the pilot. So that’s why we have a really low barrier entry point. All they have to be is the members. And they have to work on circular economy initiatives. And we basically will let them in the program. Because we see the value and we see the necessity in these types of solutions that we want to have as limited barriers as possible, to get them in that pilot phase. Because they still need help. They’re small, but they still need help and we’re kind of there to support them. That’s the idea.
Alicia Lee: Could you give us your personal definition of what the circular economy is to you in maybe one or two sentences?
Erin Andrews: Yeah, for sure. So the circular economy is an economic system that designs out waste, very simply. It’s essentially using strategies like repairing, sharing, remanufacturing, and collection to make sure that anything that we see is seen as a resource and not seen as waste. So we don’t dispose of it, we use it in creative ways. That’s kind of like high level what it is. I could go on forever, though.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: I… I really like that definition: designing out waste. I think that’s so simple and yet says so much.
Erin Andrews: It begs so many questions.
Alicia Lee: Yeah, so how do you think that can relate to me personally as a consumer?
Erin Andrews: I mean it’s so simple. It’s going back to basics, right? It’s like, using what you have before you throw it away. And before buying anything, try to buy a second hand borrow it from someone, you know, making sure that like you’re mindful of the resources that you’re extracting for the planet by buying new, and then also being mindful of what you’re sending away into landfills. Because if you have that mindset when you’re going about life, you’re going to be living circularly. That’s how it is, you know, as long as you can be mindful.
Alicia Lee: So you mentioned previously that you had your own sustainable online shop that you decided to close down. Would you mind telling us a bit more about that in your experience?
Erin Andrews: That was kind of my first attempt at being an activist through business. So you can think of it: It was a completely online store. We didn’t have a brick and mortar location. You would buy shampoos, and conditioner, and soaps from us, and we would deliver it to City of Toronto residents in jars, and I would take transit to deliver it. And then when they were done, I would go pick up the empty jars, and I would wash them, and I would sell them to the next person. That was all…
Elisabeth Ignasiak: I really have that picture now of you in the tram and public transport with the bottles of shampoo.
Erin Andrews: 100%. Literally, I was like carrying tote bags on transit and all on the side of the job.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: I love it.
Erin Andrews: It was a side hustle. I would do it in the evenings. I would go super late. But that’s how for real I was about it. I wasn’t playing around.
Alicia Lee: It’s pretty impressive.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. That’s quite cool.
Erin Andrews: Yeah. Definitely like led to burn-out, though. I honestly… I ended it because it was so much work and ROI as an entrepreneur wasn’t there. And so that’s why we’re focused on these systems. So if people do want to start that, they can outsource the washing, they can outsource the logistics. Because I couldn’t hire someone to do pickups, because no one did it right? So that’s why with Impact Zero we’re focused on infrastructure. So then anyone who wants to start a business: it’s feasible, and there’s an ROI for their like time spent.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I mean, it is a lot of effort. And I mean talking about effort: I mean, I know obviously not the shop side but the consumer side, trying to shop sustainably is such a nightmare. It’s so difficult. And so this is why we’re also so curious about the shop that you build and maybe the experience you have. Now around the world, there’s a lot of sustainable online shops, and we think this is something that just makes it so much easier for consumers to be conscious about what they buy. Could you give us a bit of an overview of what shops are out there? What’s the landscape?
Erin Andrews: Yeah. I mean it’s… it is really hard. Because one thing that was a huge takeaway of running my own, I was like: If I purchased all of this in plastic and told people it wasn’t in plastic – nobody would know. Right? So, it’s really hard to know, because greenwashing is so easy. Like this sounds really pessimistic, but just bear with me. So it’s really easy to… to have someone tell you it’s sustainable and just… you have to believe it. As a consumer there’s no transparency, there’s no requirements for transparency, at least in North America, you know, to a large extent. So what we’re doing as part of Impact Zero’s work is: We’re putting together a circular business directory. Because it’s really easy to tell if something’s made from reused materials, right? Like if it’s some bag made from reused textile scraps, then it’s really easy to tell that. However, if you don’t know what to look for because you’re just looking for something that’s like green, or like reusable, or whatever, people don’t really take into consideration the sourcing of the materials and the disposal of the material. So, we have this directory to point people in the right direction because it makes it easier. Having online shops, it’s easier to find these products, however, it’s harder to be transparent with only an online store. So I mean, we’re trying to help consumers by having this directory and it’s only going to be Canadian stores for the beginning, but I could see it being larger, provided, you know, we have capacity to do that audit, to be able to say certainly these people are circular. Because it is really easy to dupe people. And as a consumer, it’s not the consumer’s fault. It’s governments and infrastructure that are responsible.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. I mean it’s hard. It’s really hard. Yeah. Yeah.
Erin Andrews: Exactly.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. I can… I can really relate to what you said because even, you know, even as a consumer if you are aware of all these issues and you try to research the information, it’s like impossible to find. And you can waste so much time on that. So I think that that directory of, you know, circular businesses that’s going to be something really helpful.
Erin Andrews: Yeah. It’s not to say that like it’s going to be perfect. I mean, B-Corps are trying to like have some, you know methodology around scoring businesses, but really like as a consumer, the most sustainable shopping is either not shopping or getting it second hand right? Going to a thrift store, going getting it from a friend, like buying it from someone down the street. Which, again, is an infrastructure question. How do you find those people? That’s something that we need. So there’s lots of different ways you can look at it, but it’s hard, and that’s just the reality at the moment.
Alicia Lee: Do you have any tips for people who may not have access to this directory you’re building up and then maybe outside of Canada? Are there any things they can keep in mind or look out for when they’re looking for these kind of sustainable shops.
Erin Andrews: Yeah, I mean, usually, taking a look at like who is the owner of the shop, and seeing how transparent they are on their website. Because as easy as it is for people to not be transparent, it’s also easy for them to be transparent. So, especially for small businesses, a lot of people put a lot of content on their social media, they put it on their website about them. If you’re supporting the individual and the individual has good intentions, then they might not be perfect today, because of limited resources, but you know the person behind it is really passionate. So trying to find local stores where you can talk to the owner, and like get a sense of where they’re at. And if not, like even just going on their about page to see like a) why they started, what their process has been. Trying to get to know them a little bit better. Because for corporations it’s hard, obviously, to know who’s behind that, but it’s a lot easier if it’s a small business. And supporting small businesses is supporting your local economy, which has a lot of other benefits. It goes beyond, you know, just like environmentalism, as well. It’s kind of a social thing. If you can increase your local economy, then those are the people who will be more iterative and be able to be circular when they start to realize that that’s an option. Yeah, supporting small, I guess, is my main thing. Because it’s just a higher chance of being transparent there.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, where can people find you, if they want to learn more?
Erin Andrews: Everyone can learn about the circular economy, learn more about what we’re doing at Impact Zero, at our website. So that’s impactzero.ca. Also, our Instagram is @impactzero.ca. Our Twitter is @impactzero_ca. And then we also share updates on LinkedIn – you can see that @impactzero, as well.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: We will put all those links in the show notes.
Erin Andrews: So many. Awesome, thank you.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Cool, thank you very much, Erin. That was so helpful.
Alicia Lee: Yeah, I really appreciated it.
Erin Andrews: No problem, thanks so much for having me. Was a lot of fun chatting with you guys.
Alicia Lee: I don’t know if you can tell, but this was my first interview. I really didn’t talk much at all. So this is the inverse of what happened with Catherine.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: I think you did pretty well.
Alicia Lee: So, was there anything that stood out for you from Aaron’s interview?
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, one thing she mentioned that I just want to emphasize is that it’s impossible to be perfect. She mentioned it from the shop owners perspective but also as a conscious consumer, of course, we should all do what we can, but it’s never gonna be perfect, and more importantly, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Alicia Lee: Yeah, one thing that she mentioned to address greenwashing is to find those people who are very transparent about what they’re doing. So even though they may not be perfect right now, but at least you know that they’re very passionate and they’re moving in the right direction.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, exactly. And what is quite cool is that circular business directory that she mentioned, right? For… for people living in Canada. So any listeners from Canada, you should check that out.
Alicia Lee: By the way, something exciting to share is that Erin invited us to join her podcast as well.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, so if you want to learn more about Alicia’s experience in building a startup, or you’re curious about why Chinmai and I started the How to Make a Difference podcast, tune in to Erin’s show, which is called Inner Circle.
Alicia Lee: So just as a brief teaser for our next episode, we’ll be talking with Evelina Lundqvist and Malin Leth, who are the co-hosts of the podcast Love Zero Waste. They’ll be giving us a lot of helpful tips on how we can reduce our waste.
And just a quick reminder, remember to fill out the survey to share your feedback about season one.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s it for today. See you next week. Bye-bye.
Alicia Lee: See you guys next week.