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Working together to build businesses beyond plastics
We’re familiar with the common edict to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” in order to help reduce the amount of plastic waste we leave in the environment. However, recycle is not really an effective solution, as I discussed in an earlier newsletter. Even when plastic is sent to be recycled, it often doesn’t actually get reused and much of it, in fact, is thrown away. And creating virgin plastics is actually cheaper for companies than using recycled plastics in their products.
One company, Grove Collaborative, is working to address this problem. Grove Collaborative sells cleaning and household products both created by the company itself and from other businesses. As part of my research of purpose-driven companies, I spoke with Stuart Landesberg, co-founder and CEO of Grove Collaborative, to learn more about the process of becoming plastic free and for an update on the company’s Beyond Plastic initiative.
Below are some of the key lessons from my article on Grove Collaborative that can help business and policymakers tackle the issue of plastic pollution.
· Landesberg says the Grove Collaborative aims to become plastics free in 2025. “For us, the biggest externality is plastic. So that was why we wanted to become plastic neutral and ultimately plastic free,” he explains. “We really do try to offset our impact, but neutrality is a last resort for the places where we can't either reduce the overall footprint of the product or remove water entirely so we don't need plastic.”
· One way for Grove Collaborative to reduce plastics waste is to recreate the supply chains. Landesberg says, “when we work with factories, we do audits. If we have a red flag come up in an audit, rather than ditching that factory and saying, ‘Okay, cool. Someone else can use this factory that is polluting,’ we will incentivize them to fix the problems, which we think is significantly better than just allowing the problem to continue and now it's someone else's problem.”
· Another way is to work together with other businesses. “We lead a plastic working group, which is made up of over 60 companies from across the industry. We're all businesses, but it's not a business-oriented group, it is a solutions-oriented group,” Landesberg says. “Collaborative is the second word in our company name because I believe in that deeply.”
· Landesberg agrees that recycling is only a temporary solution. He says “when you look at recycled plastic, is it better than what we have today? Absolutely, but it's a false choice to say the options are today's insane and unconscionable use of virgin plastic or just increasing plastic recycling.”
· Finally, Landesberg believes company should work with consumers rather than pushing them into plastic-free products. “One of the beautiful things about Grove is it was built to be able to participate in all parts of that transition and to be able to meet the consumer where he or she or they are and not say, ‘Hey it's our way or the highway,’ in terms of using this next generation product,” he says.
While some of the largest companies are putting the onus on consumers to recycle or change their behaviors, Grove Collaborative is making visible efforts to drive sustainable change. As Landesberg says, “if Grove were to suffer because every product from the world's largest consumer packaged goods (CPG) company went zero plastic, then that would be an awesome outcome.”