Start a Sustainability Brand

A sustainability brand is a brand that undertakes sustainable practices in the workings of their business and champion them.

I have spoken about sustainability numerous times in the past and incorporating this in your business (links below of page). I have also looked at starting a Social Enterprise Donating Some of Your Profits to a Good Cause. But today I look at building a sustainability brand.

What is a sustainability brand
Sustainability branding is the process of creating and maintaining an identity of a specific product, service, or business that reflects a special added value in terms of environmental and social benefits.  This can be replacing an existing product with an eco-friendly alternative, (made using an eco-friendly process or you will be accused of greenwashing). For example if you are replacing plastic straws with paper alternatives so it don’t end up in the noses of turtles but the paper straws are made by cutting down trees in the Amazon rainforest – trees in which monkeys live then treehuggers will take photos of homeless monkeys and tarnish your brand.

The type of brand I want to look at today is one made from recycled materials. Yes, I know I am going to be using “reuse-reduce-recycle” twice in a month.

Here are the tips for success in this industry. 
I have mentioned some of these before but I will summarise here.

Do not recycle the materials yourself
You are in the brand building business. You cannot operate collection points, clean, sort, recycle, process etc. etc. that is too much work. You need to spend time to cultivate the brand as it will most likely be sold at a premium to its mass-produced counterpart.

Specialise in a category
If you are just starting out, specialise in one category only. If you are making shoulder bags from recycled banner signs or old ship sails or from cement bags. Then you specialise in bags like the Fishfinger or Sealand Gear (the guys that sell ship sail bags at the V&A Waterfront). Now these bags can be made from any material, billboards, sails, kites and use seatbelt as the handles (the webbing can be bought).

If you have been reading me for a while, before I turned to shitposting I used to talk about “effectuation theory” which are techniques used to be successful in business with little resources and one of the pillars is “bird in hand” – create value with what’s available at the moment, however limited your resources. Work with what you have right here right now and not be like the typical South African entrepreneur  walking from pillar to post with a “business plan” looking to raise millions. Where I’m from they call that living in a Fanta blikkie:

One of the good examples of “bird in hand”, even mentioned by the Society for Effectual Action is the Swiss sustainability brand Freitag that specialise in making bags from truck tarps. The video I want to cite is now private. But here is the part of it from Dailymotion:

All above images Copyright Freitag.


To give you an example of the don’t recycle yourself + specialise. I spoke about plastic recycling twice (12). Then I spoke about injection moulding. I see people make the mistakes mentioned. They try to recycle and make products. These are two different disciplines and unless you have vast resources to do it at scale it won’t be worthwhile (unless you are doing it for theatrics and selling tickets so people can see how plastic is recycled). Then they buy off the shelf Precious Plastics moulds to make the same me-too products that are widely available for much cheaper and hope that people will pay the premium because it is recycled. This is not the way to build a – excuse the pun – sustainable brand.

An example
I wanted to buy me a hat the other day. I went to Markham(s) where I had bought me a fedora style hat years earlier (like a mini panama hat). They used to sell these white woven braided paper hats with the black band in years gone by. Mine had gotten wet and lost its shape. So I walked in only to be told they only sell tsotsi hats, sorry I mean bucket hats or floppies. Apparently South African men want to all look like Uzzi wearing cash-in-transit robbers.

But when in Rome do as the Romans.

So I decided to start a bucket hat company to sell hats to the local guys. I Googled “how are bucket hats made” and I found a nice recipe pattern. Now I remembered from last time that PET bottles can be weaved spun into a fabric, what is called “RPET” fabric (a reusable and sustainable material). I am now in the market for an RPET fabric supplier so I make sustainable tsotsi hats and get a cut of all those R350 grants.

What do you guys think of the ad I designed?

Related Links
Start a Plastic Recycling Company
Plastic Recycling Business UPDATE
Recycle Plastic Bottles Into Rope That Can Be Resold

Image credit: weallsew.com