Our guest post this week is from Catherine Conway <gets up off knees>
A slightly roundabout route studying Spanish, living in Latin America, working for a human rights charity and running a local regeneration project led Catherine to found her own business in 2006 – Unpackaged. Unpackaged is a shop in London that has done away with packaging and asks consumers to bring and refill their own bags and containers.
Catherine hopes to expand the concept into other areas so that everyone can have a local Unpackaged selling healthy, affordable, organic food and household necessities without any unnecessary and wasteful packaging.
Today she shares her story…
Reuse and refill
Unpackaged is a local organic refill grocery. Since we opened in 2007, our aim has been to sell fantastic products and help our customers shop more sustainably by offering everything in refills.
Our policy is to sell high quality, organic & environmentally sustainable products, sourced seasonally & directly from local producers; extending our philosophy of reuse both up and down the supply chain.
My mentor Liam Black once said that there were only two things a social enterprise should worry about; financial sustainability & social impact as everything else is superfluous. Because of the world, and the times we live in, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the finances of our business that sometimes I forget what we’re doing this for.
A modern idea
Some of my happiest times are spent buried in research, looking at Unpackaged as a whole, seeing how we fit into the modern food supply chain and why we think our way has much to offer. So, in a nutshell, this is why we do what we do:
1. C0² reduction from less packaging – There is an average 48% reduction in emissions each time a product is refilled from Unpackaged (1) compared to the same product bought in traditional packaging.
2. The reduction of material waste from landfill & incineration – For an indicative set of 10 products refilled across the year, 118 pieces of packaging are saved from landfill. (2)
3. Less food waste as customers can buy just the amount they want – 8.3 million tonnes of food is thrown away by households in the UK every year, the equivalent of 20 million tonnes of C0² emissions every year (3)
4. Positive behaviour change – We help our customers consume more sustainably. 60% of customers said that since they started shopping with Unpackaged they do not buy over-packaged products in other shops (4)
5. Economic benefits across the supply chain:
• Producers: Producers gain better margins on bulk products
• Customers: Save money by not spending on packaging (the annual cost for the average family is £470 (5) and by buying only what they need rather wasting it (average annual cost of wasted food is £480 (6)
• The Community: Research carried out into sustainability in business and the health of local communities shows that the act of reusing and refilling products made locally keeps money in the local economy (7) £1 spent with a local supplier is worth £1.76 to the local economy whereas the community only benefits from 36p if it is spent with a chain (8)
However, there is always a danger when people, or organisations, think theirs is the only way – we fully recognise the need for a diverse range of solutions to the complex problem of food related climate change. We’re part of the solution and just trying to be the best at what we do.
Unpackaged will celebrate its third birthday in November 2010, testament to our fantastic and committed customers who share our vision for a more sustainable world (and a nice chat over the counter as they shop!) We’re brimming with ideas of how to develop and replicate our model to make it available to many more people and the more we grow and can invest in our business, the higher our social impact will be. Our vision is a world with less wasteful packaging and we’re achieving it one customer at a time!
(1). Unpackaged Giraffe innovation Greenhouse Gas Assessment 2008
(2) Internal estimation. We look forward to getting this externally verified when we can afford it!
(4) Unpackaged 1st Birthday customer survey
(5) Women’s Institute packaging campaign
(6) Ibid WRAP
(7) Hawken, Paul. The Ecology of Commerce p144-145
(8) New Economics.