Natural Parent Magazine – Business Profile
I DON’T WANT TO GIVE UP ALL MY LITTLE CONVENIENCES!
Inspired by innovative and solution-based problem solving, founder of Solve Group, Rachael Neale is convinced that everyone can help to reduce the amount of plastic waste destroying our planet. “It begins with each of us getting excited by our ability to change little things, and no, it doesn’t have to mean turning your whole life upside down to do it!”
Her business model challenges industries who have us convinced that just buying products in biodegradable or compostable packaging is enough, regardless of where it ends up. She instead is looking to provide solutions that address this problem. “Compostable packaging is only really compostable if it ends up as compost…not as landfill!” We spoke to Rachael to learn more about what she does and how she got started.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
I’d been on a considerable health journey and was also really concerned with what I was seeing happen in the world around plastic waste. The two interests came together, and this dream was birthed.
I found it frustrating that so much of the information out there was confusing and unachievable for many busy households and businesses. I started to think that people might not do anything at all if they had to dramatically change the way they live, or not be able to enjoy their little conveniences. So I started getting excited about making it really simple for each one of us to make a real difference, without it interfering too much with our daily life.
I suppose there are many great businesses out there that were started out of someone’s frustration!
The Launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
We have been on a journey to develop a robust business model that would be achievable for us and make the biggest impact, but would still remain convenient for customers.
Our goal is to make an impact on the amount of plastic waste going into landfill. We want to offer everyday products in compostable packaging – products that might usually generate a lot of plastic waste – delivered to households and workplaces. Everyday items such as coffee, honey, spices, nuts and organic household products for a start, but even more over time. We also developed products like the ecopompom – a pompom keyring that is always with you and holds a reusable shopping bag, reducing the number of plastic bags that are still bought in those ‘Uh-Oh I forgot my bag’ moments.
Then we got really clear on our passion for making sure that the packaging we used would end up where it needed to be, returning to nature as compost instead of ending up in landfill, and this led us to create a solution to deal with the amount of compostable coffee cups ending up in landfill. There was a missing link….. the lack of infrastructure for dealing with empty compostable packaging means there is little follow-through on where it ends up. The reality is that for the majority of us, home composting isn’t a viable option, and so much of this packaging ends up in landfill. Yay for those who manage composting in their backyard, but for many of us there needs to be an easier solution.
Outside of our major cities, it’s difficult to access composting facilities across New Zealand. However, we had some great conversations with a facility in Auckland about how we could make it work. With the system we have developed since, I believe we are on the verge of delivering a full-circle solution. We will be able to provide a totally compostable package of awesome products that will be delivered to our customers door, or to their workplace. We will also then provide an ‘on demand’ service (no bin fees or weekly subscriptions) for the collection of the empty packaging across New Zealand, and once full, we will provide a courier service taking the custom designed collection box direct to the composting facility. This collection service will also be available to cafe’s for the collection of compostable coffee cups and lids.
Convenient for customers, much better for the environment, and we’ll be rolling it out across New Zealand shortly.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
To be honest, I think the most significant breakthrough came in an ‘ah-ha’ moment.
I had always believed that people basically wanted to do the right thing. I believed that people try their best to do good wherever possible. This was confirmed when I ran into a beautiful friend, excited to tell me about how she had used compostable plates and utensils for Christmas lunch the year before. However, she then proceeded to tell me how good she felt as she threw the dishes in the bin after lunch was finished!
The good intent was there, but she had no idea that her efforts had been wasted. She assumed (like most of us) that because they were compostable, the items would break down in landfill. There was a real gap between her good intent and the actual reality of what happens.
I felt cheated and frustrated on her behalf, and with the increase in the amount of compostable packaging being used, I was now even more determined to come up with solutions that would help people actually achieve the outcome they intended.
It’s not as easy as it sounds though! We’ve thought about every step, and looked at it from every angle. From the packaging we deliver products in, to making it easy for people to return the compostable waste without adding to the plastic problem. We’ve looked at the tapes, adhesives and labels we will use, right down to our fonts. Yes, we even use an eco font that reduces our ink usage by a third!
Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?
I am an Australian married to a Kiwi, and my husband and I have 5 adult children, and 5 grandchildren spread out across Australasia. We’ve passed through the manic young family stage, but we are a close family and Skype sessions with everyone on a regular basis does involve a bit of organisation. My husband and I work closely together and love it that way. We are involved in our community together, and we are both passionate about our various projects. We are thankful that we’re in a really blessed stage of life!
For better or worse: What are the pros and cons of running your own business?
There’s so much to learn! Especially during the early days of getting an idea off the ground. It’s easy to have days where you feel like it’s all too hard. I do believe that if we’re going to make a difference though, we’ve all got to do our little bit. I was never going to be able to use the ‘overwhelmed card’ as an excuse!
It certainly takes a lot of work to make your dreams a reality. It’s no small feat to pull all the various pieces together to achieve something that actually works. As you step towards your passion though, the right people seem to cross your path, and you can achieve far more than you ever imagined!
Hopes and dreams: What next?
World domination…. I think the planet would thank us! Ha!
But until then, my dream would be to replace packaging on as many everyday products as possible with compostable packaging, and to ensure that the packaging actually ends up as compost. I would love for households across New Zealand to join us in our mission, taking it on as their own.
Imagine if one day our products rivalled the standard supermarket range! I picture a day when people can buy most of their dry goods, pet food etc. in compostable packaging, and then use our system to easily and conveniently ensure the packaging gets to where it needs to go. This would help to reduce plastic waste and landfill considerably. In the meantime, we are continually working at sourcing quality products for the range.
I would also love to have the opportunity to increase awareness and education around this issue.
Watch this space!