Environmental awareness among consumers and corporate organisations is booming in Australia, particularly when it comes to the health of our precious marine environments — and two Australian small businesses are at the epicentre of a surge in demand for sustainable products.
Queensland social enterprise The Good Beer Co will donate 50% of profits from its Great Barrier Beer to the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) to help save the Great Barrier Reef, while fellow Queensland startup OceanZen manufactures swimwear made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets and helps educate customers about the health of our oceans globally.
Although both businesses are relatively new, with burgeoning sales, successful crowdfunding initiatives and celebrity endorsements from Richard Branson to Malcolm Turnbull, they are proving that green is the new black in startup world.
Cheers to a great idea
The Good Beer Co’s business model is to partner with independent brewers to produce a high-selling craft beer that can support the business and an associated charity. James Grugeon, head of The Good Beer Co, ran an environmental NGO in the UK and worked with energy disruptor PowerShop. He knows first-hand how people are increasingly engaging with ‘green’ causes, which is why he began with one of the biggest green issues in Australia right now — the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef.
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“There’s that growing base of people out there that we call conscious consumers who are much more interested than they used to be in the story behind the product and service that they are consuming,” he told SmartCompany.
But it’s not just consumers — there’s a growing awareness of corporates to be seen to be green as well, and that’s good news for the Good Beer Co.
“Some of the growth is companies that are recognising that in order to be long-term successful and sustainable, this is something they need to build into their business plan,” he says.
“As an organisation, they’ve become conscious that their customers want to see them doing the right thing as well.”
Grugeon has thus far negotiated a distribution deal in Queensland with BWS, is stocked across a chain of resorts on Lady Elliot Island and Hayman Island, as well as restaurants in Brisbane, and has just landed a huge order with P&O Australia and Carnival Australia cruise ships.
Good Beer Co raised $62,000 in an initial crowdfunding campaign and Grugeon is having conversations with impact investors — those with a specific interest in social enterprises. This financial year will see a turnover of between $350,000 and $400,000 and, although the company is yet to make a profit, the uptake is so promising Grugeon will donate between $20,000 and $25,000 to AMCS this year.
“I am having conversations with not just the beer or food and beverage buyer at Woolworths, BWS or Dan Murphy’s or P&O, I am talking to their sustainability people, their corporate affairs people and in the case of P&O, I am talking to Ann Sherry, the executive chairman,” he says.
“And they are engaging with us not just on the level of, ‘it’s a really good beer and it’s the right price and we want to put it onto our ships’, but also because they like the story and they like the fact that we are a social enterprise and we are working through beer to support good causes.
“That is a really powerful thing that makes me feel confident that this will really work.”
Swimming in a good business idea
Queensland entrepreneur Steph Gabriel began swimwear range OceanZen three years ago while studying environmental science. A passionate supporter of the health of the world’s oceans, she has built a successful — and growing — business designing and producing bikinis made from Econyl. Made by Italian firm Aquafil, Econyl a nylon fabric made from abandoned fishing nets and plastic bottles from the ocean and landfill, as well as carpets, clothing and other textiles containing nylon.
Gabriel’s fourth collection is due for release in September and is the second to feature Econyl. Gabriel recently successfully passed a crowdfunding challenge with ING’s Dreamstarter program for social businesses, raising $41,055. The startup has collaboration projects lined up and has also just been invited to take part in Richard Branson’s exclusive entrepreneur’s program for industry game changers on Necker Island.
Gabriel says her business and her profile as a spokesperson for creating a plastic-free and ocean-friendly business blossomed thanks to a greater desire for sustainable products.
“There is definitely an increase in awareness, especially over the last year,” she says.
“More people are starting to realise and there is becoming more of a voice for sustainability; I definitely know that there will be more and more sustainable businesses coming out over the next few years which is awesome — the more the merrier.”
Gabriel said she was a bit “ballsy” to dive into OceanZen with little capital, but it’s paying off.
“I launched knowing that it wouldn’t be profitable at first,” she says.
“This fabric costs more money because it is sustainable. It’s kind of like organic food — it costs more because it is so niche and it is better for you, which is ridiculous, but with more demand in organic food then the price will drop.”
Gabriel says many business owners are now coming to her for advice on how to be environmentally friendly as a way to market that aspect of their business to their customer base who appreciate it.
“It can be as simple as swapping their packaging,” she says.
“If every business went plastic-free it would make such a big change. We use recycled cardboard pillow boxes and that completely avoids plastic.
“With education will come change on that and more people will start to care about it, the more they learn that their lifestyle is affecting it.”