Mon 17 Jan 2022 | 04:04 pm GMT
Rob Hutchins | Products of Change Writer
Amy Holden, founder of World Alive talks us through her new plans for a single-use plastic free Aqua Dragons brand
Wow, that's a big shift and it sounds fantastic. So, how do you begin to design out plastic and waste, particularly within an industry that has been so reliant on it as a resource and basis of product?
Becoming more sustainable is not hard but it does require time (and patience) to learn about the materials and processes available and development to effectively review and implement changes in your product catalogue. For brands who are just starting to turn their attention to this area, the fastest and easiest thing you can do is remove all single-use plastic from packaging.
We have recently launched Soul Mates Kids Yoga, a brand that focuses on helping children activate the body and calm the mind. Within the range, we have kids sized yoga mats, meditation pillows, yoga cards, drinks bottles and books. We designed this brand to be as sustainable as possible from the start and that is a promise which we communicate on our products with the Happy Planet logo and statement.
There are no perfect solutions yet and it’s not possible to simply 100 per cent turn our backs on plastic because plastic has incredible properties that are not available in other materials. It is possible to work with recycled materials so existing plastic is collected and given many lives, or with materials that biodegrade or materials that come from bio-based materials. It is important to see sustainability as a process which will evolve as technology does.
Our first generation Soul Mates Kids Yoga mats were made of regular EVA that has a novel additive that allows it to biodegrade in landfill conditions. However, as we continue to work with manufacturers to develop a sustainable foam, we will soon move to a micro-cellular PU foam that is biodegradable, more environmentally friendly in the production process, and has a lower carbon footprint and better, less contaminating recyclability than EVA foam.
Eventually, we would like to move to using bio-foam in our mats but this material is currently in development. We will be here to help bring it to market as it becomes available.
The Soul Mates meditation pillows are made from 100 per cent recycled post consumer waste plastic bottles, in both the soft plush outer and the polyester filling. About seven bottles are used for each meditation pillow. With Soul Mates we like to say care for yourself and the planet and we are working on many new additions to this range and the constant improvement of the sustainability as we go.
World Alive is well known in the industry for Aqua Dragons, while Soul Mates is a multi-award winning brand, but could you talk us through your Earth for All business a little more? This is a departure from the kids' space, but sustainable product focused it seems...
At the start of the pandemic we realised we could not find masks for kids and those that did exist were all single-use disposables which is terrible for the environment. As a children’s product developer accustomed to making highly regulated products, we took on the challenge of making certified organic cotton reusable face masks in fun prints and sizes for the whole family. This was our first ‘for kids but not a toy’ product.
EarthForAll is a spin-off of that project which is inspired in the same zero-plastic ‘re-think, reuse, recycle’ theme to provide an extensive line of sustainable products for mothers, babies, kids and families who are conscious of the environment. We want to bring easy and guilt-free sustainability to the heart of every home.
Schools are at the forefront of sustainability more than brands and they are imposing that children do not use aluminium foil or cling wrap, bring paper serviettes and so on. Mothers and babies need a variety of products that are usually only available as disposables such as breast and menstrual pads, nappies, baby wipes, kitchen wraps etc that are all products that could be made to be washed and reused instead of disposable, saving waste and avoiding plastic.
These, of course, are not new inventions. In some way it’s almost like going back to the pre-plastic era of the 1950s but with modern designs, and do you know what - that’s OK!
How does being across this space with Earth for All inform the work you do across the other World Alive brands?
The EarthForAll brand is almost completely made locally in Spain, and this has led us to have relationships with local suppliers that are now helping us manufacture more of the other two brands. It’s becoming a big family! We are also working with more channels than just toys now, from pharmacies, gift, apparel, and bookstores all due to the broadening of the brand’s scope.
Apart from packaging and materials innovation, how else do you guys work to ensure sustainable practices are in place across the company?
Good question, and one that I shall break down for you here.
Sales: We help clients calculate order to fit containers or pallets for best economy in carbon footprint.
Logistics: We have opened molds and an EU production site in Barcelona so we can ship western and central European orders with a lower carbon footprint.
In the Office: We are fully digital in our order admin. We now issue and receive invoices, account and back up in a completely paperless way. It’s rare to receive letters in the mail now.
In e-commerce: We use cornstarch biodegradable shipper bags, paper tape and we reuse all incoming cartons.
In the warehouse: We use paper tape, minimum shrink wrap, recycled pallets and we have skylights in the roof to save on electricity.
Additionally, some of our staff are vegans and vegetarians, so our lunches (when we can get together) tend to be along these lines. Super ecological!
What do you think the coming year has in store for the topic of sustainability, particularly in the children's and toys sector?
The Toy sector is finally getting behind sustainable toys as you can see it is a featured theme at the toy fairs. But, the major mass market producers are still almost wholly using petrochemical plastics and dabbling in the occasional eco themed item, rather than centering it in their strategy.
When I see Mattel making promises for 2030 I think, “Come on move faster!”
My hope is that the big brands will start to compete in sustainability in order to accelerate the process for all of us. This is necessary because the smaller brands find it very difficult to get material producers to collaborate with us to make new materials like bio-plastics, because the cost to benefit ratio is not favorable for small and medium manufacturing.
However, for large companies it really is possible to amortise the development costs over the many millions of units they can commit to produce and sell. When the big guys step up and become more sustainable, it will be possible for the whole industry to follow suit and the tide will properly turn and most products will be sustainable; it will be the norm.
For this to happen, we need governments to stop giving grants, tax breaks and incentives to the petro-chemical industry, and instead give them to the bio-plastics and other sustainable material industries. I would add that companies that make sustainable items should have a tax break, this would also speed up the process.
Amy, this has been a very interesting and very in-depth talk about what you guys are doing to push the sustainability agenda within the toys space. What's the next step for you guys?
We have some work to do in consolidation of the new brands though communication and we have a five year program of new items to launch! One of our objectives is to try and make play sustainable by being fun and easy for families. We have the feeling that people feel constantly guilt tripped by seeing very negative and demotivating messages about drowning polar bears and the like, so we want to take a more positive mindset to it.
Taking regular small steps towards sustainability at home can be a satisfying activity to do together as a family project or in community. We’ve created a blog on our website www.earthforall.shop and social media pages @EarthForAll to create a community and accompany families by growing together.
As an industry that is in constant change, with hundreds of thousands of new products being designed and launched every year, we should acknowledge that we are leaders and we are the perfect catalysts for change. Our consumers are children and their families, who are ever more conscious and are starting to value and have an expectation of sustainability. We can meet that demand.
Just in the same way there have been leaps and bounds in ethical manufacturing, which all good toy brands handle very well, we can do the same with sustainability. As a top down decision we can make it easier for the consumer to satiate their desire to be more green.
I just want to add that I’m the first person who forgets to take the shopping bag to the store, and some weeks our household completely fails at recycling. It’s not about perfection but more the long term intention, over a period of years we have come a long way. I dislike how climate change has become a polarised political position (or division). I think we should just recognise that in the same way we care for our families we should be caring for our environment and put our heart into it and do it as best as we can or, we start fresh again the next day.
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