Why Sustainable Business is Better (3 Tips to Make a Difference)

13-minute read (19-minute watch)

How do you deal with competitors that copy you? Ways to stay relevant to the market.

This week our guest speaker was Shay Lawrence is the founder of CaliWoods, loves surfing and the ocean.

Passion lies in using business as a force for good, developing her own business in the Social Enterprise space and inspiring people to live more sustainable lifestyles.

● What is a Sustainable Business and Why It’s Important
● Top 3 Tips to Start Making a Difference Today
● How to Avoid Common Mistakes
● Ways to Stay Relevant to the Market and Use Business as a Force for Change
● Other Practical Advice that Will Help You Grow

Max:  Today, we will talk about why sustainable business is a better business, and three tips to make a difference today. Our guest is Shay Lawrence from CaliWoods.

Shay is the founder of CaliWoods, loves surfing and the ocean. Passion lies in using business as a force for good, developing her own business in the Social Enterprise space, inspiring people to live more sustainable lives.

She has been incredibly successful. In just over two years, her products are sold in over 300 stores throughout New Zealand. Shay, would you like to add anything else about yourself or your business?

Shay:  I think you covered it pretty well, Max. That was a good introduction.

Max:  Could you explain to the audience what do you do, what do you sell?

Shay:  Sure. I started CaliWoods about two years ago; it was after coming back from traveling. I went to some of the most isolated places in the world, and the most isolated places in the ocean.

What I actually saw was the plastic pollution follow us to every single place we went.

Then I came home after about six years, and I decided that I really wanted to do something in a business space, work for myself, and have a bit of lifestyle freedom.

I also wanted to do something that contributes to the overall shift, the way I want to see the world going; and to do something about all that plastic pollution that I saw in the craziest places.

CaliWoods is mainly about reusables and inspiring positive change in the sustainability space. We focus on the customer, on people like you and I, who buy and use things on a day-to-day basis.

We’re trying to find the most sustainable alternatives.

We started with reusable straws about two years ago. Now it has become quite a mainstream product; but at the start, we were having people ask us, “Oh, why would I use a reusable straw?”

We launched with that product, and it was super successful.

I started really small, in the Sunday markets, under a gazebo, and then developed a retail product from there.

This year, we’ve launched into other products as well. Along the same theme, sustainability. Tumblers, sports, and cutlery packs that people can use instead of singly using plastics.

Max:  Obviously, Shay, you have competitors in this market. Why do you think being sustainable is a competitive advantage? Do you have any examples?

Shay:  I’d say that addressing sustainability in business is super important, especially considering the time we’re in now.

We’ve just had massive strikes all around the world for climate action; we’ve had a UN report come out, saying we’ve got a million species facing extinction. I don’t know about other people, but it’s not ok with me.

In one generation we’ve wiped out half of all marine life; we’re facing more plastic in the ocean and fish by the wedge in 2050.

A system that we’ve created, and what we’ve done as the business is we’ve basically pooped on our own doorstep.

What are we going to do to move away from this path that we’re going down? It isn’t good for anybody on the planet, it’s not good for other species, and we’re literally facing our own extinction in a way.

From my perspective and everything that I’ve seen in sustainability space, business, and Social Enterprise over the last two years is that you’re future proofing your business when you address sustainability.

This is extremely important. Millennials are coming through, and they’re not just buying – they’re buying for a reason: they buy purpose, they buy a story, and they buy things that are better.

Now, a lot of people are willing to spend extra couple of bucks on a product that is doing something better, even though it’s pretty much the same. There’s that additional Social Enterprise “give back” part about your product or service.

I think addressing sustainability is future-proofing your business and ensuring that you’re doing the right thing.

At the end of the day, as humans, inherently we just want to be happy. Also, I think we’re going to be pretty unhappy if we know that our business is contributing to a really crappy world.

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Max:  I 100% agree with you, Shay. Actually, in our recent business news article, we published a topic about “flying shame”.

People in Europe – not only Millennials but wealthy and middle-class people – they stay away from flying and taking air trips because it emits more pollution. It’s a growing trend.

If you start your business concentrating on sustainable products and services, it will give you an additional competitive advantage.

Talking about manufacturing, how should NZ importers decide whether to manufacture locally or doing it overseas?

Shay:  I’ve got a bit of a combination of manufacturing at CaliWoods. I manufacture in China, Taiwan, New Zealand, Indonesia, and I’m looking at something in Sweden at the moment as well.

All I can say with sustainability and business is that there’s absolutely no way that your business is going to be perfect straight off the bat.

Whether you decide to manufacture overseas or in New Zealand, your products and services will always have a footprint, no matter what. That’s just the nature of it.

You should look at it from a really holistic perspective. “Every business is going to have an impact. How am I going to be the most impactful?

What changes can I make, slowly but surely, that are going to maintain profitability, while allowing me to have a positive impact?”

Talking about overseas factories, look at the ISO standards. Make sure you have a manufacturing agreement in place that covers child labor, working labor, holidays, environmental impacts.

Make sure the factories are compliant. It is an important step when you’re looking at overseas.

Sure, it’s fantastic if you can manufacture in New Zealand.

What I’ve found as well is that there are certain products that I can’t do here – people are not willing to pay 40 NZD for them. They’re ok with paying 20 NZD, but they won’t buy it for 40 NZD.

Somebody else may come in and offer it for 20 NZD, and then you won’t have a business.

We have this interesting dynamic of price, sustainability, and manufacturing locations at the moment. You just have to find the fit that works for you and make sure that you’re doing the best you can.

If you have established manufacturing, start looking at those processes.

I would recommend going for anybody, going through the B Corp certification, or even just doing the online survey that will show you where are your strengths and weaknesses as a business, and how you can mitigate the things that are not done so well.

Max:  Shay, how do you deal with copycats or competitors that use your IP or your design and copy your products?

Shay:  When I did reusable straws, I was the first to launch into the NZ market. I knew that, realistically, I had about six to eight months before every single other company starts coming on board.

I knew it was going to happen, and it did happen.

I try not to put too much energy and focus on that. At the end of the day, there’s nothing you can do to prevent that coming through.

I just let it go. I know it’s going to happen, and I try to stay ahead of the game in terms of launching new products, marketing differently, making sure our messages are perfect, etc. I try not to put too much energy into it.

Max:  That’s what we do in our company. We realized that if you concentrate on your customers, if you think of how you can serve them instead of worrying about your competitors, if you look after your clients, they’ll keep coming back.

Shay:  It’s a delicate balance between being aware of what’s going on and making sure you adapt accordingly. Be aware. Still, I tend to not put too much energy into work.

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Max:  Obviously, like in most businesses, you’ve had your own mistakes. Could you share one example of something that you would do differently if you started your own business all over again?

Shay:  Oh, that’s a quite difficult one. There are a lot of things going on when you’re sitting up that you don’t know.

Probably, the best thing that I did at the start was just to educate myself, realize at the right time that I knew enough, and then actually start doing.

That’s one thing that I think I did really well; learned all of this information that I needed to know, got familiar with the software, and then actually went out and started doing stuff instead of talking about it.

One thing that I probably would’ve done differently is introducing my inventory system – TradeGecko, which links right into Xero – a little bit earlier.

Another thing is asking somebody else to help me with the setup because there have been things that I’ve had to go back and do, and it’s been a bit frustrating.

Max:  Shay, we have a question from Alex. He is asking, “How other import businesses can follow your steps and what can they do today to minimize the use of plastic in the office or warehouse?”

Shay:  Cool. It’s a great question. It differs with each business. I would say just looking at exactly where your impact is, where you’ve got a lot of waste, or something going on in the supply chain.

Tackle one thing at a time. I can’t say exactly what I did because it will be different for every single business.

Here’s an example. For instance, when you get samples sent from China, Taiwan or Germany – wherever you supplier happens to be – you can actually request in your supply chain that they don’t send you things packed a certain way.

As a part of an agreement, we got a change from normal sellotape on our boxes to paper tape; we said we won’t accept any goods that are wrapped in plastic.

It’s not just about recycling office-wide. It’s going up and down your supply chain as well.

Our request up there was “Let’s get sent all of our products plastic-free.”; and we send these products to our stores plastic-free, too. It’s a great little place to start.

I can recommend doing a broad-scale look, making a list of 10 things to change over the next year. Tackle one thing at the start. Because if you do every single one at once, it’s going to be just “AAA” – too crazy. One habit at a time.

It goes for business and your personal life as well. If you’re using coffee cups and plastic bags, don’t quit today. Start one new thing today. And then slowly integrate those habits.

That’s where you’re going to get real change. Otherwise, it’s probably going to fail, and you’ll end up going back to your original way of living.

Max:  Talking about suppliers, Shay, what do you require from your staff and subcontractors? Do they change their personal lives if they join CaliWoods?

Shay:  Since I’ve started the business, there have been multiple times that we’ve definitely impacted other companies, which is fantastic.

Everybody who day-to-day works directly with me at CaliWoods, they are definitely passionate about sustainability.

I think that’s super important. You need to have people that are on the same mission as you and really appreciate that mission; your marketing, your messages – everything is going to come out way more genuine.

When it came to our 3PL at the start, two years ago, before this plastic-free thing blew up, I’ve sent a couple of packs of straws out in a plastic carrier bag, and I thought, “Oh, this just feels so wrong. It can’t happen, it can’t be this way.”

We’ve spent a lot more money on shipping materials; for example, our paper tape costs 6 times as much as a roll of plastic tape, or more.

But it’s a non-negotiable. It’s what makes our business unique. We back up what we stand for.

Going back to people that work with us as 3PL, at the start I asked them, “Hey, I really want to work with you, guys, but I have a plastic-free shipping policy, and that’s a non-negotiable. So, are you able to do it?”

Basically, they adopted their entire shipping – materials and stuff – to suit us. In turn, I had other businesses approach me, asking, “Shay, who does your shipping?

Are these businesses in the sustainability space?” Our contractors got extra customers from that, which is really cool.

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Max:  How do you inspect your factories? Do you fly there every year? Or do you ask them for photos, videos, any other proofs to make sure they comply?

Shay: Yes. I’ve visited the factory in Taiwan twice; the Chinese factory I’ve visited once. In terms of compliance, they definitely are sending us images and videos.

You can also get third-party-inspections, which is something that I’m looking into.

Max:  What products are you looking forward to launching this year? Anything in particular that you’re excited about?

Shay:  There are a few things that have just come out. For instance, a reusable tumbler for smoothies and coffees.

We’ve got a “spork” – a spoon and a fork – coming out, with a little case. You can put it in your car glove box or in your handbag, and take it with you.

Now you can say no to single-use cutlery when you’re out, you won’t need to use it anymore.

We also have some food wraps coming out, like takeaway containers. I’m going to size it to an NZ takeaway. You can bring this container with you to your curry house, get them to fill it up, and then take it home.

All those sorts of things along the sustainability, reducing-plastic-waste path.

Max:  Another question for you, Shay. A new bill in New Zealand called “Zero Carbon by 2050” has just been introduced. Do you think it is achievable, even though technologically NZ is still behind many Western countries?

Shay:  When I look at the science of climate change, I think we just have to make it work. We don’t have an option. From reading what came out, I do believe it’s achievable.

But for people who think otherwise, they need to adopt a positive mindset and be supportive, “Ok, cool, this is where we have to go; we don’t have an option. We can’t put profit in front of the planet anymore. Look at where it’s got us.”

We have to readjust and make a massive shift. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, and I don’t think any person working with sustainability would say that.

Because it’s going to basically take a whole shift of how we consume, how we do business, what we package our staff in, how we move, how we fly – all of that sort of thing.

Yes, I do think it’s possible. Is it going to be easy? No. Do we have to do it? Absolutely. If we don’t, we don’t really have a future on this planet.

Max:  Shay, I’d like to ask you three rapid-fire questions.

Shay:  Oh, okay.

Max:  What has been your best personal purchase this year?

Shay:  Pretty funny, I bought a glass water bottle from the supermarket because I had no bottle with me, which is very uncommon. It’s a really nice, dark blue bottle. Nothing fancy.

It cost me around 4 NZD. I’ve used it as my water bottle this year, and I really love it.

Max:  Second question, what’s been your best business purchase this year?

Shay:  I’d say investment in my assistant. She has taken over a lot of the day-to-day admin. I wouldn’t exactly call it a purchase, but, definitely, an investment. With the admin taken away, I can do bigger scale stuff.

Max:  Last but not least, what’s your favorite place in the world?

Shay:  I’d have to say Tahiti. I love New Zealand, don’t get me wrong. But Tahiti has this majestic, prehistoric, dinosaur-isk feel about it. Beautiful clear water, amazing animals, incredible mountains right on the water’s edge.

I think just seeing the ocean’s wildlife there made me go, “Okay, holy crap, this is so incredible.”

We’re facing a future where the next generations won’t ever see this. They won’t see these animals here, they won’t swim in clean water, and they’ll always have plastic crum on the surface.

That’s really my “why”. I think it’s what drives a lot of people in sustainability as well – protecting what you love.

Max:  Thank you for your business tips. I’m sure we can talk for another hour. But I respect your time. Can you please tell us where people can learn more about your business or yourself?

Shay:  Sure, Max. You can find anything about sustainability and my personal stuff on LinkedIn, Shay Lawrence.

If you want to know anything about CaliWoods, the best place to find us is caliwoods.co.nz. We’re also on Instagram every day, as well as on Facebook. Just get in there.

Max: Thank you for your time, Shay. I look forward to seeing more of your products throughout the world.

Shay:  Awesome. Thank you.


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