We are talking about the "circular economy" - as an ingenious business principle that generates long-term value, about sustainability as the normality beyond trends, about buying and consumption patterns that change the corporate goals and mission, locally to Western Europe.
We shouldn't separate the world between "those with NGOs that save the world" and "those with money that do business". The world isn't divided in two. Many fall into one category or another, but this is caused by glimpses of inertia in the system, not because things are essentially antagonistic.
What did I do differently? First of all, when I talk about green concepts, I don't have the speech of an NGO. I like to talk about strategy, money, business cases - as this is the only way to get the attention of business persons. Many people in the green area fail to offer business arguments.
Even at Impact Hub Vienna, where I mentored, I noticed this situation: super aware and educated people practiced his speech - our goal is to do good, without a strategy behind it. That's why I've always avoided doing PR articles that put me as a person in a fantastic, savior light. It's not about me, it's about showing that there is added value in the whole concept. Whether you are funded from a certain source for social purposes, you are also making a sale, one in which you try to convince others to invest in your idea. Selling requires persuasion, and to convince – you need to have real arguments
In Romania, there are two extremes - and a very small middle area that reconciles both.
For example, we had a discussion with a store that was interested in our product, but they wanted to add their logo to our bag. It was OK to start with, but I explained to them that this is our whole concept - for the packaging to be moving efficiently, to go to the first online store that needs it, not to consume extra resources for the branded bags to come back to one specific client. As such, branding is not very compatible with the efficiency required in an ecological concept. I received the answer: then I am not interested. And then, yes, it means you're tricking the consumer when you tell him you're selling a green thing.
From the other category, there are small, zero-waste stores that barely pay their salaries. They have a very niched approach, they only talk to certain people who are ultra-specialized in certain areas (e.g. discussions on how to make an eco detergent at home). The extremes are not good, we cannot realistically expect a large part of the standard customers to rebuild their whole life starting tomorrow, so as to have zero impact on the environment.
And then there is this middle ground: I'll give as an example Cărturești and IKEA, as a typology of brands with real initiatives that sell: they try to detect a problem of the representative consumer (not a niche one), test, find a solution and then manage to scale by communicating clearly enough in their customer community.
I don't think you can change the purpose of a corporation. The corporation's role is to make money. The problem is, of course, how he does it. But you can't go to a corporation and tell him - listen, I think it's good to be good. That's not an argument to walk through the door. Maybe you'll open the CSR door, but what should you do once the budget ends? One way to persuade is: "you have to sell this because your customers need it". The stake is: how do you make consumers aware of that specific need, so they'll go and ask the brands for it.
Yes. Precisely because - if the general public is uneducated in this direction, then companies are even less educated. So are the couriers who are so important in our flow - because they have to provide a cheap and efficient packaging return process.
In Western Europe, things are completely different - some people are paid to find solutions in the area of reusable packaging. Locally, we are a small start-up, we have recently aligned with FEPRA and, together, we try to educate customers. But to educate a nation, you need more: strength, visibility and, implicitly, budgets. But, yes, we try to educate the general public because we believe that this is where the market demand will come from in the future companies & stores development.
Two years ago, in collaboration with elefant.ro, we surveyed the concept in which you receive a package and leave the courier's packaging. 77% of respondents stated that they prefer this concept of delivery to the current one. But no one will wake up tomorrow and say "hei, I want returnable packaging!", when this is not even on the market. So, it's again the discussion with the egg and the hen.
The next step was a test with Cărturești, where we replaced the disposable packaging with the reusable one, then followed people's opinions. The result surprised us. We received lots of funny messages, such as: "I am waiting for the courier like Santa Claus" - the association between the way Santa takes all the presents out of the magic sack, the same way as the courier with a returnable package. But also very relevant messages in the “how to move things” paradigm, such as: "God, i've been waiting for this thing so long, I didn't even know I was waiting for it". And so it is. You feel that what is happening is not good, but from the perspective of a consumer, it is difficult to change something on your own. That's why I say, you have to start somewhere and give people the opportunity to react.
The final customer pays an extra 1.9 lei, in addition to the delivery fee. All for commercial reasons, but also for principal reasons - if someone picks up the garbage from your house, someone has to be paid for that service. Brands, in turn, pay as much as they pay now for single usage packaging (how much they give on cardboard + eco tax; and in Romania there is a tax because you put some disposable packaging in the economy). It's comparative - brands give some money that they would give up anyway. But instead of giving them for something that is rapidly thrown away, they can give it for something reusable.
I'm glad you noticed this. The Romanian market looking at start-ups has fined the fact that I came from consulting, rather than IT or engineering. Because the future is digital, you need to have some tools to thrive and, statistically speaking, the teams of startups that are at the beginning are made of programmers. However, I saw it as an advantage. In consulting, I learned what it means to change your work logic from one week to another because you have projects in different industries, to understand the basics of each industry and to create a strategic algorithm that is agnostic - it has nothing to do with an industry specific.
At a professional level, I always wanted to be independent. Because in my consulting life, I began to feel that I was investing a lot of time in useless things. I was working on beautiful presentations, though I was more interested in the content value and ideas, not how it looked.
Moreover, I wanted to be independent in an area that creates value, not just money. That's how we got to the circular economy. The circular economy is a fixed concept that is based on business principles, but creates much longer-term value. If you save resources, you live longer on this planet. The goal is very good, it must be kept, but the question becomes: what are the arguments to convince society to get there? I didn't choose the ecological activism approach, because I believe more strongly in these ingenious business tools that come from the circular economy.
Maybe the fact that I started from personal ideas for which I later looked at needs in the market. I think it's good to look at needs first, then try to solve them. We offer a digital solution - we have an integration that we scale with your help, the Postis team. But before I got here and before anyone understood that I was selling a digital solution for a concept that didn't even exist, I had to create the flow and, to create the flow, I had to create a package that would move along these flow. And then the people I talked to, no matter how benevolent, had moments when they asked: hey, guys, but what are you really doing? Do you do design bags or offering a new courier solution; or maybe you're an IT specialist? Why was this happening? I think it's because I started from an idea in my head, not a need already expressed in the market. Because the reusable packaging business is not yet known in the market, so you can't talk yet about scaling it - which is, in fact, the essence of what we do.
In short, we don't produce a bag. We invented a plug & play solution, for you use it and streamline the packaging process on the spot, without other headaches and fuss. We orchestrate the direction of the process, not focus on the production of the packaging. But the fact that we are associated with all sides of the concept: packaging / flow / digital solution helps us, because the market itself is where the rules are created, and it is good to be in the game from the beginning. We assume that things will not change starting tomorrow, but we see a bright horizon. And that's much better than navigating through the fog.