Since founding Curiscope, I’ve consistently grappled with the idea of what it means to be a ‘for good’ business. I’ve seen the genuine impact our products have and it’s fair to say that we wouldn’t be here four years later if those impacts did not exist. If we can change how just a few children feel about learning and if the Virtuali-Tee can change how children feel about the human body, their health or careers in medicine, the company will have created outcomes that last for tens if not hundreds of years.
However, the other side of the ‘for good’ equation is consumerism. For our products to have their desired impact, they need to be manufactured, purchased and used. The vast majority of us are quite disconnected from the chain that gets a product to us in a couple of hours via Amazon 'Prime Now' much in the same way that the majority of people, in the Western world at least, are disconnected from how food reaches us. Both chains are long and complex.
Our products are manufactured across the globe. Some of our t-shirts are printed and packaged in the UK but they’re sourced from cotton in Bangladesh. Some of our t-shirts are printed, packaged and sourced from China. Both scenarios involve a global supply chain that isn’t negligible in its impact. To get them to customers we fly or sea freight goods to the UK and the US where they then go onto the end customer. In the US this often involves a further, final flight. This is what it takes to get a product to a customer at an affordable price, which is another important balancing act for us when a major customer group is teachers, who themselves are trying to do good in a world that doesn’t reward them financially nearly enough.
All of this is to say that a small business like ours, creating products for good, has an impact on the world around us and must juggle these various impacts simultaneously making our own judgements as to what is appropriate.
So I believe it is always incumbent on us to strive to do better. Humans collectively are impacting the planet in vastly complex ways that are close to impossible to understand entirely . Often this can feel paralysing, rendering us actionless in the belief that we are unable to make an impact. One family acting alone to reduce their footprint is not going to halt the actions of 7+ billion people. One company acting alone to reduce its footprint will not halt the actions of millions of companies.
There is no single cause, nor is there one single solution to the environment. There are many. But collective steps in the right direction will consistently create tipping points.
So, as we start 2020, I wanted to map out what we’re going to be doing differently. We’re not going to be perfect immediately, we’re probably not going to be perfect ever but we don’t want to let perfect be the enemy of progress, to butcher an aphorism.
We have signed up to offset earth, a Carbon offset organisation.
Offsetting is often criticised as a tool to suppress any moral weight attached to environmental damaging decisions and there’s a lot of validity to this . It’s important to note that we’re approaching this with a view to not simply offset but to become climate positive and also that we’re doing so as part of a range of actions around reducing impact in the first place.
We think making climate related donations in this way are an important and critical part of the package. Plus they’re something we can do immediately. We believe it is also important to work with an organisation that is open and accountable in what they’re doing so that we can be held accountable too.
This will tick up as we donate:
We’re localising our suppliers.
We produce our products primarily in China but our products are primarily sold in Europe and the US. The most polluting way to move goods is via air but when goods come from so far away, the need to recoup revenue on cash expenditure often forces our hand to fly the goods in saving 2 months of travel time.
So we’re going to change the equation and produce in more locations around the world that are based nearer to our primary markets. We believe this makes a lot of business sense allowing us to react quicker, to be more agile and to return our expenditure much more quickly. But it will also reduce our reliance on air freight significantly.
We’ll be planting a tree for every purchase of our next product. We want to make sure we’re giving back to the environment more than we’re taking away. So our next product, which consumes trees in the product and packaging, will give back more than we take. In the region of 300x more . This is in addition to continuing to use paper and card sourced from FSC certified forests . We will also use ink and finishes that allow the product to be fully recycled at the end of its use.
Tree planting won’t reverse rising CO2 immediately but to quote another aphorism; the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the next best time is today. Short of carbon sequestration, this is one of the most effective means of reducing atmospheric CO2 .
Planting trees must be done carefully and there are numerous examples of the negative impacts of afforestation on local ecosystems. So we’ll be doing this through offset earth and Eden Reforestation .
We will continue to do the following.
Look to work with suppliers that are local to Brighton where possible and to involve ourselves in the local community. We’re a member of Wired Sussex, Good Business Club and are signed up to Brighton Living Wage.
Look to reduce reliance on companies including Amazon, Google and Facebook, which are suppressing market forces and creating an Internet that is no longer in the mould of its original, open, democratic vision. This will include addressing our sales and advertising channels which are currently weighted towards Amazon and Facebook.
Look to source all of our t-shirts through suppliers who use Organic Cotton and are part of the Fair Wear Foundation . Currently this applies primarily to t-shirts finished in the UK.
Look to eliminate use of plastics in our products and packaging.
Reduce the requirement to fly for business and to use alternative means wherever possible.
Progress won’t happen by making people feel guilty about their actions. But we do get somewhere by striving to do better ourselves, by acting differently and by inspiring change.
We hope that our transparency and commitment to desire to do better can strive to help make capitalism a more positive force than it is right now. And we’d welcome any comments, critiques or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- One of our products plus packaging is roughly equivalent to 0.003 of an Australian Blue Gum tree.