Irish businesses were pursuing sustainability strategies before it became fashionable, writes.
Commendable but somewhat niche, is how most of us, until relatively recently, viewed businesses embracing a green ethos.
While business and political leaders paid lip service to saving the planet, it was generally seen as a tree-hugger-type pursuit.
It took a 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl to get sustainability onto the agenda in government buildings and boardrooms.
However, prior to the “Greta Effect”, some companies were already pursuing sustainability strategies, among them, Wolfhound & Elk.
Set up by Dublin-based Stephen Daly - who left behind a 20-year overseas career in financial services - the Irish clothing company is making “environmentally responsible” sportswear from recycled plastic bottles.
The plastic is melted, shredded, upcycled and spun into yarn at a fabric mill in Northern Italy, with each jersey using up to six one-litre plastic bottles.
And while it looks, feels and performs like polyester, there’s no coal or petroleum involved, unlike its synthetic equivalent.
Stephen says watching his own kids run around in synthetic sportswear made in remote parts of the world made him want to create “something meaningful”.
While he is not “re-inventing the wheel” - big brands like Nike are pursuing sustainability strategies - Stephen is working to bring Irish sports clubs on board, particularly at grassroots level.
Wolfhound & Elk is already supplying Granada FC, a Dublin junior football club with about 800 members and has agreements in place with a couple of Dublin primary schools.
So how does he square a commitment to sustainability with the alarming frequency with which sports organisations and clubs change their kit?
Education is a big part of the process, Stephen says.
Educating children, clubs, schools and parents about the role clothing can play in sustainability is part of the company’s approach.
“To understand what clothes are made of, where and how they are made, and what happens to them when you don't need them anymore.”
Stephen says they are working with clubs to find a model whereby the cost of producing sustainable, environmentally-friendly kit is shared by the manufacturer and the club.
His kit “won’t be more expensive than anything else”.
“I think there are enough kids playing sport in this country whereby the model could work.
"If you create something meaningful, it can take on a life of its own.
“People want to be associated with clubs which are doing the right thing,” he says.
He also has the comfort of knowing that his business is helping reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill or floating in our oceans - estimated at eight million tonnes per year.
Environmentally aware skincare
In Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, Niamh Hogan branched into skincare after years of experience as a natural health therapist.
The move came from working with plant oils and essential oils while treating clients at her clinic.
As CEO of Holos Skincare, she is committed to ensuring no product contains animal-derived ingredients, nor are they tested on animals.
She deals only with businesses that have the environment and sustainability at their core.
“For instance, we only source from reputable farmers/suppliers with the same ethos as ourselves. We wouldn’t purchase from farmers who are not replanting," says Niamh.
“If we are getting plants for plant oils eg Frankincense - it is from a tree that is thousands of years old - if it keeps being harvested and not re-planted, it will eventually become extinct.
We are only looking for suppliers who are not going in and tearing up land, but who look to sustain plants.
Is packaging a problem? The beauty business is generally notorious for excess packaging?
Niamh concedes packaging is tricky - “If you use a box for the product, you have to consider ‘is the box fully recyclable’?”
They use mainly glass and aluminium recyclable bottles she says, although, in the current crisis, they have to use some bubble wrap when sending out glass-bottle products by parcel post to fulfill online orders.
This is mainly when supplying business customers, like pharmacies, who can re-use the wrap.
The company sends all of its glass essential oil bottles to a therapist who works with children and adults with sensory needs.
Niamh says the aromas from the used bottles help in their therapy.
For Niamh personally, and for many of her customers, the environment is very important.
“I think everyone wants to do their bit and If a brand can help customers do that, I think they are happy. I think it’s our responsibility to make it easy for them.”
The path from holistic therapy into skincare was also chosen by Carlow-based Jo Browne.
Her dislike for sprayed perfume was her initial motivation, and her first product in 2016 was a solid perfume.
Her product range has expanded considerably since -sells in 12 countries and 120 stores, including the Kilkenny Stores and Meadows & Byrne-.
She formulates all her products in Carlow herself and says they contain “no nasties”.
Her fragrances are handmade using organic beeswax and essential oils.
The raw materials for her products cannot be sourced in Ireland, but they buy from ethically sound companies, that are “safety-assured”.
She says they work with just one factory in China “and they’ve been checked and they have their certification”.
Jo’s big on products made of bamboo which she says is “an amazing material to work with”.
“It never holds bacteria and it’s breathable,” she says, making it ideal for facecloths and toothbrushes, which are big sellers for her.
The bamboo they use - grown in China - is eco-friendly Jo says, and contains no pesticides.
Moreover, the roots remain when harvested so the plant regenerates quickly.
She also sells bamboo pillowcases and is planning a more extensive bamboo bedding range later this year.
Continually improving on its green credentials is the Frank and Honest gourmet coffee brand, owned by Musgraves, and stocked nationwide in Supervalu and Centra stores.
Sourced in Brazil and Columbia, their coffee is 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified, a seal awarded to farms, forests and businesses that meet stringent economic, social and environmental standards.
Marketing manager Rosemary Walsh says their commitment to sustainability is reflected throughout the supply chain, down to their takeaway cups and lids, which are fully compostable and made in Ireland at Cup Print Co Clare.
They were the first big Irish takeaway brand to introduce fully compostable cups in 2018.
Frank and Honest also offers a 20cent discount in Centra and Supervalu when you bring your own reusable cup.
Rosemary says they back up their green claims with green actions.
In the lead up to last Christmas, to encourage people to use more reusable cups, a team went to Moy Hill Farm in Co Clare “on the wettest day in November” to plant the first 300 of 3,000 native trees, in collaboration with charity hometree.
They also changed location when shooting a coffee advertisement, from Rio to Rialto in Dublin, using paddling pools and a garden centre as a backdrop, rather than rainforests.
“Sustainability is an ongoing part of our agenda,” Rosemary says.
“It’s about who we are and our role in the community.
"We want to leave the community in a better place.”