Welcome to Episode 19 of the Sustainable Ecommerce Podcast!
One of the biggest challenges we face as our industry migrates to more sustainable practices is the ability for consumers to understand what they are purchasing, and be able to make informed choices about what they’re buying and who they but it from.
My guest today has a solution for that. Kiarne Treacy is the founder of Sustainable Choice, a start up from Melbourne aiming to be the world’s LinkedIn of sustainability.
It’s a platform that enables brands to tell their sustainability story openly and honestly, and trusted place for consumers to learn more about the brands that matter to them.
As you’ll see, there are heaps of advantages to creating a listing on the platform, and at the end of the show I’ll tell you about some special start-up pricing Kiarne has offered to help you get going.
Giles Smith: Kairne Tracy, Welcome to the show!
Kiarne Treacy: Thank you for having me!
Giles Smith: I absolutely love the story around Sustainable Choice. Can you tell us a little bit about what Sustainable Choice actually is and why you started it up?
Kiarne Treacy: I sure can! sustainablechoice.com is a digital destination for environmental sustainability information from businesses.
The idea of the platform is that for any businesses that makes environmental claims in their marketing, this is where they substantiate the claims. It’s about bringing this fragmented information that exists on the web, on varying websites and sustainability pages and bringing them all into an aggregated space. It’s easy for a consumer to navigate and easy for them to make informed choices and to start understanding the difference between what one business thinks sustainability is and what the next one is.
Giles Smith: Great summary. So what prompted you to get it kicked off?
Kiarne Treacy: I'm a media and marketing person by trade. I have spent the last five years managing my own boutique marketing agency. I was doing media and marketing for a big FMCG client of mine, and we were talking about how to tell the world about the brand’s incredible sustainability journey.
There was reluctance to talk about it because two years ago was the height of anybody saying anything about sustainability being labelled as greenwashing.
It seemed so unfair that businesses that are doing good and are making changes can't actually communicate it because they're afraid. It's almost better to be silent, because people will continue to buy your products. But as soon as you say, “this is now 30% recycled” people will criticise it.
So from my perspective, there has to be a place where you can share that story, tell that journey, let your customers decide if they want to keep supporting a brand that is halfway on their journey, but has a plan, then that should be up to the consumer to make that decision.
I couldn’t find a website like that, where we could find that information. So I found that sustainablechoice.com was available, purchased it, and the next day I sat down and wrote a business plan! Whilst the product and the platform that we've built is substantially more sophisticated than anything I could have dreamed of that first day, I would say we're pretty much doing exactly what we set out to do, living by the values that I wrote on day one, which was the 18th of June 2020.
We wanted to make a radical impact on sustainable change in mass market consumption. That is not about telling people to buy only the most sustainable products, but it's about educating. It's about giving people an opportunity to make an informed choice and helping consumers to drive demand for better products, by finding them and buying more of them.
Giles Smith: That resonates so strongly with me. It keeps me up at night that brands are too scared to talk about the great work they are doing. Obviously, the power in the platform is that it’s a network. Can you tell us a little bit about what you're doing to attract consumer demand?
Kiarne Treacy: The platform itself is designed as an ecosystem, and within it lives millions of microsites. Think of it much like the LinkedIn of sustainability, where a business might have their sustainability profile and attached to that profile, they can link through to the profiles of their suppliers. So, what we've built is this little web that allows consumers to go on a journey to help them discover and learn about brands. We're only at the beginning. I think the size of what this ecosystem could be in the next two to 10 years is huge, it's an unbelievable opportunity.
With regards to bringing consumers, there's a lot of different ways that it's designed to do that. First and foremost, the most important way that we want consumers to come to our site is to be driven there by our members. We want our members to be saying here is our declaration, that we will be transparent and honest about what we are doing. And here is where you can find that information.
Being able to update your sustainability page on your website can be complicated. We've taken that pain away. We've created an incredibly easy to use profile that anybody in the business can go in and update and push the latest information out to their consumers.
In addition to that, there are obviously a large number of digital channels that we support and utilize to drive traffic and to drive interest. We're also doing above the line advertising, things like billboards, radio ads, and incorporating some of our members into our advertising as a value-add for them.
And the lastly the platform is becoming an SEO powerhouse. We are ranking above some brands for their own brand terms at the moment for anything related to sustainability. This is just the beginning, we've been live for nine months & we are growing rapidly. The opportunity is huge.
Giles Smith: You've touched on a really powerful point there, which is that because of the content that you guys have on the site, you become an SEO powerhouse, which means that it's a fantastic place for businesses to actually list because they're going to get extra exposure for their business. So what other benefits are there to listing on your platform?
Kiarne Treacy: What we provide for our members is a platform to say, “this is our story”. They sign a legal agreement with us to say that this will be true and honest. They can then use the platform to do two things. One, it will bring them new eyeballs. So people that are engaged in looking for environmentally conscious products and services and brands. It also helps them educate their existing customers. We also provide print ready and digital ready assets like QR codes and member badges that they can use to send their customers directly to their sustainability profile, for example, information on how to dispose of something appropriately.
I think in the average household, the number one thing they want to do is dispose of things correctly. They want to know which bin the stuff goes into. We've made it easy for brands to publish that information and give customers a link to it via a QR code that can appear on packaging.
Giles Smith: I noticed as well that you've got this sexy little badge on some of the brand sites on Sustainable Choice platform that says founding member. What does that mean?
Kiarne Treacy: Initially we created the foundation membership for the early adopters. Brands that join within a year from October 2021 will be foundation members and they get to carry their foundation membership badge forever. So as long as they renew annually, they'll always be a foundation member.
We've also put some price lock guarantees in for a couple of years. We are offering pretty good pricing at the start. We lock that in for our foundation members for a couple of years. We’re also offering free onboarding for our foundation members to make their life a little bit easier too.
Giles Smith: What does the onboarding process actually look like?
Kiarne Treacy: One of our business values is to be really easy to work with. First they need to sign a declaration of transparency, that they need to be honest and transparent and up to date and that they are subject to auditing. If we audit a brand’s site and find something that cannot be substantiated we reserve the right to take it down. That's probably the most important part of the onboarding process. The rest is very easy and we've got a customer care team that will take care of everything. Most of our members are fully onboarded within about 24 to 48 hours.
Giles Smith: You've got some fantastic brands joined up already, including Zero Co, Boody, Bared Footwear, Bisely Workwear, The Body Shop. So there's plenty of credible stories out there of brands that see the advantages of having a listing on your platform and are already ahead of the game.
I want to come back to something that you kind of demonstrated some solution to already. How do you stop brands from using your platform as a way to legitimize greenwashing claims?
Kiarne Treacy: It's a really interesting question. And it's certainly a huge challenge in the space. What I can tell you is that the platform is designed to combat greenwashing. By definition, greenwashing is saying something is green and then omitting a whole bunch of other things. So first and foremost, the whole point is that it's hard to omit things when you're asked to fill out a whole bunch of fields and tell a bigger and more substantial story.
If under any circumstances we believe something to be untrue, we reserve the right to remove the content and also the business. We don’t place value judgements on whether one brand is better than another. It’s up to the consumer to read the information and make a choice for themselves about who they want to support.
Something I've learned about greenwashing in the last three years. It's changing very quickly. There are many businesses that have pages and pages of sustainability reports, but they are reluctant to communicate any of it because they are so frightened of being accused of greenwashing. We are not seeing businesses flock to us to try and navigate around the truth of their story. Many business are holding off because they don’t want to cloud their truth on our platform.
Giles Smith: It sounds like sustainable choice is going to become an increasingly powerful piece in this jigsaw of solving the problem of marketing sustainability claims.
Kiarne Treacy: There is an enormous science to determining the impact of one product over another. Scientists around the world right now are trying to develop scoring and coding and sequencing around whether or not one product is more sustainable than the next. So rather than telling people what's best, we simply say, here's what's available. People also have different values – some support net zero, some support zero waste, so support vegan. We are not here to tell you what to buy and what your values should be. We're here to provide you information and give you an opportunity to make an informed choice.
Giles Smith: We're coming to the end of our time together Kairne, but what's next for sustainable choice?
Kiarne Treacy: Well, we are just about to open our first round of funding. We're bootstrapped to this point. I think what we've built here is destined to be the global destination for sustainability information. We've built it, right. It's designed to scale. People deserve this information and it will get used. So we believe it's now time to start growing. We plan to scale in Australia over the next year or two, and then inevitably become a global platform in 3 to 5 years.
Giles Smith: Where do brands go right now if they want to come and join up?
Kiarne Treacy: sustainablechoice.com. Click on the top right-hand button “join”. We'll take care of it, and have you on board in the next 24 to 48 hours.
Giles Smith: Thanks Kiarne.
Kiarne Treacy: Thank you Giles. This has been an awesome podcast. I really enjoyed listening to it and I appreciate the information that you are sharing with the community too.
As you can see Kiarne’s platform, Sustainable Choice promises to be an important piece in the emerging jigsaw of how to market a sustainable brand, and now is a great time to list on the platform.
If you are ready, Kiarne has very kindly offered listeners of the sustainable eCommerce podcast an incredible 70% discount to help you get started.
To be eligible, you must meet at least one of these 4 criteria:
- You must be a sole trader or single founder.
- Have a total revenue of under $1 million.
- You must have been operating for less than one year
- Have less than 15 employees