Let’s step back in time for a moment, to 1989.
There was a huge political push with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and with the crumbling of communism across Germany and Eastern Europe.
The World Wide Web and the internet of things are in their infancy and we’re living in an age of fax machines, snail mail and the telephone as our main forms of communication in the world of business.
People are smoking cigarettes freely indoors, questionable haircuts surround us and television shows like The Simpsons and Saved by the Bell are making their first debut.
Awareness surrounding recycling and the world’s finite resources has yet to hit the type of tipping point it has today.
Sharon Rowe, CEO of ECOBAGS®, was clearly ahead of the curve, pioneering the purpose-driven industry of reusable bags 26 years ago. I had the chance to chat with her over the phone to learn more about how ECOBAGS® got its start and what it was like to launch and run such an innovative and purpose-driven company all before it was cool.
Walking past plastic waste on her daily commute was frustrating for Sharon. She knew there must be a better way.
That’s when it dawned on her. When she had visited Europe, she’d remembered having seen mesh netted shopping bags in the food markets. She had asked her friends to bring a few back for her from their vacation and she began using them on a regular basis.
When she would do her grocery shopping, people would stop her, asking where she got her bags from. That’s when Sharon decided to start a reusable bag business.
Sharon: “There was no demand for reusable bags, so I started the business by knocking on doors.”
Sharon landed her first significant order from a natural foods distributor, purchasing 5,000 bags. Then onward, the company grew slowly but steadily for many years.
Sharon quickly moved product manufacturing to India. No one was reporting on recycling, composting, ocean waste or supply chain ethics, but Sharon wanted to ensure that her company’s bags were being made sustainably and fairly. Since the start, Sharon has made multiple visits throughout the years to visit the manufacturing company that produces her bags. Despite the fact that there were no statistics or information on plastics, ECOBAGS® has always invested in sustainable materials and practices.
By the time 2007 rolled around, things started to change in a big way for Sharon’s business. When The Oprah Show promoted the reusable bag on air, the business really took off like never before.
All of what Sharon has done for the reusable bag movement goes beyond the mission to replace the plastic bag. It’s part of something much larger. It’s part of a larger movement to shift habits and make the world more sustainable. As Sharon suggests, there needs to be a shift in perception, accessibility and affordability in order to make this happen.
Nowadays, customers are demanding companies to be more accountable and transparent. That’s where B Corporation certification comes into play.
By doing so, ECOBAGS® set the example for other companies, whilst providing their company with a platform to show the world what they’ve done and what they continue to do.
Sharon: “Conscious consumers now have access to benchmarking tools and we now have a network we can leverage.”
It’s really a win-win situation.
As our conversation came to a close, I asked Sharon one more question: “Do you think our waste-culture will shift?”
Sharon: “I hope so. We need to be positive and conscious in the daily decisions we make. We really just need to all slow down and say no to some of those habits that are bad for the world. It’s an awareness thing and a practice-creating thing. It’s all about the positive connotation of habits.”
So as the festive season sneaks upon us and we find ourselves purchasing gifts for loved ones, remember to keep Sharon’s voice in mind: slow down and make conscious consumer choices.
And don’t forget your reusable bags!