What does it take to be a successful, sustainable business? We wanted to know, so we asked ethical brands in various industries around the world for their success stories.
From social entrepreneurship to creating a product that people actually want to buy, these brands have found unique and inspiring ways to make a difference in this world while still earning a profit. We'll learn about their successes and discover how they've managed to stay true to their values. So buckle up and get ready for an amazing ride!
Success story 1: Y.O.U underwear
Fancy some panties? Yeah, me too, so let’s start with the ‘bare’ basics! When I heard about Y.O.U underwear and their mission about four years ago, my heart broke and melted. I had the pleasure of meeting founder and CEO Sarah Jordan in person at the Be The Change Awards on April 26, 2019 in London. And guess what? They won the award that night in the Fashion category.
Y.O.U underwear makes soft, stylish, organic cotton underwear for men, women and girls that lets you look good, feel good and do good. Y.O.U underwear is fairtrade, PETA-approved, vegan and made from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton.
And, I’m so grateful for this; they also embrace ethical marketing and actively promote body positivity through brand imagery and marketing strategies. A pair of undies I can easily slip into!
Y.O.U underwear 's mission is to improve access to education for women and girls by donating underwear. Are you wondering what that means? Everyone has underwear, don’t they? Well, no, they don’t. And what does underwear have to do with education? Well, get ready for this story.
When Sarah visited Uganda in 2016 to do community volunteer work for the Uganda Marathon (as you do), she was literally shocked to find out that many womenand children did not have access to underwear.
This may not seem too bad at first - but there's a big problem with this scenario: as an adolescent girl and a woman, you can't go to school or work or get involved in your community during your "time of the month."
Sarah informed me that in some communities, it is estimated that 1 in 10 girls miss school on their periods due to a lack of underwear and sanitary products. Without proper period protection, they’re left with no choice but to miss school – up to 12 weeks a year!
This unheard of fact inspired Sarah and so, in 2017, she founded Y.O.U underwear.
Y.O.U underwear set a high goal to donate 23,000 pairs of underwear by 2023, through sales of their own sustainable underwear.
As with many product-based businesses, Covid-19 caused supply chain issues and items were delivered late. They also weren’t able to run their normal markets and had to pivot to fully operate online.
Their success story:
Y.O.U underwear has abuy-one-give-two pledge in partnership with Smalls for All, a Scottish charity that collects and distributes underwear to women and children in need in Africa and the UK.
I’m happy to announce that in 2021, they already hit over 17,000 donations which puts them well on our way to 23,000 donations by 2023! That means that over 5,500 girls and women across the UK and Africa now have 3 pairs of underwear thanks to their amazing customers who care about people and understand the importance of high quality.
Y.O.U underwear actually grew 400% in 2020 during the pandemic, which allowed them to further expand this year and gave them the opportunity to be included in The Guardian, Forbes, The Independent, Stylist, Glamour and other national publications.
Y.O.U underwear is planning to continue donating underwear to people who need it as well as building on their other donation models, ie. their breast cancer collection. They’re always working on improving and innovating their sustainability commitment!
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Success Story 2: Ethiqana Limited
Ethiqana is a social enterprise founded on the principles of ethical sourcing, sustainability and fair trade in order to bring about positive social change.
They work with small artisan producers carefully selected based on eco-friendliness of their methods and the need for creative and economic empowerment.
I met founder, Arshad Khalid, at Ethical Hour, an inspirational community of social entrepreneurs who put people, planet and profit at the heart of what they do.
Ethiqana offers a wide variety of handmade wooden children’s toys and jewelry, scarves, home and garden accessories, greeting cards and much more. A colorful assortment of environmentally-friendly products for conscious consumers and their entire families.
What I love about Ethiqana is that they offer things I’ve never even thought of as being produced in an ethical way, such as eco-learning made board games. Who would’ve thought?
Well done, Ethiqana since economic and creative empowerment and eco-friendliness is always at the heart of their selection process.
Ethiqana 's mission is simple: "To revitalize arts and crafts in the world of children's toys and other household goods and accessories, while preserving traditional, nearly extinct, eco-friendly arts and crafts techniques."
By preserving these techniques, Ethiqana challenges the modern manufacturing methods and provides sustainable livelihoods to their artisan heroes so that their skills can be preserved.
They carry out their mission by:
- Empowering artisans through fair and ethical sourcing
- Providing viable, affordable and sustainable choices to consumers
- Rediscovering sustainable materials and reducing the use of plastics
Their mission for positive social change isn’t just limited to the artisans they partner with. They’ve also been able to make a positive impact across the world via their partnership with Buy1Give1 working through many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
When I asked her about her challenge, I noticed a central theme. And it doesn't take a genius to know what that challenge is. Arshad wrote, "2021 was a strange year. There were ups and downs and some bumps along the way." I think we can all relate to that.
COVID again threw a few curve balls which put paid to the plans that we had for the year. However, we did try and make the best of things. Some opportunities came up unexpectedly while some we had been working on since 2020.- says founder Arshad.
Well, they certainly did make the best of things last year!
Their success story:
With social enterprises, a success story never revolves around a revenue increase! It’s all about the positive impact they’ve made and the relationships they’ve built along the way. What makes Ethiqana successful?
"We started working with a women's shelter in India. They work with women in need of public assistance - giving them shelter, training them, giving them jobs and paving the way for their economic and social independence. In their own words, "It's a social enterprise for women, by women and through women. We worked closely with them to develop our range of reusable cotton face masks, scarves and pet accessories. It was satisfying to see that we could help more people, especially the more vulnerable."
At the height of the pandemic in India last year where hundreds of thousands of people were dying everyday, we were able to raise money that helped facilitate a free medical check up camp for our artisans and their families. Our customers and supporters helped us smash our target.
We also became part of the eBay For Change program – a partnership between Social Enterprise UK, WFTO and eBay to give a platform for ethical businesses like ours. It was great to be part of the first cohort of 50 such businesses. The support from eBay has been great and has helped us reach more customers.
Ethiqana reports further:
Finally, from October to December 2021, we were able to participate in events and artisan markets once again which helped us finish the year on a slightly healthier note than previous years. It was still a loss considering the poor sales of nearly two years combined but a better loss.
In total, we gave away 1068 days of community support across different projects around the world aligned with UN SDGs and 210 days of clean drinking water to families in Ethiopia.
We have also partnered with Green Wallet so that every sale on our website would plant a tree when paid using a credit or debit card.”
Ethiqana strives to:
- Continue to work with their existing artisans on newer designs to keep the offering relevant
- Identify and work with some new partners
- Increase revenue by participating in more events and markets, COVID permitting, so we can help more of our artisan heroes.
Increasing revenue is important for every business, even socially-conscious businesses, but what happens with that increased revenue is what makes a business reputable. Learn more about Ethiqana.
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Success Story 3: Hunderunde
After Luis Kesten, the son of a veterinarian, traveled across Asia and witnessed the horrible conditions dogs were forced to live in and realized it was a worldwide problem, he contacted his friend, Fabio Lehert. Fabio always had a wonderful relationship with animals, especially dogs and before they knew it, they were brainstorming solutions over a pizza in Bonn, Germany.
They couldn’t just stand by and go about their lives without doing anything, so they booked two plane tickets and flew to Romania to see the problem with their own eyes. And in 2019, they founded Hunderunde which means Circle of Dogs in German.
As Fabio told me, "When many people come together and do small things, something big is created!"
Before founding Hunderunde, owners Fabio Lehnert and Luis asked themselves, "What if every product I bought for my own dog was shared with a dog that wasn't doing so well?"
They set out to makehelping street dogs simple and beautiful at the same time. Every product at Hunderunde contributes to this cause.
Whether it’s their beautiful handmade bracelets, self-published book, engraved dog food bowls or hoodies and t-shirts; they not only help dogs, they are sustainably produced and packaged and therefore aids in mindful consumption.
As Fabio so nicely stated:
People and the world need sustainable and social consumption to reach a new level and in doing so, Hunderunde helps consumers actively participate and tackle the problem of street dogs step by step at the roots. We want everyone to know that you’re never too small to make a difference and are helping to create a united world with new values in our economic system. Common good before profit!
The year 2021 was very rough for many people worldwide. With a long-term pandemic, a crushing economy and continuous struggles, it wasn’t always a fun day at the dog park forHunderunde.
Fabio explains: "As a social business, you have to work on several things at the same time. You're building a business based on three pillars: economy, ecology and the social. You have a harder time than other businesses that focus only on the purely economic."
Their success story:
For the two founders of Hunderunde, it was important from the beginning to break new ground in animal welfare. Instead of setting up an NGO, they decided to set up a business that also supports sustainable consumption by offering fairly-made and environmentally-friendly products. Every donation goes to Mirela, an animal welfare activist who takes care of about 200 street dogs in Romania.
When I first noticed Hunderunde, they had written and self-published their book: Hunderunde - mit Mut, Kreativität und Tatendrang zu einer besseren Welt (Circle of Dogs –
with courage, creativity and drive for a better world) and were selling bracelets, one of which was designed together with PETA Deutschland e.V. and gives back 6 EUR to PETA’s castrating campaign in Romania.
That was only nine months ago. Since then, they’ve expanded their product line even more with dog bowls, hoodies and t-shirts.
They set the goal to invest a lot of time in new and innovative products as well as to strengthen the Hunderunde brand even more! And as a marketer, I can see they’re well on the right path! Learn more about Hunderunde.
Success Story 4: Green Eyed Monster Films
The positive impacts range from individual actions such as recycling and using public transport to corporate changes such as using renewable energy sources and optimising supply chains. Every step counts to reach net zero by 2050.
It doesn't take much – just one small change per day makes an incredible difference. Let's get to know the success story of Green Eyes Monster Films.
Mark Downes, who has a degree in political science and a master's degree in cultural studies and film production, founded Green Eyed Monster Films"to communicate the exponential positive impact that comes with small changes so that the big changes go faster and further."
He knows that “in order to reach net zero by 2050, we need to halve emissions by 2030, again by 2040 to hopefully reach our target by 2050. That will only happen with transformational change across all sectors.”
One sector you don’t normally associate with the reduction of CO₂ though is film production and that’s what makes Green Eyed Monster Films so extraordinary.
When you combine your passions with your talents, you have a solid foundation for a successful business. The IEMA Environmental Management qualified Green Eyed Monster Films crafts content for sustainable and ethical brands and ensures their productions are carbon neutral.
How do they achieve this? They measure their footprint with Adgreen's carbon calculator and offset the remaining emissions with their partners Trees for Life. They not only offer film production, animation and editing, but also environmental consulting, training, copywriting, live events and content strategy.
"Communicating the solutions. The cascading effects for the well-being of all people and the planet occur when we shine a light on the innovators, disruptors, tech for good affiliates, and activists who are driving the framework for sustainability - as described in the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals)."
When asked if he encountered any problems along the way, Mark replied, "Plenty. A lot of agencies thought that because I was ethical, my work was shoddy or unprofessional - like not meeting deadlines or not managing budgets. That's exactly what's changing now. Now brands and organizations want low-carbon production as part of their sustainable narrative. Creativity doesn't have to suffer from being low-carbon. On the contrary, constraints are forcing deeper thinking and greater creativity."
Their success story:
For me personally, I measure success not by the amount of money in my bank account, but by whom I’ve inspired and the relationships and collaborations I’m able to build with others.
Mark sees it the same way when he writes about his success: "I have the great privilege of being able to use my skills and network. I used to make films for brands that cared little about their impact, and now I only work for companies that care about people and the planet. My success comes from being able to work with and for like-minded people who share my vision of a more just and equitable world."
For example, in the production of films with Sir David Attenborough and for UNICEF in Mozambique.
Going along with Mark’s working ethos, his goals for 2022 are: Learn. Teach. Share. Bravo! Learn more about Green Eyed Monster Films.
Success Story 5: Between Green
What if you could subscribe to a box filled with affordable eco-friendly products which supported small businesses and helped promote a different monthly theme while enjoying feedback from subscribers who are always excited to see what's in their next package?
Well, now you can! Welcome to Between Green, founded in 2020 by Jodie Clough.
Jodie set out to support small UK-based businesses who offer affordable eco-friendly and available alternatives.
These include products that will help conscious consumers on their sustainable living journey such as zero waste starter kits, plastic-free dental care, food reusables, chemical-free cleaning, gardening, natural hand and nail care and stationary made from recycled materials.
To allow ease for consumers to receive eco friendly swaps directly to their homes.
Different themes allow customers to go green gradually without the overwhelm. By supporting small businesses in the UK, Between Green reduces the carbon footprint of products provided.
When Jodie originally started her business, showcasing at artisan markets and events. But when Covid-19 hit, she transitioned into offering a subscription box service and Between Green had completely adapted, making the subscription box their main offering now.
Their success story:
"I started Between Green after my own experiences with living an eco-friendly life. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and being a proactive person, I wanted to feel better with daily actions. While browsing search engines, I came across the concept of slow living and began incorporating parts of that lifestyle into my own."
"A big part of the Slow Living movement is sustainability. I couldn't believe how much better I felt as I reduced chemicals, toxins and plastic over the months. As a result, I wanted to share my story to help others. When you find something you love, you want to shout it from the rooftops.
"In January 2022, we'll have a year of operations, and it's been an incredible year, sending hundreds of boxes across the U.K. and as far away as Canada."
As well as being contacted by many small businesses wanting to collaborate, Jodie was filmed for Amazon Prime streaming service for an upcoming show in January 2022!
What’s even more fulfilling is that she continuously receives messages from so many people who have started to become more eco aware since finding Between Green on social media. Her business and the information that she has shared has also been used for university dissertations.
And, not only that, she was able to quit her part-time sales job in June 2021 to focus 100% on her business! Just say YES to entrepreneurial success!
Jodie plans to increase subscription box customers and make the world a better place one box at a time. Learn more about Between Green.
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Success Stories 6: Priory Direct
One main consideration when selling products is figuring out what kind of packaging to use. When I see fairtrade bananas suffocating in plastic, I literally want to scream “Why, oh why?”
That said, packaging definitely has its place! An important one because many items need the proper protection, and labeling so that consumers stay well informed.
Let's take a look at the next success story! Meet: Priory Direct, the home of Planet Friendly Packaging.
Lauren Chrucher, head of marketing, writes: "We believe that the future is green or not at all and put this at the heart of everything we do. We want real change to happen that will ensure a more sustainable planet for future generations. We want future generations to be able to experience this planet as they should - without the effects of climate change and deforestation."
Priory Direct is a planet friendly packaging supplier that provides sustainable, eco-friendly packaging, labels and warehouse essentials to the ecommerce market.
To reduce the environmental impact of ecommerce, with the ultimate goal of making it a fully sustainable industry.
As the UK’s leading planet friendly packaging supplier, they are in a position to drive positive change within the industry, and are doing so through awareness, access and authenticity.
They educate you, the consumer, about the importance of protecting our planet and taking responsibility for a more sustainable future. They use their product range to give consumers access to eco-friendly packaging alternatives and sustainable products - such as their eco-friendly packaging brand Priory Elements.
Their success story:
Sometimes success is measured in numbers. But not the numbers we’re used to seeing in the traditional corporate world. How does Priory Direct measure their success with numbers?
"As part of our mission to make e-commerce a fully sustainable industry, we have been exploring partnerships with charities and organizations that can help us protect the planet and do some good. In the last 14 months, we've partnered with two incredible organizations that allow us to protect the planet, its natural ecosystems and those who depend on it.
"We have partnered with Rainforest Trust UK and are proud to be a partner of the conservation group that helps to protect the endangered rainforest around the world. Thanks to our partnership with Rainforest Trust UK, we offer all customers who place an order over £30 (about 35 euros) the opportunity to protect 1000 m2 of endangered rainforest at no extra cost."
Through this initiative, we are proud to have protected over 3,200,000m2 of threatened rainforest, locking up a whopping 2,732,373 tonnes of carbon that would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere.
"Our partnership with 1% for the Planet is two-pronged. First, we allow all customers to donate their reward points at checkout to charity when they purchase their packaging items. This donates 1% of their spend to environmental organizations working to address important environmental, climate, water and animal welfare issues. Through our online checkout system, our customers have so far donated over 9,000 pounds (approx. 10,650 euros) to 1% for the Planet.
"The partnership with Rainforest Trust UK and 1% for the Planet has made us familiar with the charity sector. Thanks to these partnerships, we have set up a charity donation section in our online checkout where all customers can donate to three other charities, e.g. Cancer Research UK.
"The whole experience has opened our eyes to the fact that companies should be doing more to support the charity sector - especially after the devastating impact of the pandemic.
"Second, in order to increase donations as much as possible, we produce and sell all of our Priory Elements packaging products in partnership with 1% for the Planet. This means that every time a Priory Elements product is purchased, 1% of the sale value is donated directly to the organization. So far, we've had unglaubliche 22,246 pounds (approx. 26,308 euros ) raised, actively helping in environmental crises around the world."
Priory Direct aims to complete their B Corp certification in 2022 and ISO14001, with a focus on reducing their carbon emissions to successfully become carbon neutral by 2030.
They also plan to protect another 6 million square meters of rainforest through their partnership with Rainforest Trust UK, and route a minimum of £35,000 to our other charity partners through our Charity Rewards program and 1% For The Planet partnerships. Learn more about Priory Direct.
Conclusion: The future lies in the hands of ethical brands
Being a sustainable businessis challenging as you’re not only trying to find the most effective and ethical way to run your business, you’re also trying to make your products affordable.
A system change is only possible, when ethically produced goods are available for mass markets, instead of remaining the more expensive alternative. These six brands have proven that it can be done and that it’s well worth the time and effort.
Do you run a sustainable business? Please share your success story below and let’s talk!