In today’s highly connected world, never has the value of a good reputation been higher. Indeed, many companies have cited concerns about “reputation risk management” as a key driver behind their moves to incorporate sustainability into their business practices.
Then, there are those companies for which the primary raison d’être is to help usher in a more sustainable economy. The reputation — and the implicit trust that the public has come to place in a such a company — could be a valuable asset that can help expand that company’s business.
Take Recyclebank, for example. As part of its mission to “realize a world where nothing is wasted,” and to “inspire people to live more sustainably,” it has partnered with numerous companies to recommend and reward environmentally responsible behavior by their members — with credits that can be used towards the purchase of carefully vetted products that enhance and encourage a sustainable lifestyle. As it approaches its 10-year anniversary, the program has grown to include more than 300 communities and 4.5 million members. Recyclebank members have taken more than 20 million actions, increased their recycling by an average of 157 pounds per household and received over $60 million in reward value.
This week, Recyclebank is taking another step towards the realization of its vision, with the launch of OneTwine, an online retail shop that allows customers to redeem their Recyclebank points, pay cash, or any combination of the two. OneTwine will feature products in the household, health and beauty, children, pets, gear and gadgets categories. The primary goal of OneTwine will be, in the words of Recyclebank CEO Javier Flaim, “taking the guesswork out of finding products that consider their total impact on our planet, and in the process giving people another way to incorporate sustainability into their lives.”
I spoke with Flaim by phone, a few days before the OneTwine launch announcement.
TriplePundit: So what led you to embark on this new journey, to get into retail?
Javier Flaim: We were really just responding to the market. Our customers have been asking for better ways to utilize their points. They’ve also asked for guidance. They get overwhelmed by all the different choices that are out there, and the labels that can be confusing. They have said, “We trust you to educate us. Take us all the way, Recyclebank. We trust you to tell us what to buy, what has the best impact that you can endorse.”
3p: So it’s a kind of “Green Housekeeping” seal of approval.
JF: I don’t mind that analogy at all. We do stand behind these products.
3p: I’m curious how you went about getting this feedback from your members.
JF: It’s [a] combination of formal and informal mechanisms. We have annual customer satisfaction surveys, we go into communities and have meetings, and we also have focus groups. Then there is also our call center, and, of course, our Facebook page.
Our communities have also been asking for ways that their local vendors could put up goods for sale. So we have listened. We made a commitment to open up an online store — that was focused on a very carefully vetted and procured set of products that we think are gentle on the planet, are good and healthy for your family, and that can save you money, ‘cause you can utilize your points to purchase them. We went through a very rigorous exercise to get to the final set of over 400 products from 30 companies for launch, and we will continue to search for interesting and suitable products and brands that we can offer to our member base.
3p: I see you’ve developed what you call an “Impact Lens” to assess these various products. Could you talk a little bit about that?
JF: We led the effort ourselves and built the Impact Lens, though we did draw on the expertise of our Advisory Council. It’s a framework or a set of criteria that looks at the three basic stages of a product. How is it made? How is it used or consumed? And how is it disposed of? These criteria are shown below.
- Renewable: Made from recycled materials or renewable resources
- Gentle Impact: Ingredients and by-products are free of hard chemicals that are bad for health or the environment
- Fair: Makers of this product were treated fairly
- Sustainably Made: Manufactured with a minimal environmental impact
- Efficient: Product efficiently uses resources and/or helps reduce pollution
- Promotes Sustainability: This product makes it easier and more convenient to lead a more eco-friendly life
- Reclaimable: This product itself is recyclable, reusable and/or biodegradable
- Smart Packaging: Packaging materials are minimal and/or made from recyclable, reusable or biodegradable materials
- Merchant Buy Back: This product can be re-sold or given back to the manufacturer
Each item in a catalog will have one or more icons representing which of these criteria were responsible for its inclusion.
The members of our advisory council are listed here.
- Aron Cramer: President and CEO of Business for Social Responsibility
- John Elkington: Executive chairman of Volans and co-founder and non-executive chairman at SustainAbility
- Wendy Gordon: Founder of Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet, The Green Guide and PIPs.
- Andrew L. Shapiro: Founder and former CEO of Green Order, founder of Broadscale Group
- Kevin Wall: Co-founder of Live Earth and managing partner of Craton Equity Partners
We also have a banned list of products that [we] are recommending our customers avoid.
3p: Can you give me an example of the kind of product that you will be featuring?
JF: Preserve, makes a toothbrush from recycled yogurt cups. Another one is WeWood that makes wooden watches and plants a tree for every watch sold. It worth noting that this is more than just an e-commerce site. This is a true platform where people engage to learn, which we think will make it very attractive to brands.
3p: So how did you come up with the name OneTwine?
JF: We liked the nostalgic flavor of a neighborhood store that used to wrap up packages with twine, where you would interact with the store owner and they would recommend different products. We thought that captured what we were looking for: natural fibers, tied together, a nostalgic feel, trust—all bound together to try to make a difference. Once we hit upon it, we all loved it. “Bound for a better future,” is our slogan.
3p: Sounds promising. I wish you the best.
Images Courtesy of Recyclebank/OneTwine
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He writes for numerous publications including Justmeans, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, and Energy Viewpoints. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.