Can a Global Company Be Local?

tesco-bagGlobalization has long gotten a bad rap. And for good reason. So many companies arrogantly decide that, one way or another, what they create will become what people desire, unaltered, in countries around the world. And in many cases, it’s worked, homogenizing cultures, at least on an aesthetic level, with no real benefit to the people on an economic or environmental level. It’s largely pop culture crap that ends up adding to landfills when done.

What if globalization could be flipped on its head, taking a business model and localizing it wherever it is, glocalizing if you will? That’s what we’re attempting to do with our upcoming launch in the UK in September together with Kraft UK. Customizing a business to be culturally sensitive and appropriate in other countries is nothing new, but what might be new is to what depth it’s being done here.

On a surface level, we are replicating what we’ve succeeded in doing here in the US – collecting waste with the help of the public and companies, and upcycling it into both product packaging as is, repurposed, and entirely new executions by turning layers of material into sewable fabric.

But things differ vastly from there.

We, rather then just clumsily showing up in the UK, or some other country, with our American biases and blind spots, decided to go a quite different route: We’ve working in tight collaboration with both an organization called Think London. Their sole aim is to help businesses from elsewhere easily, effectively, and knowledgeably start operations in and around London. Far from just a regional business builder shoehorning companies into their locale without consideration for the ramifications, this is largely funded by the Mayor’s sustainable development agency, the London Development Agency.

In working with an agency whose primary motivation isn’t money, as this is entirely funded and free of charge to companies, instead focusing on how to best support sustainable businesses making a strong start in their country, the outcome has far more chance of being a fit, both for the company, and the country.

The result?

We are about to launch in the UK, using UK labor, UK collected waste, creating upcycled products made from locally popular brands. In the process, we’re helping people there see “waste” with wholly different eyes.

Think London has already asked us many of the tough questions we’re likely to get when we go there to introduce this idea, these products. Really, it’s like starting all over again, since we’re largely an unknown there, and so is the concept of upcycling. And I’m excited. UK people are known for their savvy when it comes to the sustainability and ethics of the companies they support, and are not afraid to question them. I say, bring it on.

Now you may ask why would we, in this harsh economy, choose to expand, and into another country? I say, why wouldn’t you, so you’re not dependent on one region for the viability of your business? If you do so without expending additional resources, or creating more emissions by having to ship from several timezones away, and can find a market whose culture, consumers, and businesses offer a different set of opportunities, of course, I say.

Given what I’ve told you, what’s your stance on globalization – Can it ever be done right? Can global ever be local? Is their such a thing as glocalization? Or do you believe all companies should be local in both origins and sourcing? If so, why?

Tom Szaky is Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, which makes eco-revolutionary products entirely from garbage, in Trenton, New Jersey.

Tom Szaky is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc. a company that makes eco-revolutionary products entirely from garbage! TerraCycle, since its humble beginnings in a Princeton University dorm room, is committed to being a triple bottom line company. Tom at the ancient age of 19 learned about composting with worms. The concept of using tiny little worms to turn food waste into a powerful, organic fertilizer fascinated Tom, who was appalled by the amount of food discarded by his campus's cafeteria. Tom started TerraCycle with no investors from a friend's garage by building a Worm Gin where he could house millions of worms in a small area. He all but bankrupted himself and maxed out all his credit cards to build the machine. With the help of friends he would shovel pounds of rotten, maggot-infested food from the Princeton cafeterias. Without any money left over, Tom could not afford to buy bottles to package his fertilizer. That's when the sustainability gods smiled on Tom, who was up one night wandering the streets Princeton in search of an answer to his packaging dilemma. It just happened to be recycling night and Tom realized that millions of homes were putting billions of free bottles out on the curb once a week! That serendipitous moment set everything to follow into motion. Slowly he began to finance his infantile start up by winning business plan contests. Finally he hit the pay dirt! He won the million dollar grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business plan contest. However, the financiers of the contest wanted to move TerraCycle away from used bottles and away from it's environmental focus. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, Tom turned down the money. In the six years since then TerraCycle has grown to a multi-million dollar company that doubles in size every year. Still we are committed to our triple bottom line beginnings. Still making our products from other's people waste. Still based in an Urban Enterprise Zone in Trenton, NJ. Still a second chance employer. Find out how and why, here at

One response

  1. Great article, I think you’ve hit the nail of the head with a very topical issue. The ‘concept’ of being global is now tarred with a pretty negative brush but with good planning, interactive customer support and regional presence it need not be a dead end.

    Nothing is as valuable as knowing your customers and to that end I see a chance to stem a negative tide.


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