I met with the founder and operations director of Manufacturer #1 today, as well as with their industrial product designer. They’re a really great company with a lot of soul and an admirable vision! They create disposable and reusable home and lifestyle products using food wastes, such as rice and wheat husks from local sources. They’re even developing materials made of coffee skins from local coffee makers – and the resulting products have the faint, pleasant fragrance of coffee! Manufacturer #1’s lifestyle solutions brand is still relatively new and small in the scale of its operations, but they are keen on quality, design, and most importantly to me, they are all about using resources that would otherwise have gone to waste. Some of their competitors grow food products – often genetically modified – for the sole purpose of harvesting certain parts to create bio-composite plastics.
The key question I had for them was how much they would charge for their bio-composite disposables for my pilot programme.
The operations director told me, quite outright, that unless the order was large, which my order won’t be, they wouldn’t be able to tap into economies of scale and charge me a price that was competitive against market prices for (environmentally unfriendly) conventional disposables. Their fixed costs were just too high at the moment to be able to provide me the necessary disposables without running a loss.
He was also quite convinced that food court operators wouldn’t give companies like theirs the time of day. He cited an example: Manufacturer #1 had tried very persistently in the past to talk to the biggest grocery store chain in the country about using their bio-composite plastic bags – but to no avail. They only wanted to work with very established, reputable manufacturers who had hammered prices down to almost nothing (but argh, plastic certainly does not cost the environment almost nothing!). Their strategy was to turn to corporate customers interested in CSR and special events instead. Manufacturer #1 was really excited when I brought up a bring-your-own container campaign, particularly if we linked it with a school. The operations director shook his head, saying that young people are way, way more receptive of environmentalism and more willing to change; trying to talk to older generations and profit-minded generations is like talking to a wall. As such, he’s a fan of working through schools, and when he takes on student interns, he really gives them the reins.
The meeting overall definitely taught me about the reality of the green tech industry, about the state of environmental attitudes in the country, and about money. It gave me a lot to think about, and I said I’d definitely be in touch soon with a modified proposal: one that would work for Manufacturer #1 as a business that, at the end of the day, does need to break even.