#4 Friendly Soap

Friendly Soap is a UK-based company, lovingly crafting natural, top-quality household products while cherishing ethical values. Their vegan, cruelty-free items come in eco-friendly packaging.

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We chatted with Georgia, from Friendly Soap to explore what 15 years in business has taught them about sustainability.

  • 1

    What inspired you to start your business and have sustainability take such a central role?

    Friendly Soap was started in 2008, by our two Directors, old friends Rob Costello and Geoff Kerouac. Rob and Geoff had both done long stints at legendary cooperative, Suma Wholefoods and had gained a deep understanding of how ethical business practices can create a positive impact for both workers and consumers.

    Having grown up in Hebden Bridge, once a hotbed for radical politics, alternative viewpoints, and counter-culture lifestyles, treading lightly on the earth was something both considered to be of paramount importance long before ‘sustainability’ became a household term. 

    Kitchen bar lifestyle
  • 2

    What practices have you implemented and how has it positively impacted your business?

    Because we set out to create a sustainable business, we haven’t had to implement many changes along the way. We have always made vegan, plastic-free products and have always resisted over-mechanisation, preferring ‘human fuel to fossil fuel’, creating sustainable, well-paid jobs in the process. We have learnt over the years that if something creates a positive impact in one category, such as sustainability, it often has positive impacts we had not anticipated in other categories, such as, in this case, worker welfare. 

    An inverse example of this is us paying our team above the London Living Wage, despite not being based in London. The extra cash in our employee’s pockets allows them to make sustainable choices outside work; they can buy local and organic, supporting local businesses and reducing freight miles. The decisions we have made have created a huge positive impact for our business; our employees are proud to work here and staff attrition rates are high. Our customers trust our brand because we set out to do business in a way that places ethics before profits and sustainability is always a core tenet rather than an afterthought.  

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  • 3

    What hurdles have you encountered and how have you managed to overcome them?

    We have definitely encountered some hurdles along the way! Operating a sustainable business within a system that merits profit above all else, can be difficult, as the most sustainable option is very often not the cheapest one! In response to this, we recently amended our governing documents, moving from a shareholder model to a stakeholder model. 

    This means that the company no longer has a legal drive to prioritise profit creation for shareholders, and must consider as equally important the effect on the environment, our workers and society as a whole. 

  • 4

    What do you see as the main sustainability challenges facing FMCG companies in the near future?

    There are huge sustainability challenges looming for the FMGC sector. From procurement of raw materials on a planet of shrinking resources, to the stretch on consumer budgets, meaning that, despite the fact that the majority of UK consumers consider sustainability to be an important purchase criterion, less cash in pockets will inevitably result in lower cost purchase choices; as we’ve already said, the most sustainable option is very often not the cheapest! 

    Another issue we see as being a challenge for sustainable companies is the unfortunate fact that consumer demand for sustainable products will, and already is, resulting in a proliferation of greenwashing practices by companies who are anything but ethical. 

    This ‘muddying of the water’ will, in effect, make it more difficult for genuinely sustainable brands to be heard and trusted.  

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  • 5

    What advice would you give entrepreneurs aspiring to greater sustainability ambitions for their FMCG business?

    Build it in from the beginning and stick to what you know is right. Be transparent with your customers, tell them when you get it wrong, and tell them what you want to improve, but don’t be afraid to shout about what you have achieved. 

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  • 6

    *BONUS* Do you have any sustainable brands that you’re a big fan of and would like to shout out to the readers?

    Patagonia , of course. A huge inspiration. 

    Triodos Bank - a bit of advice for individuals here, if you’re not with an ethical bank, change today. It’s easy and it’s one of the most effective things you, as a consumer can do. Money talks.

    We absolutely love the Library of Things. Although they currently only have branches in London and Brighton, it’s worth looking in your area for an equivalent. 

    For instance up here in Yorkshire, we have Buy Nowt LS6, where you can, for a donation, rent anything from a lawnmower to a sewing machine, a tent or a Monopoly board. 

    Take that landfill!!

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