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2022 podcast series: Earth Day

The Earth Day theme this year is Invest in our Planet. We speak to two entrepreneurs about how our spending power can help the earth as well as the economy.

FlightFree UK
22 Apr 2022 9 min read

This is episode 4 of our 2022 podcast series. Listen to the episode here and find other episodes and previous series here.

Earth Day is the annual celebration of the planet which takes place on April 22nd each year.

This year’s Earth Day theme is ‘Invest in our planet’, so we’re speaking to entrepreneurs Tessa Clarke, the co-founder and CEO of food waste app Olio, and May Al-Karooni, the founder of the award-winning British re-use marketplace Globechain. 

Flight Free Fact

Research from climate charity Possible shows that investing in green transport means that for every 10 jobs lost in aviation, 30 jobs can be found elsewhere. 

Flight Free UK

Tessa, can you explain what Olio is all about and how you came to set it up?

Tessa

Olio is an app to tackle the enormous problem of waste in our homes and local communities. Seven years ago, I was living and working in Switzerland and when I came to move back to the UK, the removal men told me I had to throw away all our uneaten food. 

I set out into the streets to find someone to give my food to. I couldn’t find anyone so when the packing men weren't looking, I smuggled the non-perishable foods into the bottom of my packing boxes. 

I realised how crazy it was that I went to such lengths in order to avoid throwing away this food. I thought, why isn't there a simple app where I can just advertise my food and whoever wants to pick it up can pop over?

Flight Free UK

How can people get involved with Olio? 

Tessa

The app is free to download and free to use – you can get it on Google play or the app store, and you can also use it via our website.

You just snap a photo of any food or other household items you have that you no longer need, add it to Olio, then neighbours living nearby get an alert. They can browse the listings, request what they want and pop around and pick it up.

“We’ve had an environmental impact equivalent to taking 135 million car miles off the road, and saving 6.6 billion litres of water.”

To date we've had over 45 million portions of food saved and over 3 million other household items which has had an environmental impact equivalent to taking 135 million car miles off the road, and saving 6.6 billion litres of water. Olio really goes to show that if we take all lots of small steps and small actions then, together we can have a massive positive impact.

Flight Free UK

Given that the app is free for consumers, how do you make this work as a business? 

Tessa

We generate revenues thanks to our Food Waste Heroes Programme. We recruit and train volunteers online from the community, and they can then claim a collection slot at a local business. 

So, for example with Tesco, our food waste heroes go to the Tesco store, pick up all their unsold food, take it home, add it to the app and within minutes neighbours request it and pop around and pick it up. 

Those businesses previously paid a waste contractor to take that food away and instead they're now paying us to make sure it's eaten. 

Flight Free UK

Do you think that’s what it takes for us to take action on climate? See it as helping each other rather than helping this rather vague ‘planet’?

Tessa

I think that the planet does feel a bit too distant for everybody. We find that people use Olio because they enjoy using it and a big part of that is the community angle. It feels good to give something of value that you don't want to a neighbour living nearby who would like it. 

People hate waste, something that's very integral to us as human beings. Olio is directly tackling that. So, people join us because they hate waste, but they keep using Olio because it's fun to connect with a neighbour and feel like you're making a difference.

Flight Free UK

Why do you think it's important that we invest in our planet and how can we do this, both as consumers and as business leaders?

Tessa

It's easy to get depressed about the state of the world, to feel a bit overwhelmed, to feel like there's nothing you can do. We really push back against that argument. It was billions of small actions that created the climate crisis in the first place and so by the same logic, billions of small actions can help get us out of it. 

“It was billions of small actions that created the climate crisis, so by the same logic, billions of small actions can help get us out of it.”

Research shows that over 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions generated are a direct result of the consumption decisions that we make in our homes. That means that we are enormously empowered in the decisions that we make. Project Drawdown ranked the top 100 solutions to the climate crisis and number one is reducing food waste. So just by giving food away, instead of throwing it away, you can start to be that catalyst of change.

When large corporations and businesses see money moving away from unsustainable products towards more sustainable, environmentally friendly products, it gives them the confidence to build new product lines and to change how they manufacture, distribute and retail things. To everybody who can afford to, you need to vote with your wallet because you are the catalyst of change. 

Flight Free UK

If you were in charge, what would your priorities be?

Tessa

I would move away from GPD growth as the metric of the economy and instead measure the wellness of people and the planet. There’s also the obvious stuff like a carbon tax, and I would also force companies to publish their waste data because at the moment there is enormous amounts of waste taking place at every step of the supply chain. If people had to be transparent about it, it would immediately help to stamp out wasteful behaviour.

Flight Free UK

Thanks to Tessa for joining us. If you want to find out more about Tessa and Olio, you can find everything you need to know at olioex.com

Our next guest is May Al-Karooni. Can you explain to us what Globechain is all about and what inspired you to launch this business?

May

Globechain is an ESG (Environmental, Social and corporate Governance) reuse marketplace. It's like eBay, but rather than selling products, we give them away, then generate ESG data on the impact of where items go. 

We help companies reduce waste rather than them disposing of products, items or materials. They list them on our marketplace, and we redistribute them to our network of charities, SMEs (small/medium enterprises), and individuals. 

Flight Free UK

Before you started the company, did you already have an interest in the environment? 

May

I’ve always loved nature and seeing places untouched by humankind. I was of the generation that grew up with recycling in the home.

My background was in investment banking. The idea for the company started when the bank I was working in moved offices across the road, and they just disposed of the furniture. I thought, why have you not been able to give it away? There are people who need it. It was such a waste. I thought, why has no one digitised waste and connected these people together? 

In the banking world and the finance world at that time there was no such thing as sustainability. This was my way of giving back and also commercialising it. 

“I believe that helping the environment should become a by-product of business-as-usual.”

Our strapline is ‘commercial with a conscience’. I believe that businesses of the future would not necessarily have a charity arm, but their charitable actions would be more ingrained in the business, so helping the environment becomes a by-product of business-as-usual. 

Flight Free UK

Could you explain what the circular economy is and why it is so important? 

May

If you think of how businesses exist at the moment, it's a linear process: a product or material might be mined, then made into a product, then it goes through manufacturing or packaging, it goes to a consumer or shop, it’s sold, then when the consumer is done, it's disposed of. That is linear, it's a straight line. 

Circular involves the different aspects of the life cycle of a process, a product or service, and looks at how you can reuse things. For example, can you use materials already around rather than mining? Can you design a product for buildings that you can dismantle and reuse elsewhere? And if you have what's considered as waste from cut-offs, can you recycle it or create a new product out of it and use it within your processes?

So eventually that becomes a circle. It requires a lot of intel, knowledge, trial and error to get there. A couple of years ago McKinsey Pricewaterhouse did a study and they said that the circular economy could be worth over $4.3 trillion. 

Flight Free UK

Is this concept taken more seriously now compared to when you first started your business? 

May

Yes. In the last few years we’ve seen a real shift in wellbeing, ethics and values which has been driven by consumers. Gen Z, millennials, this new generation has the spending power, but also they care more about society. It’s not so much consumerism, it's more about experiences and lifestyle choices.

Flight Free UK

For businesses looking into developing their own sustainability plan, what advice do you have for them? 

May

For a product company, is their packaging sustainable? Can they eliminate single use plastics? If they are a retailer, where in their business are they spending a lot of money on waste? Can they find solutions that can be implemented quite quickly?

Flight Free UK

There are people out there who don’t think that making a profit and looking after the planet really go hand in hand. What would your response be?

May

People used to think we were a charity because the products we list are free. But people pay waste companies to dispose of their stuff, so why would they expect us to do the same for free? People save money going through us, and we’re not just redistributing, we're getting ESG data which probably has more value than what you're paying companies to dispose of waste.

Flight Free UK

Your mission is to divert a hundred million tons of waste from landfill by 2025. Do you feel that the way we think about reusing items has changed or is in the process of changing?

May

Yes. I do think people are really changing. Buying second hand now is looked at as being more responsible and can save you money as well. 

I've got no issue with people buying new, but I think people are buying better quality items which is great. I think you should buy the quality you can afford. It's very difficult when you're younger and fast fashion is convenient, and also when people are trying to pay their bills and feed their children, but if we all do one thing that we can afford to do within our budget, it goes a long way.

"If we all do one thing that we can afford to do within our budget, it goes a long way." 

Asking questions and challenging people is important. When you go to a cafe or you see a business, ask them what can be recycled? Are their products sustainable? Is it fair trade? Is it ethical? Is it organic? Is it vegan? If they hear that question over and over again from different people, they're going to take note and think, this is important, I'm going to change my business to see if I can find a solution.

Flight Free UK

As well as cutting down on waste, what are other ways that individuals and businesses can invest in our planet?

May

It is so important to look after nature in general, especially if you live in a city. We've seen from COVID that more community engagement and social impact really helps, and people are open to being more philanthropic. You should start with one thing that maybe you have a passion for, because if you have a passion for it, then it becomes easy.

Flight Free UK 

Thanks again to Tessa and May for joining us this month. Tessa is at olioex.com, and you will find May at @Globechain on Instagram. 

Destination of the Month

On the theme of Earth day, we’ve picked an art installation called GAIA. It’s a seven-metre wide sculpture of the earth, which will be displayed in various indoor and outdoor locations throughout the UK in the coming months. 

The person who created the artwork has said that he wants to create a feeling of awe for the planet, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment – similar to what astronauts feel when looking down at the earth from space. 

He says, “we urgently need to wake up, and change our behaviour. We need to quickly make the changes necessary to prevent runaway climate change. I hope visitors to Gaia get to see the Earth as if from space: an incredibly beautiful and precious place, an ecosystem we need to look after, and our only home.”

You can find out all the details at my-earth.org/tour-dates/.

We hope that you’re inspired to make 2022 your year of being flight free. You can sign up at flightfree.co.uk, and don’t forget to share the pledge with your friends and family to help us spread the word.

Next month we’re speaking about aviation and wildlife. See you then!

Episode produced and narrated by Eveline Vouillemin. Intro music: The Executive Lounge By Dan Barton. Outro music: Pines and Violet by Sky Toes. Listen to the full episode here and find other episodes and previous series here.

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