min read

Disrupting the Packaging Market with Safia Qureshi, CEO of CLUBZERØ

Can we break our addiction to single use packaging? As public pressure grows, the race to eliminate waste is on. In this episode we dive into the challenges and incentives of transitioning to a zero waste model, the scaleability of the reuse model and the potential that innovative designs and initiatives have in disrupting society’s unhealthy packaging habit.

Can we break our addiction to single use packaging? As public pressure grows, the race to eliminate waste is on. So who is driving this sustainable transition. 

Enter, Safia Qureshi, CEO and Founder of CLUBZERØ.

Disrupting the Packaging Market with Safia Quereshi, CEO of ClubZero  | RSS.com Podcasting

CLUBZERØ’s packaging solution has carved out a new landscape for retailers to overcome current sustainability shortfalls and proactively embrace a circular lifeline with returnable packaging.

In this episode we dive into the challenges and incentives of transitioning to a zero waste model, the scaleability of the reuse model and the potential that innovative designs and initiatives have in disrupting society’s unhealthy packaging habit.

According to the Ellen MacArthur foundation, roughly a quarter of the 348 million tons of annual plastic production worldwide now goes into packaging, making it the single biggest use of the material. Safia’s mission to rethink our relationship with packaging offers a timely and critical insight into solving this urgent issue.

Tune in to discover more.
Listen to the podcast directly on Spotify here


Transcript


Saif Hameed:
This is Altruistiq, where we speak with pioneers in the Race To Zero, and unpack the lessons from their experiences for you, our community of impact professionals. I'm your host, Saif Hameed. And in this episode, we're going to talk about circular packaging. You may already be familiar with the increasing global push for circularity, or you may still be finding your way.

Saif Hameed:
We're going to dive deep into the substrate, no pun intended, and come to terms with what this means for brand owners and packagers around the world in our conversation with Safia Qureshi. Safia is founder and CEO of CLUBZERO. Safia, thank you so much for joining us.

Safia Qureshi:
You are very welcome, couldn't say no to this, seeing as we know each other from past lives. So, this is a great excuse to come together and talk about a really important topic, which currently, is embracing both of us. So I'm excited.

Saif Hameed:
Absolutely. 14 years, one husband, one baby, and one COVID dog later. Safia, 14 years ago when we last met, which is an incredibly long time and reminds us both sadly how old we are now. You were a young, incredibly talented upcoming architecture student.

Safia Qureshi:
Gosh yes I was.

Saif Hameed:
And now, you're running, one of I think the UK's most exciting sustainability scale-ups.

Safia Qureshi:
Thank you.

Saif Hameed:
What's the story there?

Safia Qureshi:
Well, I mean, I think there's multiple things that transition you from being an architect to an entrepreneur. It's a very different journey, but what I would say is, my DNA was always from the beginning, about putting things in the right place. So, it was a really strange desire to define where things belong, and making sure that those things are designed well.

Safia Qureshi:
And if you think about architects at large, we're obsessed with designing for well-being, but we do it at scale. So, we think about cities, we think about master planning, we think about buildings, we think about interior spaces. These are things that we do day in, day out. So, when it comes to sustainability also, we're incredibly regulated as an industry. We have to follow very, very strict guidelines on what can be designed and what can't be designed.

Safia Qureshi:
And that very much was starting to be shaped by climate change, or is being shaped by overall consumption. As a student going through the whole process and qualifying, and becoming an architect and practicing for many years, what I felt was lacking was... and well, there were a few things. First of all, I never felt I could really build for everybody. I felt I was just designing things for a very small group of people.

Safia Qureshi:
My vision was always to have things that were very public and that were very open. And so, my own inner brief wasn't really being answered. And yeah, you get a lot of... Like having South Asian parents, you having spent so much time, and dedication, and training in becoming an architect, the thought of changing your career path can become quite a difficult thing, not just to explain to others but to yourself.

Safia Qureshi:
So, for a long time, I was just like, "Well, if I'm not pleased with this, what is it that I'm going to be pleased with? And how do I make sure I don't abandon what I do?" I'm very much a closer, I hate the idea of just not doing something properly and moving on. And so, chapter one was becoming an architect and being an architect.

Safia Qureshi:
And I went into chapter two with the mindset that I'm now going to be an entrepreneur, and I'm going to use everything that I've understood, everything that I've been taught and learned from amazing people around me, to figure out how I can apply those skills to things that will be more public, will be more open, and will answer a brief that's bigger than just a building.

Safia Qureshi:
So, it's systemic, it's systems, it's things that right now... at that point in time, I didn't know what it was, but I just wanted to open my mind up to it. So, yeah. So, I set up a design studio with a really, really amazing friend of mine. And for the first year, we just did a lot of fun projects and CLUBZERO, which was at that time called CupClub, was just a side project.

Safia Qureshi:
It was just an evaluation of how do we simplify our global supply chains? How do we distribute things in a more sustainable way? Why are we looking at global distribution in single-use packaging? It's resulting in this enormous crisis around single-use plastics, and we know recycling doesn't work. And so, there must be a better system, there must be a better design, there must be something that we can do that makes this a bit more effective and reduces the amount of CO2 that we consume.

Safia Qureshi:
So, it was just literally a design brief. It was just a thought and it started off as a sketch, and years later, we are where we are.

Saif Hameed:
Safia, two of the things I love about what you've just said, one is the idea of an inner brief, and I'm actually going to reuse that, so I hope you haven't got it trademarked. Because it really is quite a nice way of thinking about an individual's purpose, an individual's mission. And as a mission-driven company ourselves at Altruistiq, we like to think that actually everyone joins us with an inner brief- to have an impact in the world.

Saif Hameed:
The second thing I really like about what you've described is, also that design thinking, that prompts us to almost think if we were to redesign this entire space, what would it look like? And one of the ways in which I've seen this be conceptualized, at least, is also in the energy system, where we tend to think about what would an ideal energy system look like if you were just to redesign this, and often you'd have, maybe a hydrogen-based system or a combination of peer-to-peer and so on.

Saif Hameed:
And the thing that stands in the way in the energy space, and I think this is true in the material use space as well, is incentives and legacy CapEx, legacy ways of doing things. And so, at CLUBZERO, or at least just from the circularity perspective, how do you think about overcoming incentives that are already there, whether working with your customers or in this system?

Safia Qureshi:
Look, you have to be empathetic, because you know that what you are proposing is a systemic change, it's not a step change. When you're looking at the market as an entrepreneur, you have two options. You can either say, "Okay, I'm going to have a product that's going to be ready for market literally like yesterday, because it's a step change and there's going to be an enormous opportunity." Or you could say, "Well, by the time I get this built, actually, I would've missed the boat." And for us, it was very much that.

Safia Qureshi:
There was so much to figure out, and design, and think that it couldn't be a step change. It couldn't be incremental, it had to be something that was substantial. So, there is a lot of empathy because... And I sat in working groups with the World Economic Forum, for example, where we've had about 17 CPGs and major brands come in. And we know that they are at a point where they know they need to change. We know they are at a point where they have incredible amounts of CapEx and infrastructure that's designed to do things in one way and that's it.

Safia Qureshi:
And we know that nobody's going to come over and say, "Well, we'll pay you to write that off your balance sheet, and replace that with something that's more sustainable." That's unlikely. I mean, maybe government subsidies will be there eventually, who knows? I doubt it. But it's going to be at a cost of how high is climate risk? And I'm sure these people are speaking to the likes of BlackRock and everybody else's, what is the cost or what's the climate risk, and what value is that? And then on the other side, would it be more effective long term to actually change now?

Safia Qureshi:
So, we know that those are the high level conversations that these large corporations are having. I know just from my own much smaller operations, we have a lot of CapEx, and when things need to change, which looks like they will, because the European Union is basically shaping reuse standards around us as we are moving through this process, which will impact some of our own physical products, and some of our own CapEx investments. And ours are minuscule in terms of scale, compared to these much larger corporations.

Safia Qureshi:
So, I empathize to some degree, but I also know that this is just part of a change development progress that we need to make. And I know that with businesses, your bottom line, you need to accept that certain amount of that has to go into continuous improvement. So, you have to have an operational balance sheet P&L where you say, "This amount of profits will go towards the businesses next 10 years of development, innovation, and setup, and without that, you'd be a loss making business very soon."

Safia Qureshi:
There's definitely very little, which will move, if legislation and governance didn't push them in that direction. We certainly believe that we can see that. And so, that plays a very large and important factor.

Saif Hameed:
I'm going to come back to the governance point, but before I do, our customers at Altruistiq tend to be some of the world's largest CPG and food service companies. And as you probably will agree, often the business sustainability teams in these organizations are incredibly passionate, motivated, excited to actually drive change. One of their main challenges is, how do I actually find allies in other parts of the business? Or how do I start rolling this out towards the line and towards operations?

Saif Hameed:
And I think that that tool of empathy and actually understanding that this is a shift, it's going to be painful, it's going to be difficult, they're going to be trade offs, is a really important one. Do you have any advice for these business sustainability? Just having navigated this with companies, what helps when you're trying to convince like cafe management to actually shift its entire way of doing business? Or any one of your customers for that matter?

Safia Qureshi:
Sales, you have to make the money or save the money. So, that's a very binary way, so we do it in both ways. Through a lot of our research, we found that it's cheaper to advertise around sustainability points. So, if you are advertising, let's say you've just launched a more sustainable packaging line for your beverage or food. The cost of acquisition will be lower, because you'll simply have a higher conversion for that particular ad, so marketing spends goes down.

Safia Qureshi:
On the other side, if you build in loyalty for your product, you are more likely to have increase in sales. Now, with the circular economy, what's interesting is, you can drive more product to a customer if you are already picking up some form of packaging from them. Let's say your subscription for a refillable deodorant. Now, it's very unlikely that I'm going to switch to another brand if I've already started that one off process and I'm getting refillable cartridges.

Safia Qureshi:
Now, the idea is that I'm getting refillable cartridges often through the post, I might then move into other types of products. You're building product loyalty with the brand, that will increase your sales. So, the circular economy, this idea of rotating things in the circular motion, is seen to be a way of building long-term loyalty with not just your existing customer base, but then combining that with marketing ad spends to find newer acquisitions, and then bringing them back into that multiloop. That's what we've seen has worked really well.

Saif Hameed:
That's super exciting.

Safia Qureshi:
Yeah.

Saif Hameed:
And having just looked at the waste space a fair bit over the years, what I've often found in the analysis that I was part of at McKinsey and otherwise, is that the kind of cost of actually getting the product back, sorting it, separating it right in a waste system, all of that can be prohibitive. What does the route back look like?

Saif Hameed:
Is it literally someone going and collecting the used package and bringing it back? Are there ways to drive efficiency there? Is there a Hermes or a DPD involved actually on using spare capacity to bring something back the same way? How does that work?

Safia Qureshi:
We work with established recyclers. Because when you're building partnerships up in the industry, you've got to find where's the revenue share opportunity, and who is the best partner for you to exchange this rev share business, because ultimately it's their existing industry, which will get impacted the most by your current business model. So, reuse is going to impact the recycling model the most.

Safia Qureshi:
So, we build partnerships up with recyclers and we say, "This isn't going to kill your business, it's actually adding revenue share to your existing customer base and over time, which you don't have any choice in the matter, regulation will move this towards more reusability, you might as well start establishing and understanding of it now, with us." We have a partnership with the likes of First Mile, which is one of the largest recyclers here in London. And we have a few others as well that are in the pipeline.

Safia Qureshi:
We operate in a way where they are championing us, we are championing them, and it's through their existing infrastructure and their existing fleet. So, they're are not adding additional fleet onto the roads. Those fleets are doing other kinds of pickups and drop offs, and we essentially just put more postcodes onto their existing routing route. So, that's basically it. We don't own those fleets, we personally don't move anything, we provide all the technology and we track everything.

Safia Qureshi:
So, from our perspective, they're doing all the bits of the business that we don't want to do, and that's their bread and butter anyway. So, it's a great collaboration in that way.
Saif Hameed:

And Safia, one of the hypotheses around how circularity and sustainability can start to make sense for a business, is that you can also add on a bit of a price premium-

Safia Qureshi:
Yeah.

Saif Hameed:
... when doing business. Do you find that that's the case in your business model as well?

Safia Qureshi:
Well, I mean, we don't have choice right now. We are definitely more expensive, and we don't advertise ourselves to be the cheapest. That's probably going to happen in maybe five to 10 year's time. We could be price parity with the cheapest option, but right now, we are at price parity with compostable packaging. And so, if you are buying any sort of packaging that has any kind of bio liners that can go into a composting facility, you're already paying a slightly more premium price to the cheapest option in the market.

Safia Qureshi:
And so, that's our benchmarks. We wouldn't put it up further because again, we want this to be something that's scalable. So, we want the market at the moment that's buying compostable packaging, that's our target market, that's our profile for customers. We don't look at ones who are buying polystyrene, or items that clearly have come from Asia and are at like four pence per unit. We know that we cannot compete against that kind of pricing.

Safia Qureshi:
So, we don't have that conversation, because it commercially doesn't work for us. So, that's the way that we position ourselves in the market, is if you're already on the path of buying compostable, you're already thinking about more sustainable packaging, and so, the switch to reuse, isn't going to be a big jump.

Saif Hameed:
And Safia, could you just give a little more shape to the real examples you're describing, and what for me is always the iconic product of your business as being the coffee cup, that sort of product. But it sounds like actually you're quite a bit broader now and going even wider than that. So, just to make this a more real for our listeners, could you give a couple more examples perhaps of this in practice?

Safia Qureshi:
So, where we started, we wanted to demonstrate a product. I think the quintessential takeaway coffee cup or beverage container was the most realistic place to start for us in the initial stages. And it's also by way, one of the highest item sold, probably. So, we thought, "Let's start with something that's daily. That's in everybody's mind from the moment they wake up." It's almost shaped around their commute, and we can take the journey from there, test it on that one product line, and then expand to other product lines.

Safia Qureshi:
So, by the time we rebranded and moved into food, we had already completed over half a million orders with just beverages. And so, what we realized was after that, we thought, "I think we know what we're doing now." So, we were comfortable with the idea of transitioning into food. Actually, we got pushed into the idea of going into delivery because of COVID.

Safia Qureshi:
So, we had anticipated to do delivery much further down the line, but naturally, the needs of our customers changed overnight. People weren't necessarily going to offices, they weren't really leaving their house. And as we all know, delivery companies did remarkably well during that period of time. And we know that coming out of that, our habits have changed, and we still consume a large amount through delivery at home.

Safia Qureshi:
So, we moved into food. We started collaborations with the likes of Just Eat, which is one of the biggest delivery partners globally. And we're now expanding our partnership further with them, which is really exciting. And they are very motivated. You know, this isn't a marketing exercise for them, this is something that they have to either or actively are reporting on, and that hence they're concerned about.

Safia Qureshi:
So, you might have seen Just Eat published their annual sustainability report, and they cover scope one, two, and three. They might not buy the packaging, but all of the packaging that goes through that platform has to be measured from a CO2 perspective. Now, what's interesting is, when we built CLUBZERO, we worked with sustainability experts, Giraffe Innovation, to measure the full LCA, from the production of the product and the full life cycle, operational CO2 combined, to understand how much carbon do we use across the entire number of uses.

Safia Qureshi:
And so, we use half the amount of CO2 to single-use packaging. That's really important for our partners, because we essentially help them on their scope three, if you're a delivery company. If you're a major restaurant or your major brand, we have the amount of CO2 that they're currently consuming with their single-use packaging. So, these are great wins, and it does affect their bottom line if they're over a certain size and they have to report, especially if they're going to be paying EPR charges from next year, and they'll have to declare what that looks like. So, this is definitely what the value propositions are for what we do.

Saif Hameed:
And Safia, there's a space in between those as well, which is the recyclable and potentially endlessly recyclable options as well. So, if you take, let's say a disposable cup versus something made out of aluminum, or glass, or steel that can in theory, be recycled endlessly, how would you say those are comparable to a multi-reuse model from either the emissions perspective or otherwise?

Safia Qureshi:
So, I love the idea of perpetuating when it comes to certain materials and recycling. So, glass is brilliant, aluminum, steel, these are great materials, these are fantastic materials. The challenge that you have in putting them in reuse systems, forget about the actual cost of acquiring that material and producing it, and embodied CO2, just parking that aside, the biggest challenge is moving that product around.

Safia Qureshi:
So, if it's glass, it's very hard, it's infinitely heavier, and most of the conversations that you see in packaging are about lightweight. Like, "How do we create something that's lighter? How do we start to shave off the margins on shipping this product across the world, et cetera?" Now, that conversation needs to change, because you don't ship things across the world if it's reuse. You actually only move it within a certain territory, but you don't need a global supply chain for reuse systems. You need a very local supply chain.

Safia Qureshi:
So, when people do more of these number-crunching tests, they'll figure out a way to reintroduce more premium materials because you can, in a tighter supply chain. You're not shipping it across the world. But you would still need to compete for the price that it entails to move that product, and the number of uses that you get out of it, and the value that you get out of it before it's recycled.

Safia Qureshi:
For us, we just had to have products that were going to mimic single use as close as possible, so that you don't make too many major surprises for all your stakeholders. We're already moving them into a reuse space, completely changing the material, completely changing the UX, complete... We just wanted to try and minimize the number of things that we were asking them to do, or the number of things that we were asking them to get used to do.

Safia Qureshi:
So, that's one of the reasons why we felt, "Let's pick a material that has a lot of versatility." Can be reused material wise, maybe not infinitely, plastics maybe three or four times you can recycle the same content, and then the material just starts to fall apart, and it can be downcycled. Ours can be upcycled because we don't use dark plastics, so it can be upcycled into better pricing food grade. We only use polypropylene. We haven't yet started using any other materials.

Safia Qureshi:
And the idea for us is to find a way to bring that material back into our own products and close that loop as well over time, and the alternative is, if they are branded, basically give that material stock to the brand, to look after at the end of its use, so they can take that product and recycle it, and essentially they'll own that material.

Saif Hameed:
I think that's a great model, Safia. I was speaking with the chief sustainability officer of a large bottle-making company recently. And one of the challenges that this individual put forward is that, when you think about, let's say reusable bottles for instance, the problem is that the bottle starts to get quite scuffed. It doesn't look so nice, you can't really put forward a bottle of beer and the bottle has scratches all over it.

Safia Qureshi:
Yeah, exactly.

Saif Hameed:
And the same is true, I think for aluminum and a lot of other formats. Is there a trade off there? Or can you actually work around this?

Safia Qureshi:
It's very subtle, it's about just how you treat the product. And I don't mean how the consumer treats the product, how you treat the product from a design perspective. So, there are certain materials that will have a higher propensity of showing wear and tear, glass, stainless steel, aluminum, those included. Ceramics doesn't. So ceramics, you can't really tell if it's got some scratches or nicks really, unless it chips away.

Safia Qureshi:
With plastic, plastic is actually a softer material, and if you texture it in the right way, you can't tell degradation over time either. So, these are subtle design things that we've implemented, which has worked for us so far. Our products are reused 250 times, they have a minimum life cycle of 250, which is quite high. And I'd like to say we will have a range of other materials at some point, but for the time being, what we are really targeting is the price parity to possible packaging, and making sure we really fix that. We really get very good at that.

Safia Qureshi:
And then over time, as we diversify, we might have clients that say, "You know, we want something a bit more premium or et cetera." So, we'll get to that spot, but for now, it's mass market. How do we build something that can last multi uses, and we generate revenue per use, so the product pays back for itself very quickly and then ultimately, how do you keep customers happy and excited about using it?

Saif Hameed:
And Safia, you'd mentioned the governance and regulatory side of this, when you think about the outcomes of cup and just the general environment for this. I think that a lot of us felt that cup could have been more assertive on certain topics, circularity being one of them. European regulation, I think has at least conceptually gone quite a bit further. What are your thoughts on this space? Like coming out of cup, do you feel enthusiastic or a bit despondent? UK, Europe, US, where do you think the space is headed from a regulatory perspective?

Safia Qureshi:
So, the circular economy plan is really important, and this is pre cup, this has been in motion for a while. It's maturing, and it's going through European Commission, and it's there. And the first area of attack for them is food service, which is great, that's exactly our market. So, I have no complaints on that regard, maybe some that were not under the EU jurisdiction anymore, so that's a shame.

Safia Qureshi:
But we are seeing the same approaches being evaluated now, interestingly, across X commonwealth countries. So, I think this will just become the approaches plastic bags have had. We are going to see charges on single-use packaging in various cities at a municipal level, not federal level, and cities taking charge. The cup thing is interesting. There's a great podcast I would listen to by Christiana Figueres, which is called Optimism and Outrage.

Safia Qureshi:
She covered cup really well. While I was there, I was listening to it. And my key takeaway from cup is that, it is going to be incredibly hard to bring everybody along. That's just never going to happen. If you look at governance structures, the most successful are going to be businesses that are multinationals, or any businesses that have a traditional triangle governance structure. Where you have clear direction from somebody at the top, the CEO, you have a team below them, and then you have maybe regional teams that all report into a simple governance structure.

Safia Qureshi:
My theory is that, if you have a multinational-style governance structure, whether you are a company startup or a country... China operates as a multinational, it operates like a Cisco or an IBM, and it has the capacity to put plans down and execute on those plans. Where you have democracy that doesn't mirror this governance structure, you are not going to see change. Because climate change is something that we cognitively cannot understand. It is not visual presence.

Safia Qureshi:
If climate change was a physical alien monster that was ripping people's heads off and rampaging, we would all come together very quickly and sort the issue out. If climate change was even visible, brown smoke, CO2, and you could smell it, it would be more effective, but it's not. We can't see it, it's not tangible, we cognitively cannot understand the threat of it.

Safia Qureshi:
So, democracies, if you are a US democracy where you have four years tenures and it's a revolving door, are you in the agreement? Are you not in the agreement? What's going on? I just don't see much of an evolution. I'm not hanging any hope on democracy. What I'm saying is, democracies today are set for failing us in the context of climate change. If you are a business, you're own entity, and you have the capacity to make plans and they don't get to deterred, and you can see them through, those nations, those organizations will be successful. Everybody else, not happening.

Safia Qureshi:
The best example is COVID. Globally, we have failed to figure out an equitable distribution of vaccines. And we are going to see the resurgence of new variations emerging from population where they haven't received their vaccinations. And it will spread to the rest of the world. The concept of not distributing vaccines globally, is like saying, "We're going to open a corner for you to pee in the pool." Well, it doesn't work like that. COVID isn't going to stay in the corner, it's going to spread throughout the pool. That's how it works.

Safia Qureshi:
And so, if we haven't managed to demonstrate on this one very threatening, globally impacting thing that we have experienced in the last two years, we are certainly not going to do it with climate change. So, what I would say to everyone is, if you're a business, you have control, if you're multinational, you have control, and we're seeing it. We're seeing movements happen at city level, they're not waiting for federal governance. Same happening in the states, they're not waiting for the entire state to figure it out.

Safia Qureshi:
You have businesses that have banned people from entering unless they're masked. And this is how you're going to see this evolve. And that's not bad news, because we all have to have the amount of CO2 we use. So, I'm not saying we're doomed, I'm just saying there is just a really clear way of focusing your hopes on what will work and what won't.

Saif Hameed:
Safia, there's so much to unpack and dwell on. A couple of things that I totally love is the pee in the pool angle.

Safia Qureshi:
Yeah. I stole that.

Saif Hameed:
As in-

Safia Qureshi:
I have to admit. I did steal that from a podcast with Neil Degrasse Tyson. So, I do not own that, I heard that recently and now, I'm just all over it. So, it's a good one.

Saif Hameed:
I think the sound of Neil Degrasse Tyson referring to the pee in the pool situation is probably something one wants to hear again and again as well, right in itself. And one of the things that I often think about there is, we're doing exactly the same thing as with your COVID example. Because we're also ignoring the Southern hemisphere here.

Saif Hameed:
And we're actually saying, "Look, we're going to solve emissions for London, and New York, and Paris." And actually, this is a global problem that if we don't solve it in Mumbai, and Karachi, and Tarka, and Nairobi, and Johannesburg, it's not getting solved for anyone, frankly.

Safia Qureshi:
No. No.

Saif Hameed:
The other thing that I find interesting is how we do... You mentioned this cognitive overload where we can't really understand the problem. And I really see this coming out in two ways. One is, we keep talking about 2050, and though-

Safia Qureshi:
Oh, it's too far.

Saif Hameed:
... there's literally a millennium kind of clock running, a Y2K virus we're expecting at 2050, if we don't do anything by then, which I think is hugely, hugely misleading in itself.

Safia Qureshi:
Totally.

Saif Hameed:
The other is, we keep talking about CO2. As the CO2 is like this one simple metric that if we just optimize it, we're good to go, whereas it's so much more complicated than that. But just coming back to the subject of regulation and unpacking, and how this needs to work for business, I often find, at least in the broader sustainability space, that regulation can have a bit of a risk of being somewhat sweeping, where the definition of how do you do this? And what's expected? And circularity regulation is a great example of this.

Saif Hameed:
There is a push to less single-use packaging, but not much talk of how you do this and how you drive this, and if you're a small business, what does that mean? Your customers are large enough where they can have dozens of individuals in their companies figuring this out, and working with innovative startups like you guys. But what do you do if you don't have access to those resources? If you're a smaller company, an SME, a supplier to a company like Just Eat, what does that look like?

Safia Qureshi:
So, I think what you're talking about is standards. Like what does good look like? How do you follow it? I think the market is going to be open. There'll be options for everybody. There'll be good, bad options, there'll be slightly inferior options, there'll be the best options as you expect to happen in any maturing market. We're still very nascent, reuse, if you think about it.

Safia Qureshi:
We're just at the beginning of something that's going to be huge. So, to answer the question, how do they access? I think by that, I would say businesses like us are already producing products that you don't have to have CapEx for, you simply just buy a service for. So, we have started in the position where we've built a product that is accessible to the smallest at the bottom of the food chain. So, your small independence, your cafes, we have a solution out of the box they can grab and they can start with.

Safia Qureshi:
Of course there are other more sophisticated products that we are looking and designing for the bigger players, but we've essentially started from the baseline, our cups and our containers. These are products they don't buy, they rent them. They don't have to worry about CapEx. They don't have to produce their own molds. They don't have to figure out how are they made, and they don't have to go through all that process, we've done it for them.

Safia Qureshi:
So, in that way, you have like a baseline of products, which are what these are, they're open, they're accessible to everybody. And I think over time, there'll be other versions that others will be doing, which will be equally effective and obtainable. Obviously, the bigger you go, they want something that might be more bespoke. They might want more brand involvement, they might want more co-branding, they might want more technology integration, et cetera, et cetera. So that, yeah, there is more complexity in that, but to answer your point, the baseline more entry level products, that's where we started, that's kind of our entry point.

Saif Hameed:
Safia, thank you so much. I'm aware we're nearing the end of our session. So, I have one very large question potentially, or very small, depending on how you take it, which is, if you were to pick three major unlocks that would accelerate sustainability in 2022 for your business but also for other businesses like yours and for the broader transition, and they can be any unlocks, you can take your pick, what would they be?

Safia Qureshi:
I would love to see some incentives from the government as a sustainability business, which incentivizes us that doesn't tax us as much, so some sort of tax break, or maybe we have zero VAT, or we have a way that we're not classified in the same way as every other business out there, that would be good, that'd be one.
Safia Qureshi:
Option two would, on the sustainability side, of course, legislation and regulation, that would expedite opportunities for us in the market. So, we have an opportunity to grow faster, grow bigger. Communications, I always feel is left out, but I always think is the most important. Municipalities, I don't think create enough communications for citizens. I don't see it happening in enough. It's odd. I know it's possible, we did it. When I say we, you saw communications really ramp up during COVID.

Safia Qureshi:
And by we, I actually realized it's certain businesses that did it better than others. So, TFL did a great job at creating awareness on what to do, what was good, what was not so good in terms of how you behave, and communicating directly to consumers around what works, what doesn't work, what to do with a certain type of packaging item, where to put it, what bin does it belong in? These are just basics that I don't think, certainly not uniform, in terms of information across citizens.

Safia Qureshi:
So, I do think there is a thing that's missing from a municipality level, wherever it comes to communications, which would really help to explain to people what is, and what isn't working. They are driving, for example, more electric charging points, but generally for London to become clean, and this is all part of the fact that we have too much nitrous oxide in London.

Safia Qureshi:
And so, to do that, you really have to educate customers a great deal more. Suddenly, they're under the impression that there's not enough charging points across London. Well, if you live in London, you can charge at home, you don't need charging points when you are out and about. And so, there are these blockers, I think in consumer's minds. I know this, because I sit down with friends and they have the same blockers.

Safia Qureshi:
And we think that these are fairly educated people, and just having to explain to them how some of these things work. And I think there needs to be a more effort, whether it's intermittent ads through TV or radio, leafletting, whatever. If we have to move people along to a certain degree, they need to take some initiative in passing that communication to the average consumer.

Saif Hameed:
Safia, thank you so much. This has been hugely, hugely interesting. I think my highlights are just to listen out. I love the inner brief that drove you from being an architect over to being an ecopreneur. I love the big picture thinking around how this problem requires us not to think about fencing off a little corner of the pool to pee into. It's a problem that requires all of us to solve. I love the hard metrics and thinking around how circularity actually can boost revenue, boost retention, lower churn, lower marketing spend, and have emissions most importantly.

Saif Hameed:
And then just to leave any listeners who are able to influence the policy debate with, I guess the few big asks, more clear regulation that have actually helps push the agenda, a better tax and incentive structure that can promote interventions that actually help solve the problem, and better clearer messaging around what kind of action is actually necessary and helpful from consumers-

Safia Qureshi:
Exactly.

Saif Hameed:
... to take their part of this big problem. The rest we can take offline over a reusable coffee cup.

Safia Qureshi:
Yeah. We should definitely meet up and extend the conversation on the peeing in the corner of the pool.

Saif Hameed:
For sure.

Safia Qureshi:
Awesome.

Saif Hameed:
Safia, thank you so much.

Safia Qureshi:
Thank you.

Saif Hameed:
Have a great evening.

Safia Qureshi:
You too.

Saif Hameed:
And see you soon.

Safia Qureshi:
Do soon. Take care.

Saif Hameed:
Thanks for listening to today's episode of This Is Altruistic. Now, for some shameless self-promotion. Altruistic provides global enterprises with the technology infrastructure needed to measure, manage, and abate their sustainability impact. Please get in touch if you want to find out how Altruistiq can help your business to profitably improve impact on the world. You can reach us on hello@altruistic.com.

Saif Hameed:
The notes from this episode are available in the show notes below, and you can find more episodes of the This is Altruistiq podcast on Spotify, Apple podcast, and Google podcasts. Thank you.