Reath is on a mission to build the digital infrastructure required for businesses to shift to the circular economy.
That essentially means helping businesses to adopt safe, compliant scalable reuse systems. Reuse systems for Reath are products or businesses that are reusing things that have typically been single use and sent to landfill. Examples include cosmetics packaging or PPE since COVID. They specialise in the tagging and tracking of those reusable assets, creating “digital passports” that provide full insight into the current status and history of each individual item.
Co-founders, Claire Rampen and Emily Rogers combined their professional backgrounds in operations and commercial strategy in technology businesses to help other companies adopt circular economy practices.
The Reath platform helps businesses do this while staying compliant, generating insights, creating new revenue opportunities, and identifying savings.
Learn from Claire and Emily how they discovered the challenges brands had in reusing their packaging effectively and legally, and how they joined forces to tackle those challenges and become actively involved in the solution.
Hear about how the Reath team have had to jump off multiple cliffs, apply for multiple grants, and solve multiple problems, as well as how their collaborative approach contributes to systemic change.
The future of the circular economy is never having to throw anything away again.
This is Reath’s vision and, by creating a reuse ecosystem using digital products, they are striving to achieve it!
Tune in to find out more.
Claire Rampen & Emily Rogers
Emily Rogers and Claire Rampen are co-founders of Reath; a start-up that is tackling the challenge of single-use packaging and systems, with technology and data at the core.
We founded the company to make reusable packaging more accessible, because finding scalable solutions to our linear economy is crucial.
The journey began with the same goal but a completely different approach (it’s never a straight line!) and is now backed by investors and other partners like the Open Data Institute and Zero Waste Scotland.
“We wanted to put the technology backbone in place for how the world is going to cope with the “getting rid of" stage.” — Emily Rogers
Tune in to find out:
- Claire and Emily introduce themselves and Reath.
- Emily weighs in on where her and Claire’s journey started and why they founded Reath.
- How they discovered the challenge that brands had in reusing packaging safely and legally.
- Barry explains how he fits into the Reath story by helping them build their software.
- From acknowledging the problem to becoming actively involved in the solution.
- Jumping off the cliff is the first step, but you have to jump off multiple cliffs.
- What success looks like for Reath: a world where you never have to throw anything away.
- Learn more about the software Reath uses and how they use data to address the problem of single use packaging.
- Collaboration, Reath’s open data standard, and how it contributes to systemic change.
- Creating a reuse ecosystem, the players in that ecosystem, and what it ideally looks like.
- Emily weighs in on the fact that the buck might stop with them – and she never underestimates the scope of the problem.
- The role of digital products in the circular economy: why Reath chose a software approach.
- What’s next for Reath – such as working with Innovate UK to apply their system to PPE.
- And much more!
“Our focus is very much in packaging, but with other opportunities [like PPE] to demonstrate where circular systems can be run safely, in a compliant way, and digitally at their core.” — Claire Rampen
Links mentioned in this episode:
[00:00:05] ES: Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Happy Porch Radio. This season, Season 5, we are looking at digital solutions in the circular economy. Today, we have been joined by Claire Rampen and Emily Rogers from Reath.
Reath is on a mission to build a digital infrastructure required for businesses to shift to the circular economy. Emily and Claire have been through quite a journey with Reath over the past couple of years. Both Barry and I know them personally, so it's nice to have them on the episode and hear about this journey in much more detail than I ever have before. Also, to hear about their motivations and where they hope to go with this whole journey. It was so nice to hear both the ups and the downs from the conversation we had, Barry.
[00:00:53] BO: Yeah, definitely. It was really interesting to have somebody in the podcast that we know, or that we’ve worked with and to see some of the similarities to the conversations we've had throughout the season. Also, to hear, like you say, more detail and some of the reasons that I think Claire and Emily and Reath are really inspiring on the work that they’re doing.
[00:01:13] ES: Yeah. I think there's a lot of things that have come up again in this episode that we hear time and time again over this season of collaboration and what it feels like to be pioneering in this particular sector. I think if anything comes across from our conversation with Claire and Emily, it’s the determination that they both have. I mean, they weren’t shy about telling us how it is. I really think that it just demonstrates how much energy and passion they have for this subject that they’ve given it all they’ve got, time and time again, every step of the way.
[00:01:45] BO: Absolutely. I think there's so many threads I’d like for listeners to pick out. There’s this startup journey of the real challenges. They talked about jumping off the cliff repeatedly. There's the circular economy challenges. They're pioneers in creating a whole thought process around business, or mindset. Then there's the journey that I personally find interesting of the actual software, and the data, and the tools, and processes that are used to actually implement their goals.
I hope listeners enjoy that conversation and be inspired little bit about the opportunity for those of us in this sector, of all different skill-sets, to be involved in the solutions, I think. I want to tie that back to something, Emily, you said right at the starter and our first episode of the season, which we talked about the challenges and how difficult it all is. Within all that, there’s still hope and there’s still opportunity. I think I definitely got that from Claire and Emily.
[00:02:44] ES: Yeah, definitely.
[00:02:46] BO: Without any further ado, let's meet Claire and Emily.
[00:02:54] ER: Hi. I’m Emily.
[00:02:56] CR: Hi. I’m Claire. We co-founded a software business called Reath. We build the digital infrastructure for circular systems. That essentially means, we help businesses to adopt safe, compliant, scalable reuse systems, reuse systems that are fit for the 21st century. When we talk about reuse systems, we’re looking at reusing things that have typically been single use and sent to landfill. That might be packaging, or PPE since COVID hit, or electronics. Electronics, exactly.
[00:03:28] BO: Awesome. Welcome to Happy Porch Radio.
[00:03:30] CR: Thank you. We’re happy to be here.
[00:03:35] BO: Let's go back a little bit and see where – if you can share a little bit about where the journey started. How come you ended up where you are now, starting Reath?
[00:03:44] ER: We ask ourselves that every day. Claire and I met at university and we’ve been what I would call eco nerd. Not so much warrior. Just super geeky about different ways that our daily decisions impact the environment. At university, Claire implemented the first keep cup system there, which was what? A decade ago? Oh, my God.
I had been working earlier to get classic water bottles banned from campus and we met through love of the arts, but then really connected over our environmental passion. We both went into work. Claire went into work with Telefonica. I went to work for a couple of different startups. We both wanted to learn as much as we could about business and really get a strong understanding of what it means to run a commercially viable company.
We found ourselves spending so much of our time still focused on that campaigning element around the environment and what our day-to-day choices do to support our beliefs. Then we started an accidental letter-writing campaign effectively. We wrote a ton of e-mails to all the different cosmetic brands that we have in our bathroom cabinets, because we found it so silly and confusing that we had these fantastic face moisturisers that were vegan and ethically sourced, but they come in a single-use plastic bottle.
We were like, who is not connecting the dots? There must be a reason that no one is allowing us to reuse these. This was around the time that, I think, the other shoe dropped on recycling really, and then people really started to understand that such a small percentage of what they’re trying to recycle is actually going where they think it is.
Yeah. We started a pretty industrious e-mail campaign. Just being quite annoying, I think, emailing lots of brands, saying, “Why aren’t you doing reuse yet? This is something we really want.” That’s when it clicked for us that we could use our brand to try to solve this problem, because we got a lot of similar responses back from the brands.
[00:05:58] ER: Yeah. They were saying, first of all, that legislations means that it’s really hard to reuse packaging safely and legally. For example, it’s something you probably don’t notice, but actually, most if not all packaged goods have a batch code stamped on them and that’s usually done with a laser-ink printer. That batch code connects the product that’s in the packaging with the packaging itself, which means if there’s ever a product recall that needs to happen, if something gets contaminated, businesses can recall that by using that batch code.
The challenge there, obviously, is how do you reuse a piece of packaging if it has a unique code stamp on it that can only be used once, and is only relevant to that one batch of packaging or product? That was one of the issues that came back. Then the other problems brands had or claimed they were having was that their systems were built for a linear economy, not for a circular one.
For example, their inventory management systems could handle buying packaging, filling it, shipping it out, never seeing it again. They couldn’t handle it coming back in and how they were going to deal with that and forecast that and change all their other processes around that. Then the third problem was that this was a big change. This is a huge change that businesses need to make. They were saying, “Well, how do we know that we’re making the right decision if there’s no data, there’s no pre-existing data to call on?”
For example, you know how to make a perfectly optimised piece of packaging that will last once and, particularly, industrial engineers know how to build products that last for a long time, but no one really knows how many times a piece of packaging is going to be reused and therefore, how to design for that and how robust to make that piece of packaging. Because if you make it too robust, it’s a waste of resources. If you make it too flimsy, the chances are it won’t be used as many times as it could be.
It felt to us like, data was really something that could connect the dots on all these problems and that was where we began, and we were excited about it, because we’ve spent our careers, Claire using data to optimise businesses commercially, and me using it to optimise for logistics and operations. I think we were naturally quite drawn to this very empty space.
At that point, that’s where we met you, Barry.
[00:08:16] BO: I was a catalyst for all the disaster since then.
[00:08:19] ER: You definitely [inaudible 00:08:20] a lot of it.
[00:08:23] CR: Well, actually Barry, we were just fresh from finishing our “pilots”, and I would use air quotes there, where we were trying to just even test the hypothesis of if reusable packaging was viable. There weren’t so many options on the market at the time, so we were doing little pop-up shops, going to offices, and selling these products and then trying to track the return rate by using a QR code, and we hooked up this pretty ridiculously coded Excel, which was going to break after about a 1,000 uses.
Anyway, we were trying to test the whole end-to-end system. That was when we realised, around the time we met you, that actually, there were enough of these other – enough people were interested in this market to make a software, a specialist software company viable. Actually, the problem was too big to tackle, as two people, one company.
[00:09:10] ER: We couldn’t do end-to-end. We just want to make the product and sell it and make the software that does that traceability in health and safety. We focused on where our expertise was, which was around data and making it useful.
[00:09:25] ES: Let me turn the tables on you, Barry. How do you fit into this story? I’m asking you the questions now.
[00:09:33] BO: That’s a complete shocker, Emily. I am really interested in that story, for Emily and Claire to share it, and I want to go back a few things to what you said as well. To answer your question to me, well, we build software. That’s when I met Emily and Claire. I only met them once in person, because 2020 has been so bizarre. I guess, really inspired by exactly what we just heard them talk about, trying to genuinely solve a problem and approaching it.
I really like the fact that you talked about that, and you were laughing, Claire, there, about doing pop-up stores and trying to validate it. For me, that was one of the things that I – that it’s real. It’s not just sitting in theory, thinking about something. It’s going out and doing the startup part and doing things that don’t scale, like hitting the ground, getting out of the building, all these things that you talk about in a startup world, that’s about trying to really understand the real world problems and validate it all. Then, over time, getting more and more excited about the work we’re trying to help out with some of the software. I don’t know. That’s where our relationship built up.
[00:10:37] CR: Yeah, Barry. I don’t know if you remember this, but over Christmas, the 27th of December, we were on a phone call co-bidding on a grant, because the grant closed in about five days and we really wanted to get some money to be able to work with you properly. Fortunately, we won that grant and we were to able to pick up the first [inaudible 0:10:54] of work to build the prototype.
[00:10:56] BO: Yes. I do remember that. I want you to step back. Before we go into the next step, one part of this process that I’m always intrigued by is you’re describing they’re having seen the problem and doing this e-mail campaign and starting to understand the problem. Then there is a mental shift, I think between going, "There is a problem” to “I am going to be the one to get out and try to get involved in the solution.”
Did that come very naturally to you both? Or what was that process like, that journey from moving from “there is a problem” to “we’re going to try and help solve it.”
[00:11:33] ER: We both got into points in our careers where, I think we were – It’s not that the work we were doing wasn’t engaging. It’s just that we were seeing or thinking, “Is this what I want to be using my brain for?” We were lucky enough to have really varied careers working with great people, that were quite inspiring, and it – I think that really challenged me to say, “Actually, how am I spending my time right now?” It’s a little bit of an existential, scary question. Claire, you’d always wanted to start your own business.
[00:12:04] CR: Yeah. I think that, like Emily mentioned, I previously was using data to optimise revenue for businesses; i.e. advertising optimisation stuff. I remember someone saying to me, “It’s a bit depressing that the best brains of 2000 to 2015 are spent on optimising clicks and optimising advertising efficacy.” I think that’s quite true and that really resonated in me. As Emily mentioned at the beginning, we spent a lot of time trying to solve environmental problems.
I always think of the quote, “If not you, who? If not now, when?” I don’t think we can sit around here waiting for leadership. I think it’s really important, if you see an opportunity and you have the drive, and the capacity, and the privilege to be able to take advantage of that opportunity, then the risk-taker in me is like, “Why would you not?” I appreciate that does take a certain amount of privilege in terms of education, in terms of network, in terms of self-belief. Those aren’t things that everyone has an abundance and, to a certain extent, financial stability and the ability to save money before you take this kind of leap is really critical.
One thing that Emily and I talk about a lot is how the first, jumping off the cliff. The first time you jump off the cliff, that’s the first step. That’s maybe, it might quitting your job, or it might be deciding to commit every weekend from now to Christmas on this new idea. Whatever days. You’re spending time, you’re spending money to do it. We’re continually having to jump off a cliff. Just once and then it all smooth-sailing from that. It’s not. You have to continually reckon with yourself and take the next step.
Every time you take the next step and jump off the next cliff, you’re bringing more people with you. That’s really great. In time, it’s very, I don’t know. It’s incredibly reassuring. We look out for traction and the signals all the time. We set ourselves milestones, like if we haven’t achieved this, then we’re going to reconsider. We’re not just looking at vanity metrics, or we’re not looking at do we enjoy our jobs. It’s like, no. Are we actually having the impact that we want to have?
I think, when we were doing the first iteration, which was these pop-up shops, on the one hand it was interesting and we were learning and we were meeting people. Every time we did one, we got over a – it reiterated to us that it was not systemic change and we really wanted that. In January, we sat down and said, “Oh, we have an impact we want to have? Are we hitting the most ones we want to hit?” The answer was no. Then it was like, okay. Pivot or leave. We chose to pivot.
[00:14:41] ES: I love that truth bomb of you don’t just have to jump off a cliff once. You have to keep doing it and doing it and doing it and doing it. Is there a point where it starts to get a bit easier? I mean, you mentioned seeing your impact and making sure that you’re having the kind of impact you want to have. Does that help with the jumping off the cliff?
[00:15:02] ER: Honestly, not as much as you think it would. We look at each other and we’re like, “Oh, my God. Another one. We need to do it again.” The only reason I say not as much as you think it would is because when the decision comes down to, you realise just how uncertain what you’re doing is. It’s like, you really have to look at it with clarity and say, “This is a risk.” As we get more traction, as we get bigger, like Claire said, you’re taking more people with you. We have employees now who depend on this to work, but we still have to have the agility of being able to have the mindset of this isn’t working, we’re going to walk away.
I think, almost the momentum you gain and the more stakeholders you gain, it’s harder to maintain that exit mentality. I’m not saying that, because we want to get – we want to walk away, but having that as an option, I think keeps us from making bad decisions and keep us pivoting and adjusting and iterating and not just getting complacent.
[00:16:04] CR: Yeah. You have to stay as agile as you can. To your point, Emily, it’s very easy to fall into the mindset of like, well, if we get this grant, then it will be up – it will all be easy from here. I think quite quickly, you realise that you can never have enough accolades. You can never win enough prizes. You can never have enough customers. You can never have enough in the eyes of your –
[00:16:27] ER: Financial stakeholders or impact. Any of the above.
[00:16:30] CR: Any of the above. This problem isn’t going to go away overnight and it’s brick by brick mentality that you need to have. Setting your expectations that maybe we get this amazing grant. It’s not going to change our life entirely. It’s just another brick. Maybe it’s three bricks, instead of one. You have to have this very methodical approach.
[00:16:52] ES: I don’t want to jump ahead here, because there’s a lot to talk about. Just because you mentioned moving brick by brick and you will never have enough impact, you will never reach enough people, what would it look like to feel like you’ve accomplished what you want to accomplish? What’s the end dream goal that Reath is aiming for?
[00:17:18] ER: When we pitch, we have a line that says, “Imagine a world in which you never have to throw anything away again.” Then I say, “That’s what we are building here.” I don’t laugh. That’s high-level. I think for us, we do want to have a measurable impact in terms of diverting billions of items from landfill.
In many ways, it’s like, every time we have to jump off a cliff, we’re measuring it against that next milestone that we wanted to hit. I think we could both walk away from this really happy that we’ve built and published an open data standard and we’ve started a lot of conversations and we’ve gotten a lot of brands thinking about their impact and really pushing them to analyse the cost of what they do that goes beyond what they currently pay.
Our next one is really working with a corporate global partner to get an implementation of this solution in life to really see, really put the software through its paces in terms of working at scale, and see how we can help them optimise this by putting that data that we’re collecting to good use and really prove its value. I think that’s our next big one.
[00:18:37] ES: Nice. Tell me a bit more about the software. We’ve talked around it and talked about the story, but tell me specifically about the open data standard and digital passport and everything behind that.
[00:18:50] CR: Sure. Our first use case was packaging. The reason for that is because even if you look on an individual industry level, it’s really depressing the amount of packaging that’s produced and it is produced as single use.
For example, there’s a 142 billion pieces of cosmetic packaging are produced every year. Given the percentage of products that are refilled at the moment, 99% plus of that will be single use and will likely go to landfill, unless it’s recycled, which, given the recycling rates globally, 9% the chances are the majority will be in landfill.
[00:19:26] ES: That is an insane amount.
[00:19:28] CR: The packaged goods industry is very problematic in terms of its single-use packaging consumption. That’s why we were focusing on that industry first. The software we set out to solve some of the main problems that I mentioned. We wanted to accurately collect data. We wanted to store critical compliance data. By that, we mean things like batch codes to enable product recalls and basically keep the consumers safe.
We wanted to also be able to use that data to help optimise the system that the company is operating. We set about building, essentially, a track and solution, which if you know much about the Internet of things, track and trace is a very fast-growing market. It’s essentially where you put a machine readable tracker and that could be anything from a very packed tracker, like a QR code, to something more sophisticated.
In our case, because we’re talking about relatively low-value items that are high-volume, we would use a passive tracker that’s very cheap. QR is a very good example. You put a passive tracker onto your packaging and then you link that to a unique ID in the Reath system. Then you’re able to track everything, all the different steps that that piece of packaging goes through. You can set that up in our system and it’s completely configured to your system, your purposes and your business.
For example, if you want to track when it’s filled with a product, maybe when it goes out with the customer, maybe once it’s coming back and it’s being cleaned, and you can attribute data to – and certain fields of data to those different steps. You can let the system know what we filled it with, what type of product it was. Let’s say, it was lavender shampoo. What batch of that product it was. Then you get this really nice digital ledger, which shows exactly what’s been in that piece of packaging.
You’re also capturing the information about when it was cleaned and you can describe to that, so you might know that it’s being cleaned 60 degrees Celsius in a certain cleaning process. You can start to build an idea of their reuse rate. How many times it’s gone round and round your system. That’s at the very core. We have a lot of exciting – Yeah, we’re building a lot of exciting features in the next few months, in the next few years. The vision that we have is we need to build on those data processing capabilities and be able to feed back more information to the user, so that they can better optimize their system.
[00:21:56] BO: The other thing you mentioned was the open data standard. Before jumping into that, I thought it would be worth just quickly, getting your thoughts on I guess, collaboration generally. One of the themes that I’ve seen recently quite often in circular economy discussions is the – and you’ve touched on as well, like changes and, as an individual, it needs to be systemic. It needs to be in order to solve these problems, some of them are so big that it’s going to take more than one piece to make those changes.
I’m interested in, maybe you can just take a little bit more, or explain a little bit more of what you meant by systemic and maybe how that open data standard that you mentioned, connects to that?
[00:22:33] ER: Yeah, absolutely. When we say systemic, we’re talking about building infrastructure. We talk a lot about how the world today has been designed and optimised for this throw-away culture. I can take something, make something out of it, use it, and then “get rid of it,” because it doesn’t go anywhere really. It just moves out of your sphere. We wanted to put the technology backbone in place for how the world is going to cope with that getting rid of stage, going away properly and it coming back in a loop.
We’re big believers in collaboration. We think that there are ways that we can share data that don’t infringe upon companies’ USPs or their company mote, which is why we started looking at this idea of open data. Because when you’re going to start something new and you’re going to trail-blaze effectively, you could make a lot of costly mistakes in terms of time and money, but also, in terms of the waste that you produce accidentally by going down the wrong path, or a path that’s not as truthful.
What we don’t want to see is all the different big FMCGs take on reuse in a different way and not learn from each other. Because we just see it as it’s going to happen. It is going to happen. It’s going to become part of our normal every day. We want to do it smart and we want to do it well quickly, because time pressure is real here also.
[00:24:09] CR: The other thing to bear in mind is just how much the government legislation, particularly in the UK, is changing. There’s this thing called extended producer responsibility and that’s essentially, for every ton of packaging you put on the market. All of your shampoo bottles filled. Every ton of that packaging, you have to offset that with essentially, like, a tax. That’s changing significantly and they’re bringing what’s called a plastic tax to try and reduce the amount of single-waste plastic that’s put on the market.
We’re seeing this greater focus on individual producer responsibility and their responsibility to pay the true cost of their packaging, rather than just the cost of it at point of manufacture. This is an excellent opportunity to look at what environmental protection agencies need in order to monitor and incentivise the uptake of reusable packaging. Because you can see, there’s a lot of fraud issues in the waste industry and you can foresee there being a lot of issues with people claiming the packaging is being reused when it’s not actually. This is additional infrastructure to prevent that and to try and improve the credibility around reuse, we could see is absolutely vital.
[00:25:20] ER: You have to measure your actual impact. There are so many arguments right now that reuse isn’t a good option. I mean, we get frustrated by that argument, because no one’s properly measured it yet. If you actually measure the cost of single-use, not just its creation and manufacture, but the cost of disposing it and how you quantify that in terms of impact on the environment, single-use is hugely effective. We want to put some hard numbers down.
[00:25:49] CR: There’s also been so little optimisation. I often use the example of when the internet first arrived, when people first created e-commerce websites, the likelihood that their check-out flows were optimised, that people were really improving systematically their conversation rates was very, very low. That’s a whole industry and discipline that’s emerged over the last 15 years.
We have to see these new circular systems, reuse systems as a very similar challenge. It’s something that’s new. It’s not going to be perfect in day one. But we’ve got this great opportunity to capture data on it and use that to help us optimise.
[00:26:26] ES: There’s a lot there, I’ve got so many questions. I’m going to start with questions about your idea of creating a reuse ecosystem, which is a phrase you’ve used and you used in your report about the research that you’ve been doing. This is actually something that’s come up a few times in the series that we’ve done on this podcast, this idea of the organisations we’re talking to, just being one piece of a much bigger puzzle in terms of creating a whole, as you say, infrastructure around a transition towards the circular economy.
I wonder if you can describe a little bit what the rest of these ecosystem might look like? Or just in a thought experiment, imagine kind of way, in an ideal world, what does that look like? Then second part of that question, which I suppose is related, as we’re creating a collaborative infrastructure, where does the buck stop on this?
[00:27:29] ER: Who’s responsible for maintaining it?
[00:27:32] ES: Maintaining it, or making sure that everything works, and making sure that this is actually something that people are utilising, and that it can be real?
[00:27:43] CR: To your point about the ecosystem, this is as you can imagine, this touches so many different spheres, so many different types of organisations. To start with the ones that we interviewed for the open data standard, because we essentially did an ecosystem map, where we looked at all the people that might be interested in this and what they might want to contribute to a standard and what they might want to get from a standard.
There is the obvious ones, these are brands that produce the packaging. There is the retailers that sell it. There is the environmental protection agencies who monitor and ensure compliance of both of those bodies, or types of companies. There is the health and safety trading standards compliance. They’re the ones that are looking out for consumer health and safety, making sure that things are being packaged correctly and that companies can offer a product recall if something goes wrong. There is the customers themselves who might have different thoughts on reusable packaging and whether or not they’re comfortable using it or able to use it.
Then there’s the waste management companies, the ones who currently pick up our recycling, or our waste. They’re obviously not so – at the moment, the companies that are doing reuse are doing it on their own. They’re the ones that are – they’re either relying on the customer to bring the packaging back to the store, or they’re picking it up on their behalf. We have to look forward to a world, where this is integrated, that reuse becomes more mainstream.
Then there’s the councils that often operate those waste management contracts and they’re the ones that are the point of contact. There is all these different players in the ecosystem. We need to think through how everyone is going to continue to playing their role as they do for single-use waste, or a single-use yeah, recycling, but adding in reuse as a third stream.
[00:29:34] ES: Nice. Yeah. It’s actually really encouraging to hear you talk about all of these different people and organisations and levels of involvement in this system because, to a certain extent, they’re always two-sided, because it is a bit scary thinking about just quite how much change needs to happen in order to read a truly circular ecosystem.
On the other hand, when we’re thinking about opportunities for people to get involved and space for people to be creative and productive, there’s so much opportunity there and that’s really encouraging.
[00:30:11] CR: Exactly. I was listening to the other podcast episode you guys did when you interviewed, I think it was Stephen from Loop, and you were talking about – he was talking about specialties and how they don’t see themselves – Loop doesn’t see themselves as an e-commerce company, or TerraCycle , they see themselves as an e-commerce company. I think that was a really great point that thy were doing their best, because they were very well placed. They recognise that they were well placed to trial this.
I think it’s really important to recognise that this entirely new world will require so many different players and actors. It’s like we’re building the equivalent of a single-use economy, but in parallel, and it requires very different processes and very different suppliers and very different types of roles. Yeah, it’s a huge opportunity as well.
[00:31:00] ES: At this stage, before this – we’re not at the point where we have this infrastructure in place. This is very much in some ways, the first steps of the transition to a circular economy. Does it ever feel a bit like – this is a scary question. I’m warning you now. I apologise. Does it ever feel a bit like the buck stops with you, because you’re the pioneers in this arena?
[00:31:26] ER: We don’t underestimate how hard it is. I feel like we use such a random mix of analogies. We’re in the middle of the ocean on this boat. We don’t know where we’re going. now and then there’s no path, or we’re dragging up the road. Actually, I think literally use –
[00:31:41] CR: All of them.
[00:31:41] ER: Every kind of exploratory analogy. I think also for us, we’re used to managing projects and being a central point of contact within businesses. We do end up taking on a lot of coordination and we encourage momentum, but I think what we’ve had to learn, especially in the last six months, is that if a business isn’t ready to do reuse, there’s nothing that we can say or do that’s going to get them there.
We find the best collaboration and energy with businesses that share this idea of the future and want to make it happen. I think, right now, what we have focused on is really just getting case studies to show the value that reuse can bring to business, because right now, a lot of the big guys just see cost.
[00:32:31] CR: The value that we can bring to reuse.
[00:32:34] ER: Exactly.
[00:32:34] CR: I mean, I think we would feel a lot more alone. I don’t think we could’ve done this 10 years ago, five years ago, even two years ago. I think we would’ve been really struggling. Because I really want to give a shout out to all of the support that is out there for sustainability businesses on the whole, but specifically around resource efficiency, circular economy, and plastic reduction.
It’s amazing and we have been recipients of those types of grants. We’ve been beneficiaries of this tidal change that we’re seeing in public consciousness and government’s consciousness around this issue. That’s where luck comes into it. Also, timing comes into it. It’s really important to emphasise that.
[00:33:23] BO: Just to switch gears a little bit for the last few minutes we have of this conversation, one of the reasons for this podcast season is to talk about, I guess, the role of digital software creative sector, verticals, business, whatever we want, however it’s seen. I’m interested in – basically, it’s not like you – you have all these experience and this knowledge that you’re bringing to this role, but it’s not like you have built software before. Did you see that as a challenge? Or why did you end up with okay, it needs to be software, and it’s going to be this kind of thing? Then, how easy was it to move from that to all the great work you’re doing now?
[00:34:06] ER: We’re very comfortable working with digital products. I think that was a useful background for us to have because, although we can’t code it ourselves, we understand roughly what we need to consider when we’re thinking about designing it and setting it up. We didn’t set out to build a software company. We really were very open to the problem and we were just trying to find the best solution to that.
We’re just so aware of the world’s addiction to data now. It’s not that data gives you a guarantee about the decision that you make based on it, but it gives us comfort, and it gives us a guide, and it’s something real to pin your decisions to. Well, we just kept hearing over and over again is like, from these businesses, “Where do I start? I don’t even know what material to make my reusable bottle out of.” We have to start somewhere. We have to draw a line in the sand and say, “Okay. We’re going to start collecting information on it.”
It’s going to take a little while for it to become statistically significant. If we don’t start collecting, it’s going to take even longer.
[00:35:13] CR: The other thing which we look to the more macro-environment, so things like the European data.
[00:35:18] ER: Their strategy.
[00:35:19] CR: The European data strategy and what they were projecting around the use of digital passports, for example, which is essentially what our solution is, and its role in the circular economy. We, I suppose saw the writing on the wall and it’s a very high-level strategic government/global level.
Then also, we built approach type using Excel. When we came to you, Barry, it wasn’t like, "We have no idea what we’re doing. Can you build this for us?” It was like, no, we’ve built out a solution that has user journeys. We’ve thought through them all. They might not be perfect. They definitely weren’t, but can you help us refine this and turn this into a more robust product? Rather than it being like, “Here’s a problem. Can you solve it using a software?” We had a really clear idea of what the software was going to do to solve that problem.
[00:36:10] BO: Yeah. Because you’ve had the problem first. That was really struck out what you said there, Emily. Unfortunately, as usual, I could keep talking for ages, especially about this where I’m connected and really interested in the work you’re doing, but we’re running out of time. I wanted to finish off with a quick question but, before that, just to reiterate something I’ve been trying to say in a couple of episodes, recent episodes, the reason for this season is about sharing the amazing work that people like Reath are doing. I guess, to demonstrate the opportunity or the need for people who work in software and creative, thinking about the amazing team that Claire and Emily are building, project management design, UX, in terms of individual opportunities, but also as businesses that provide services.
I think there is a huge opportunity for us as a sector to be part of this journey by helping the people who are actually where the rubber hits the road, like Reath.
Just to finish this off, Emily and Claire, two quick questions. One, you’ve talked a little bit about the vision or the future of, I guess, the dream for the future. What are the immediate next steps for Reath? Where are you going next? Then for people who want to find out more about that journey and more about the work you’re doing, where should they go?
[00:37:28] ER: Great question. Claire, that just slipped through to like, what are we doing next? We hear and we see that businesses, especially the larger ones want to try reuse. They want to put their toe in the water. Innovate UK, as a government-funding body, have a great opportunity, a few coming up this year, that we’re building consortiums, so teams for it to tackle. A bit of funding to not only de-risk the project, but also – I think there’s something about the innovate projects that make you really think through the concrete steps that come next. They’re a great discipline to put yourselves through. That’s our next big thing over the next quarter.
[00:38:10] CR: Yeah. We’re focusing on packaging for those, but we didn’t really talk about it much, but one of the things that we did do after COVID hit was we won a grant from Innovate UK to apply our system to personal protective equipment. Working quite closely with the NHS, we designed a system that could work for reusable masks, aprons, that kind of thing, in hospital or medical environments. We’re releasing that pilot next week, which is really exciting.
We’re not too sure. The pandemic has been a surprise to us all. We have no idea how it’s going to shake out. We have no idea what the world is going to look like when it’s “over.” That has been a fascinating project and really shone a light on an industry that was very reliant on single-use and therefore very vulnerable to disruption of supply chain as we saw earlier in the year. Our focus is very much in packaging, but with these other opportunities to demonstrate where circular systems can be run safely, in a compliant way, and digitally at their core.
[00:39:17] CR: You can follow us on LinkedIn at reath.id and on Twitter @reath_ID.
[00:39:21] BO: Awesome. Thank you so much. We’ll share all those links as usual on happyporchradio.com. Thank you so much, Emily and Claire for coming and joining and sharing all about Reath.
[00:39:29] ER: Thanks so much for having us.
[00:39:30] CR: Barry, you know this, but we absolutely love working with you and Happy Porch. It’s been the best partnership we could’ve asked for. Yes.
[00:39:38] BO: Awesome. Thank you so much. That’s a perfect way for us to finish.
[00:39:42] ES: Thank you.
[00:39:44] CR: Thank you.
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