Balancing the needs of sustainability against rising costs

Woolcool uses natural sheep wool

Josie Morris. Insulated Packaging. Naturally.

Woolcool® was launched in 2008 and the innovative, sustainable design has scooped an impressive haul of awards in the packaging, business and environmental arenas.

October, 2022

Woolcool® is a business built on sustainable values. Business as a force for good. From the eureka moment when our founder, Angela Morris, realised that 100% sheep’s wool could be used as a superior performing replacement for man-made insulators such as polystyrene, we have worked to champion the use of natural materials in packaging.

Wool is nature’s Smart Fibre which, as a result of millions of years of development in nature’s laboratory – evolution – is flexible, reusable, recyclable, compostable, light and strong. It’s also abundant.

As one of the earliest trailblazers of the ‘green economy’, our multi-award winning temperature-controlled packaging has set a benchmark for sustainable business practices.

When we started making ‘green’ packaging, sustainability was yet to become a buzzword. We were often seen a ‘tree huggers’, a ‘cottage industry’ or ‘an alternative’, all tags with an air of scepticism from those opposite us.

Following years of us battling the status quo, along with other like-minded entities, the sector has finally shifted and is now embracing sustainability as a principle.

With over two decades of investment in sustainable development we have seen attitudes shift towards these green values. Now, however, with the impact of the current cost of living crisis, we are seeing a slightly retracting ‘green’ trend, as economic pressures slow down the progress of the green revolution.

As this is relevant for both our business and our product, we felt compelled to write down a few of our thoughts about this challenging time and, as a business which was engaged with green issues many years before most, share a little of the experience we have built up.

At Woolcool®, our products depend on balance – getting the right mix of packaging components to ensure the contents are delivered in optimal condition. Whilst many companies focus on recycling, we want to reduce material, encourage reuse and make sure we are aware and mitigate any harm the materials can cause either at the beginning or end of life.

Josie Morris MBE

Managing Director, Woolcool.

As a pioneer in the field of sustainable packaging, our early years were spent persuading clients of the benefits of switching to greener methods of packaging. To achieve this, we always understood that a balanced approach was key.

That meant that, while being committed to sustainability, we also focussed on the business needs of our clients and partners, as well as the specific demands of the products they wished to deliver via our packaging solutions. Put simply, if we want businesses and people to buy into greener ambitions, they cannot be to the detriment of their own, immediate future.

Through this balanced approach, by working with clients and partners and long term investment, we have helped shift attitudes to natural materials and sustainable packaging, while ensuring our clients benefit from the cost effectiveness of our products. Now, as society looks at the financial requirements of ambitions such as net zero, we would urge governments, leaders and businesses to take this holistic approach to easing the pressures of the cost of living crisis.

That means looking at the problem in the short, medium and long term.

It means ensuring that businesses have the support they need now to continue trading, for example, by helping with energy costs.

In the medium term, it perhaps means reviewing the impact of policies that are meant to drive the green economy but could, in the current climate, stunt its growth. We would always encourage that these policies are independently reviewed and verified by experts. We have seen a number of policies pushing certain ‘green’ agendas come and go, only to be proved the wrong focus or causing another problem elsewhere. For example, encouraging the shift to diesel vehicles, solving food waste issues with plastic or switching to paper or wood for everything from packaging to energy, which will only cause deforestation if not handled with the future impact in mind.

And in the long-term it means remaining steadfast in the ambition to hit net zero targets, build a genuine sustainable economy, and keep moving towards that goal all the time, if necessary, by taking baby steps when we wish we could be making great strides. We must keep moving, but we must take business with us to ensure that societies are sustainable too.

There is a delicate balance between the short and longer term, one which is made even more difficult by the flip flopping and lack of leadership both in this country and across the globe.

Our ethos is that many policies to reduce environmental and social impact, can also help with reduce in costs. For example, if we reduce our energy or fuel usage, we are not only reducing carbon footprint impact but also saving money! Socially, investing in your own team to train them, will futureproof a business with engaged, upskilled and talented individuals, therefore saving on recruitment and retraining.

Businesses can help themselves at this time by considering sustainability as they scrutinise their own costs and practices.

As a real-world example, Woolcool® have reviewed what we throw away, as well as how we collect and deal with our waste. As a result we have reduced the amount of waste and therefore the number of collections. The result is a much more cost effective and greener model. We have found avenues to create further value in our recycled materials, where possible. We have worked with one of our biggest customers to reuse waste from our production line and incorporate it in their products. We are also looking at how we power our operation and weighing up the pros and cons of investing in solar energy.

Yet, while we are making these practical decisions during the current climate, we are also pressing quietly ahead with sustainable projects.

Although a never ending project, we continue to work on measuring, understanding and reducing our carbon footprint. Our initial results are proving very positive, with a significant reduction in our Carbon Footprint versus our 2019-2020 review. We actively removed the need for Gas in our own facility, switched to 100% renewable energy tariff and installed energy saving systems in our Woolhouse. As a result, although we now inhabit a bigger facility than in 2020, we use less energy.

Our ground-breaking Circular Economy scheme – which allows customers to return their wool packaging to us to be washed, scoured and reused or recycled into bedding – is a great example of the pressure points that are being created by rising costs. We are very proud of this scheme; despite the considerable cost it carries. We are committed to pressing ahead with it. However, as a business, it’s vital that we continually review and refine it, to ensure that our central business remains robust.

Because the fact is business cannot simply pause – it has to keep innovating. We are always looking at new ways to use our prime natural resource and have launched Hortiwool – which finds sustainable uses for real sheep’s wool in the garden. This is what we mean by weighing the economic needs of business with the sustainable ambitions of society, to strike a balance to ensure both continually move forward even in the hardest times. This is what we have learned as a green pioneer.

Governments too, should take this balanced approach. We understand why calls are being made to scrap green energy levies. Leaders should consider how they can refine them to materially lessen the financial pressures on business while still staying on course to a sustainable future.

For the packaging trade, plans for extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations need to be fleshed out into greater detail, and their economic impact considered given the rising costs already faced by the sector. We all need to understand these and their impacts. Policies need to stopping being used as a headline for votes, they need to mean something.

At Woolcool®, our products depend on balance – getting the right mix of packaging components to ensure the contents are delivered in optimal condition. Whilst many companies focus on recycling, we want to reduce material, encourage reuse and make sure we are aware and mitigate any harm the materials can cause either at the beginning or end of life.

As we face the current cost of living crisis, we must take the same balanced economic approach to ensure our dream of a sustainable, greener world is safely delivered, by businesses that have been insulated against the threat of rising costs.

Woolcool® is a child of chaos, born out of the 2008 recession, we have seen first-hand that innovation is the best route out of the difficult times. Most of the most famous innovations, whether product, social or environmental, came out of a crisis or chaos. We believe that now, more than ever, innovation is needed, new ideas, a fresh way of thinking and a positive mindset to face the current challenges head on. We know that is easier said than done, but then what is the alternative?

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