As we end the focus on Plastic this month - for Plastic-free July - I’m excited to share the work of Jo Hendrickx of Travel without Plastic. I had the privilege of meeting Jo this spring when I was part of a Business & Sustainability event in my town. She is smart, kind, compassionate, and passionate. And I’m thrilled to count her among the social entrepreneurs I know.
It has now been almost 15 years since I purchased my first reusable shopping bag. Honestly, for a long time, it was the only thing I did to contribute to a smaller footprint. And I probably started doing it because I liked the aesthetic of the bags (if I’m honest). And yet, even starting because I liked the way the bags looked has led me here. I choose to carry groceries by hand over take the plastic bag. I carry straws in my purse. I type “notes” on my order for bitesquad that say, “Please don’t send plasticware or napkins. We are an eco-friendly house.” We fill our own water bottles. And the list goes on…We are a house & family who are doing the best we can to limit plastic and waste in our lives.
But it was only this year I really started thinking about the use of single-use plastic and waste in the context of traveling. From disposable cups in rooms to mini toiletries to plasticware everywhere and so much more… we, as a country, have announced that we want convenience and price over everything else and the tourism industry has responded. They have cut costs every way possible and it feels overwhelming to even start deconstructing it all. Fortunately there are people like Jo who are doing just that.
She works with hotels around the world to help them start to reduce single-use plastic in their ecosystems. And it is making a difference! I hope you enjoy learning more about her work and her story. I encourage you to do what you can to reduce plastic in your travels and encourage businesses to do the same. We may not be able to change it all at once, but we can do a little bit every time we travel!
Tell us about your business. What do you do? Who do you serve? How long have you been at it?
Travel Without Plastic works predominantly with hotels and other accommodation providers or hospitality businesses to help them identify how they can practically reduce or eliminate single use plastic without impacting upon the guest experience.
I've been in the tourism industry since 1997 and began working in the sustainable tourism field in 2007, working globally with hotels to help them reduce energy, water and waste as well as providing guidance on becoming more actively involved in supporting local economic development in their destinations.
We have been involved in plastic reduction work since 2011 - way before it became the issue that we see dominating the headlines today.
Our background in tour operations, health and safety in hotels, and quality assurance roles mean that we are ideally positioned to provide practical advice that focuses on what is affordable, available, user friendly for staff and welcomed by customers. We know how much pressure businesses are under and the challenges they face every day and we have designed a Let's Reduce Single-Use Toolkit specifically for this audience.
Why did you start your business?
I founded TWP in 2017 after experiencing what I can only describe as a Styrofoam breakfast in the Cayman Islands. Every single item on the buffet service for breakfast was single use! I watched as families consumed an average of 6 pieces of plastic per person and waste bins quickly filled as they left their tables and the next guests sat down. Just in that hotel alone there were 247 rooms, each room could hold a maximum of 4 people. It doesn't take long to do the math and work out how many pieces of single use plastic that one hotel consumes in just one year! If you then multiply that by all of the hotels in the world there isn't enough space on the page for the number of zeros we'd need to feature the total.
From experience, I know that there are better ways to manage waste and I've seen dedicated hotel managers reduce plastic waste and associated costs by up to 68% when they followed a set of practical recommendations.
I set about creating a Toolkit that could be made available digitally so that hotels around the world could benefit from our insight without us needing to be 'on site'. We want to achieve the maximum possible impact, so having hundreds of hotels use out kit at the same time makes sense. It's structured in a way that looks into each operational area, it encourages hotels to think about which plastics are completely unnecessary, adding no value whatsoever to the guest experience and that are usually purchased out of habit. We detail the pros and the cons of the alternatives - not all alternatives are as green as they seem and hoteliers are falling foul of some marketing claims, particularly when it comes to compostable plastics that require commercial facilities to ensure they are properly disposed of.
We designed a series of training programme for staff, customer communications guidance and even compiled a research library into the kit for those who like to dig a little deeper into the science and research. There are still times when hoteliers like to work with us directly to have a more bespoke approach and that's something we're happy to do as well.
What does "social good business" or "values-based earning" mean to you in general?
It means I sleep easy at night.
It means I do a job that I know creates a positive impact. It isn't a job for a job's sake. Good things happen because of the job I do and the company I created and I think this is the same for all of us who operate in a social enterprise format. It gives you real integrity, it speaks volumes about who you are and who you employ. In previous corporate roles the 'values' system changed regularly and whilst in the most part I agreed with the values, the systems in place to live and breathe them didn't quite match up. When it got to the stage where I felt like I would leave my bag with my ethics at the front door, do my job and pick my bag of ethics up again on the way out, it was time to go!
Social Good Business has to be part of the NDA, it can't be something that's done because it sounds good or it's expected.
What is your favorite part about running a values-based business or your favorite experience since you started?
I meet fabulous, amazing and inspirational people every single day. Whether it's in person, via a webinar platform or a social media conversation, once you're in this Social Enterprise World there is no end to the number of good people you meet. Very rarely now do I have depressing or demotivating conversations - yes we discuss real challenges and the devastating impacts the world faces as a result of plastic pollution, but it's always with a practical and 'solutions based focus'.
What is your biggest struggle in running a values-based business?
Two things really.
There are still an huge number of people that don’t get it. I live in Spain, and when I told my accountant I wanted to set up as a Social Enterprise and asked the best way to do that here, he truly did not understand the concept. Once I'd explained it to him, he loved it, but he said very few people would believe that I would set up a business and give a percentage of the profits away.
The other struggle is having other businesses (e.g. my customers) see the value of our value based services. As soon as you mention sustainability, there is an expectation that advice will be free (because we are saving the planet). If I counteract with “I'm sure you haven't asked the health and safety consultant to provide advice free of charge” they'll say, “of course not, that's different.” The fact that both services need to rely upon extremely competent people who have years of experience in their field seems not to resonate. I think that sustainability professionals in the beginning really wanted people to listen to them and take their advice, so it was given for free a lot of the time, and so the expectation was set. We need to change this rapidly if we expect organisations to put social responsibility at the centre of their business decisions and not see it as an added value or nice to have.
What would you like most to accomplish in the next year? 5 years?
I'd love hotels and hospitality businesses to be able to make the right choice when it comes to procuring alternatives to single use plastics and other consumer goods. We're working on a platform that will help hotels to calculate the true sustainability cost of their purchases, factoring in much more than the price. We'd love to never hear the words, “I wish we hadn't rushed our decision, the alternative we've paid even more money for is actually worse in the wider context of the environment.” again.
Who are your business icons, heroines, or mentors?
Probably people you've never really heard of. The small, but absolutely determined small business owners that carry on with their work every day, making a difference in their local community.
I also absolutely love Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish activist taking the world by storm. Sticking to her beliefs and never giving up in the face of such adversity and cross-examination is more than inspirational, I don't think there are enough words to do her justice!
What's your #1 tip for someone just getting started incorporating their values into their work or business?
Don't let others convince you that a values based business won't work. It might take longer to build, but once you have that integrity and you become renowned for honesty and transparency, it will be worth it!
What are your favorite conferences or retreats to attend?
I attend World Travel Market, London and ITB Germany as travel is our major focus and there is huge inspiration there. But, also a huge reminder of WHY we do what we do. To re-centre, I attend a yoga retreat that a friend and I organise every year at Footsteps Eco-Lodge in The Gambia, West Africa. A week there feels like I've been away for a month - it's a superb way to refresh and get a new outlook on life.
What is the last book you read?
I'm currently reading Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson.