"It's as if we were never here," reads the mission statement on Innocent Packaging’s website. "The essential concept at the heart of Innocent is to ensure we can unmake everything that we make."
Founded by Tony Small in 2013, Innocent is a plant-based packaging company that's also behind the Smartass brand of tree-free toilet paper. Small started the company from his parent’s garage at the age of 28, flogging sustainable napkins and coffee cups to cafes.
New norms for the hospitality industry
Eight years on and the company has expanded into the UK (where it trades as 'decent packaging') and is committed to coming up with innovative sustainability solutions, compostable packaging and paper products.
"Our product replaced generic plastic cups and lids, and people probably weighed up the cost a little bit more back then and the reasons for doing it," says Small. "Now compostable packaging is the norm in the hospitality industry. Whether it's here or in Europe or the UK, most companies wouldn't dream of using polystyrene packaging."
Innocent uses a range of sustainable materials including recycled paper, bagasse (a by-product of the sugarcane harvesting industry), Forest Steward Council grown birchwood, wheat straw, and PLA (poly lactic acid) aka plant plastic.
"Using plant-based bioplastics reduces the carbon footprint of our manufacturing by 75 percent," says Small. "That's a huge reduction compared to oil-based plastics. So just by using our products, our customers are reducing their own carbon footprint significantly. The raw materials we use help to reduce carbon as they grow, and we use the waste from the crops to manufacture our products, so it is a win-win for the environment."
"Whenever we consider a new product, we look at the materials we can use and how we can produce products that have less carbon output in the manufacturing process. There are a load of materials that are compostable, but probably aren't as sustainable as the ones we use."
Coffee cups are still the company's biggest selling product but the diversification into the toilet paper and tissue market via the Smartass brand is starting to pay off.
"It was a hard industry to crack (excuse the pun) but it's picked up a lot recently," says Small, "particularly in the last year with more people working from home. Being able to order toilet paper online is just another way of trying to simplify things for our customers."
Reaching Carbon Zero
In 2019, Innocent became Carbon Zero Certified through Toitū Envirocare, a process that took a couple of years. First, using data analysis and helpful online tools, Innocent measured their total emissions including everything from shipping orders, to driving delivery vans, and flights (remember them?).
Next, they set targets to reduce their total emissions. Finally, Toitū Envirocare helps Innocent offset any remaining unavoidable emissions by buying carbon credits in New Zealand and Asia, supporting forest growing projects and solar panel programs which are certified to capture carbon and therefore bring the company’s net emissions down to zero.
"For us as a business it comes back to being responsible for what we're doing and what we put out into the world."
Becoming Carbon Zero Certified through Toitū is a really comprehensive way for businesses to address their impact. But for businesses that aren't quite ready to go through the certification process, there are a number of other resources available. Toitū also offers a subscription-based tool, Carbon Assess, that's designed to help small and medium organisations understand their carbon footprint and report on it.
Another option is the Climate Action Toolbox, a free tool provided by the Sustainable Business Network, EECA, and other organisations. Businesses complete a simple company profile, then receive tailored advice and actions to help reduce their emissions and improve sustainability.
What's next for Innocent?
With so many clients in the hospitality industry, Innocent has been affected by the COVID pandemic. However, Small is optimistic for the future.
"We've got a number of new products coming out later this year that we're really excited about. We're getting into the coffee bag market which is something we've been working on for about three years. We've finally got there and we're producing a fully compostable coffee bag that will also be something we can roll out in other industries as well."
"We're always thinking about innovation. Where else can we add value for our customers and what else can we produce sustainably to make a difference?"