A warehouse stacked high with boxes of disposable gloves, protective clothing and masks, is the unlikely home of a company looking to change the definition of a successful business.
EAGLE CONSUMABLES IS THE first of only a handful of companies in New Zealand to become a certified ‘B Corporation’, joining a global movement that looks at business as more than just a profit machine.
“A glove is not just a glove,” says Steve Ardagh, general manager and owner/director. “There are a lot of people who sell our products - the difference is our story.”
Their story starts simply. Business and life partners Lynda Ronaldson and Steve Ardagh brought strong business backgrounds and a shared vision of a sustainable business to Eagle Consumables when they launched in 2006.
Sustainability has become something of a catch phrase over recent years - a blurred line between great marketing and true business practice. For Eagle Consumables it was important that it was more than just a carefully chosen word. They wanted it to form a part of every decision they made and to prove to their customers that this was the case.
Their ten core values were already in place - to be easy to deal with, to possess a steadfast intolerance of mediocrity, and to live long and prosper, to name a few - when Steve discovered B Corp on a website five years ago.
When they looked closer they realised that B Corp represented much of what they were and also what they wanted to become. B Corp gave value to their existing volunteer programme and supporting social enterprise efforts, as well as to ensuring that their products were manufactured in a responsible way that was guided by the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.
“It’s a really cool way of proving we do what we say we do,” Steve says.
While B Corp may be a relatively new thing in New Zealand this is not the case worldwide. Well-known names such as Patagonia, Kickstarter and Ben & Jerry’s have long been certified. There are over 1500 B Corp-certified businesses worldwide, in 40-plus countries and 130 industries, and this number is increasing.
Certification was a rigorous two-year process for Eagle, which enabled them to look closely at every aspect of their work, from the production of disposable gloves overseas, to transportation, and the core values they instil in their team in Christchurch. There is no expectation to be perfect but there is the expectation to be continually striving to improve.
“B Corp formalises what it’s all about,” says Lynda. “And it gives you processes to make sure you are doing these things.” Eagle Consumable’s single-use disposable products are used all over the country in dental clinics, aged care facilities, body art studios, childcare centres, laboratories, and in all areas of the food industry; it is not a product that naturally aligns itself with sustainability.
“We realise our products are single-use and end up in the landfill,” says Steve. “We are trying to be as good as we can be. When you become sustainable you start looking at where you can make changes.”
These changes can be simple but effective: redesigning disposable glove boxes to fit more boxes per carton thereby reducing both shipping costs and carbon footprint, using 30% less material in the production of their Light & Tough Nitrile gloves, and providing an audit service to their customers to ensure they are using the right product at the right time.
Eagle sees it as a straight forward case of being more efficient - a change in their processes which provides ongoing savings to the business alongside being better for people and planet. Steve makes regular visits to the factories in Malaysia, Thailand, China, Taiwan, United Kingdom and northern Italy which manufacture their products, to see for himself the working conditions, their environmental impact and the quality of the products.
Their manufacturers supply to countries across the world and, as such, the majority already had good systems in place and were receptive to the B Corp certification process. Eagle has introduced a code of conduct for their suppliers which follows international labour laws, based on that of fellow B Corp member Patagonia. Again, it is not a case of acquiring perfection, but of working towards constant improvement and continuing to ask questions to initiate this, while negotiating a careful balance around each country’s specific laws.
“Our gloves have all that built into them,” says Steve, who feels there is a growing interest from consumers to learn the back-story of the products they are purchasing – the why, how and where they were made, as well as an interest in the quality of the end product. “The average person does care about the environment and people’s working conditions.”
Kath Row leads the B Corp certification process at Eagle Consumables, as their new sustainability officer. Each business must be assessed every two years to maintain their B Corp status, with ever changing criteria to work towards, and a process of always asking themselves how they can further improve what they do.
“B Corp are brilliant in helping us achieve our score,” says Steve, with a score of 80 out of 200 needed in the assessment. “And the assessment is forever growing.”
Kath is also working alongside Steve and B Corp ambassador Tim Jones, to build the movement within Christchurch and New Zealand, spreading the word of what B Corp means and the benefits it can bring to their businesses. Momentum is building, particularly it seems, in Christchurch.
“Christchurch is the B Corp epicentre,” explains Steve, with Global Cycling Adventures, Ethique and Brown Bread first on board following Eagle. “We want to build a B Corp movement here.” It is work that has not gone unnoticed with Eagle recognised for their efforts when they received the B Corp Building the Movement 2015 Award late last year. “You really feel like you’ve found your tribe,” says Steve of the experience of meeting and networking with other like-minded businesses.
It has also given them the confidence to grow, with Steve, Lynda and their family making the big move to take Eagle to the United States early this year. They see their business as a perfect fit for a food industry with a growing emphasis on organic products, many of whom are also B Corp members.
It is the move of a successful business, with the understanding that B Corp businesses must make a profit in order to continue with their sustainable development. “You still have to be a good business. B Corp just adds to your armoury - people can choose their products based on the B Corp certification.” says Steve. “And it fulfils our ambition to be not only the best in the world, but the best for the world.”