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Best For The World Simply Straws’ Cyndi and Chanelle Sladics Take Up the Fight Against Plastic Waste — And Other Businesses Can Too
This article was originally published by B Lab.
“We are doing this to solve a problem — plastic straw waste is a problem that no one was addressing loudly. But we don’t want to be a solution only; we want to amplify the solution with nonprofits — to prevent, clean up and reduce plastic; to do research and get policies to change.”
— Chanelle Sladics, co-founder of B Corp Simply Straws
The scale of global issues society faces is often overwhelming. As professional snowboarder and Simply Straws co-founder Chanelle Sladics recalls: “I woke up to the problem. The real problem, not just plastic, and realized we have a lot of broken systems to repair. When you’re awake to the problem, you are changed. The veil is off and you can’t go back.”
The founders of Certified B Corporation Simply Straws didn’t set out to be sustainability leaders — they set out to build a better world by taking on a piece of “the problem” where they could make an impact. Cyndi, Chanelle’s mom and co-founder of the business, has a dental background that, coupled with Chanelle’s deep concern for plastic waste, led them to launch the Earth-friendly products’ business out of a garage seven years ago — well before single-use plastic straws were receiving national coverage. Now, the Costa Mesa, California-based company is Best For The World for Community, has products in more than 1,200 stores, and has 14 full-time employees.
“It’s an honor to be recognized and to celebrate the intention we are putting into all of these areas,” Chanelle says. “That’s the soul of what we do — we work to be conscious of the supply chain that we’re feeding into and creating jobs that give joy to our employees. It’s never perfect. We work to be a better company and scale in a way that maintains the positive impacts we value.”
Learn best practices and impact-management strategies from the Best For The World honorees, including Community honoree Simply Straws.
We spoke with Chanelle and Simply Straws Marketing Manager Kim Erickson to learn more about what inspires the company to strive to build a better world every day.
As a sustainable leader selling Earth-friendly products who is also involved in many environmental movements, how do you see all of these movements aligning?
Sladics: When we were just starting, we had planned to start our own nonprofit to work on policy changes to get plastic straws banned but quickly realized we didn’t have the bandwidth. We opted to support nonprofits and movements that were already doing this work with our business.
We are doing this to solve a problem — plastic straw waste is a problem that no one was addressing loudly. But we don’t want to be a solution only; we want to amplify the solution with nonprofits — to prevent, clean up and reduce plastic; to do research and get policies to change.
That’s when joining 1% for the Planet came in. We wanted to make sure we at least made this minimum commitment and build long-term partnerships with nonprofits, to bring all the pieces together and make sure everyone involved in solving the plastic waste problem is communicating. We’re grateful that a lot of nonprofits reach out, and we are committed to staying hyper-focused on plastic waste because that is what our product is trying to solve.
Why should someone who cares about waste prevention, removing toxins from their lives and the environment, care about business?
Sladics: At first, I was feeling hopeless about business — I thought consumers needed to do all the work to make the changes and demands. But I learned it only takes about 5% of the big brands losing customers to start to make a change. Consumer trends toward Earth-friendly products are making big businesses rebuild infrastructure to not cause any more problems. Trends in the marketplace can make big businesses decide where they are going to make growth.
We all vote with our purchase — everyone should themselves on where their money goes. I am passionate about voting with your purchases.
What does it mean to your company to be Best For The World: Community?
Sladics: It’s emotional to be recognized among all the brands that are highly inspirational to me, like Dr. Bronner’s, All Good, Badger, Patagonia. Thank you for inspiring me — you all are the reason that we are doing what we do. It’s an honor to celebrate the intention we are putting into all of these areas. And, that it’s working! We’re growing — we’re in more than 1,200 stores. To go from the struggle of garage business to actually employing 14 people full time is so much fun.
I couldn’t imagine running a business without being a B Corp. The purpose behind what we’re doing and the impact of what we’re doing drive us, and because of our mission and intention, we attract a great group of people.
Erickson: I found Simply Straws because I love straws and because I was looking for a B Corp to work for. The Best For The World for Community is pretty incredible. We’ve been Best For The World for Environment the past few years, which is kind of a no-brainer, but this year represents a new level and a change for us.
What part of your business is building community and supporting your communities?
Erickson: As we grow and get bigger, our supply chain is also growing. It’s really easy to find the raw goods for the cheapest, but we’re making sure to vet the companies we work with and helping them grow as we grow. We do this beyond the raw materials we source — our straws’ sleeves are produced two doors down, and we’re working with that company to make sure that supply chain community is staying on point.
Sladics: We’ve been running our Pledge Against Plastic Straws since Earth Month the year we started. When someone signs the Pledge, we give them one of our glass straws. At this point, we have more than 10 million impressions on the campaign. We’re super proud of it, and by giving out all of these straws to people who’ve signed the pledge, we start a chain reaction. It’s a donation that gets people to start a conversation with their families, friends, etc., and moves them away from plastic waste — all by starting with one straw. We were nervous about doing such a massive ongoing giveaway, but it only helps us achieve our mission because people are more aware of wanting to carry reusable straws. It has turned our customers into advocates — they aren’t coming just because this is a trend; they stay because they become part of the movement to end plastic waste and they continue to interact with us in an ongoing way. I’m proud of our team who helps sustain that communication with the customers. Everyone gets joy from doing it because we know we’re contributing to solving a large-scale problem, together.
The community of B Corps has also had a big role in our development. Badger and All Good, for example, helped us get financing and refine our supply chain goals. It’s really powerful being part of this community and having these friendships where we’re all working toward a common goal, even among companies that sell the same products.
How does Simply Straws Vote Every Day to build a better world through business?
Sladics: As I talked about earlier, we are a 1% for the Planet member, meaning at a minimum, 1% of every sale gives back to environmental nonprofits fighting the plastic problem. We work alongside many nonprofits year-round, but this ensures we have this transparent, measurable contribution for each sale.
While people don’t talk about it as much, we’ve really taken a focus on our operations. We asked ourselves, “How can we create as many positive jobs with a positive culture so people have joy in joining this mission with us?” We vote every day by choosing the nontoxic, responsible inks and packaging for our products. We’re paying more for our products than we could in order to build a supply chain that we want to support. That’s the soul of what we do. It’s never perfect, and we work to be a better company and scale with a supply chain that maintains the positive impacts we value. We do everything we possibly can to make sure where we’re sending our money is a good working environment and that our product creates a net-positive impact.
How can other business leaders vote every day?
Sladics: Aside from the other points we’ve already touched on, I feel like culture is another area I don’t hear people often talk about externally. It’s definitely an internal priority for our business. Our team comes up with new ideas to continue to create a positive culture here, whether it be flexibility with a sick child, the ability to come in late if something comes up and stay to put the hours in later, etc. Every business leader can be a compassionate leader while setting healthy boundaries, to create a culture that’s meaningful with a mission people can get behind and elevate.
I also encourage businesses to build partnerships with other mission-aligned businesses. For us, even with something like a giveaway, we make sure we’re working with companies that align with our values. As a business leader, you can support businesses that align with what you really believe in as well.
B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.
Going Beyond Earth-Friendly Products to Build a Better World was originally published in B the Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.