Building an eco, sustainable and ethical business
Q&A with the Patrick Brown, co-founder of FourState
When did you start FourState?
We started the company in January 2019. We launched the website in April, and then opened our first shop in September that year in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. In October, we opened our second shop in Henley.
Why did you decide to launch an eco-business?
My co-founder Rob Kemp and I have been best mates since secondary school. We’ve always been very eco-conscious but after school we took completely different paths.
Rob went to university and landed a graduate job at a top UK tech company. However, after a few months, he grew increasingly against the idea that his job’s goal was to sell lumps of plastic to people who didn’t need them. He saw first-hand just how the corporate world had such little regard for the environment.
I, on the other hand, decided to move to Australia for a year where I became a dive instructor. It was there that I saw how affected the Great Barrier Reef was by plastic pollution and global warming, witnessing both coral bleaching and plastic waste.
These early experiences triggered our ambition to do something about this and create a new type of business which had the sole purpose of improving the planet.
Why are you called FourState?
We realised the world is facing so many problems and the majority of these need completely different solutions. After much discussion, we decided the four areas that needed our help the most were; poverty, climate change, habitat loss and plastic pollution.
To support these areas, we decided to focus our business on ‘four states’: Humanity, Air, Land and Water. These four states underpin our business model, brand ethos and are the essence to our ambition. They also help shape our product portfolio, as we select products designed to address issues relevant to each state. Then we channel our profits into supporting causes represented by each state. So far, we have achieved great progress:
- We have donated over 900 meals to people in need in both the UK and Africa.
- We have planted over 1,700 trees all around the world to combat climate change.
- We have reclaimed over 900m² in land in the Amazon rainforest to protect it from deforestation and habitat loss.
- We have collected over 700 pounds of plastic out of the ocean to help fight against our war on plastic.
As an eco, sustainable and ethical brand, what’s your vision?
We want to become the most trusted and convenient eco store in the UK. Whether online or in store, we want customers to buy with confidence. We want to ensure they feel satisfied with the eco-credentials of our products, as well as confident that buying from us helps to contribute towards easing poverty, climate change, habitat loss and plastic pollution.
This is why our points system is so important to us. Instead of having a loyalty scheme where people can redeem points for discounts, we enable people to earn points from every purchase and then choose which cause they would like our profits to support.
How do you select your products? What do you look for in a brand?
We spend a lot of time researching and scrolling through new products. We often find the best products come from meeting brands at different events around the world. But it’s not just about the product, we need to understand how ethical and sustainable the company is, over and above what the customer sees.
Do you just sell UK products?
We try to source most of our products from UK companies who manufacture in the UK, but we often expand our reach and source from elsewhere around the world. We’ve found some incredible products in Sri-Lanka and China for example, which are manufactured close to where their raw materials of coconut and bamboo grow. And as long as they transport their products to the UK in a sustainable way, we are happy to supply them.
From our point of view, the problems with our planet are global, so every person in every country that comes up with a solution should be thinking how they can help countries all around the world.
Do you also make your own products?
We don’t currently have our own range of products; however, it is something that we are looking to do soon.
What are your best sellers?
A lot of our bestsellers are the really simple swaps such as shampoo bars and the reusable bamboo make up removal pads.
Have you seen a shift towards people buying refills?
We see lots more people buying refills. It is a habit change. Once people realise that their empty containers aren’t rubbish and can be used to refill household products such as laundry detergent, hand wash and all-purpose cleaner, they start to see the value of refills.
Many people who start on refills never look back and now with our home delivery service, we are seeing an increasing number of people jumping on board.
What trends have you seen during Plastic Free July?
A lot of attention has been on bathroom and kitchen products as these are areas where people use the most single use plastic. Things like bamboo cotton buds and toothbrushes have been extremely popular in July.
How does your loyalty scheme work?
Much like any loyalty scheme, you earn points with every purchase. However, where we differ is that instead of giving you the option to redeem your points for discounts you can spend them on supporting our causes. This gives customers the ability to support any cause they feel strongly about and choose where our profits go.
What advice can you give people who are looking to become more sustainable at home?
The best thing to do is make really simple swaps that don’t necessarily change your life in any way. Once you realise how many plastic bottles of shampoo and body wash you’ve stopped throwing away after switching to solid bar versions, you’ll understand how simple it can be.
Just remember that every step in the right direction has a positive impact, but you don’t have to be perfect at it. We don’t need a few people being perfectly sustainable, we need everyone to be more sustainable even if it’s imperfectly.
The market is flooded with eco brands, what advice can you give consumers about choosing the right product / brands?
My advice is to try and avoid companies who are ‘green washing’ you. It can be really hard so the best thing to do is to read up on all aspects of a company. Do they use organic ingredients? Do they give money back to the planet? Do they ship their products plastic-free? You can never be 100% sure but go with your gut, if a company seems a bit dodgy, they probably are.
Also, don’t be disheartened if you later realise a company wasn’t quite as good as you thought they were. Just remember what they did wrong and look out for it next time. Reaching out to a company with any questions you have is another good way to discover ‘green washing.’ A genuinely eco-conscious company will have no issues answering any questions about their eco credentials.
What’s the best eco swap you’ve done recently?
A recent really exciting swap I’ve started doing is filling my house with more and more house plants. Each one is doing its bit to help clean our air and it fills you with such a great sense of achievement watching them grow.