In this series we talk to the individuals and companies helping retailers become greener businesses – highlighting the tools, technologies, and options available to support a change in environmental focus.
It was 2020 and Antony Gutsa was looking for a ‘green’ gift for an eco-conscious friend. The government-mandated ‘non-essential’ shops were closed because of the Covid-19 lockdown, and online searches for sustainable gifts were bringing back less than ideal results.
A bamboo toothbrush or items from a fast fashion brand were not exactly the compelling and environmentally-aware presents he was after. So the seeds of a new business idea formed.
“I just felt there was definitely an opportunity to create something that was genuinely sustainable and ethical when it came to the gifting world,” he tells Green Retail World. Although there were marketplaces purporting to be a green-thinking version of Amazon and plenty of noise around sustainability which Gutsa said could only be described as “greenwashing”, something was missing that brought eco-conscious brands together.
So he launched Ecoswap, which aims to help consumers shop with brands that have more than just profit as their motivator. It is also a product that gives businesses a chance to reward their staff with more sustainability-minded corporate gifts and incentives.
What is Ecoswap and who are its partners?
Gutsa describes Ecoswap as “the first-of-its-kind, all-in-one digital gift card for ethical and sustainable brands”. Those that are gifted the card can redeem it with participating retailers or brands, all of which have either B Corp, 1% for the Planet, or Climate Neutral-certified labels – or they are a recognised charity in the UK.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap between consumers and ethical brands to make it easier to shop consciously,” says Gutsa, whose background is in consumer finance and predominately in consumer credit cards working very closely with the likes of Mastercard and Visa.
The Body Shop, Rituals, and the National Trust are among the businesses consumers can purchase from when presented with the Ecoswap gift card – these are among the most recognisable businesses listed. Newer innovative brands such as Wild, Ethical Bedding, and Red Paddle Co – all B Corps – are also on board, and Gutsa says there are plenty more in the pipeline.
Ecoswap makes money by taking a commission from the retailer or brand, and Gutsa describes his company as an additional sales channel for our partners – or “an affiliate”.
Gutsa’s co-founder is Paul Zhu, a civil engineer who is fully trained in full stack coding and who works full time on Ecoswap as chief technology officer.
The eco-consious gift cards business wants to practice what it preaches too, so it is starting the journey to become B Corp itself.
Gutsa comments: “Potential clients always say you require us to be B Corp or 1% for the Planet or Climate Neutral but ‘what are you yourself doing?’, so since officially starting to trade we began the process to become B Corp-certified.”
Ecoswap operates using 100% renewable energy, and it uses B Corp business Krystal as its hosting provider, Gutsa explains.
“Not only are our cards digital so there’s no plastic waste but all our internet service is provided by 100% renewable energy,” he notes.
“We’re looking at all aspects of sustainability; not only the brand partners, but our own product and own operations – we both work from home and cycle and get public transport.”
The immediate opportunity
Although the long-term opportunity to grow as a consumer gift card stands, the immediate focus is on developing business-to-business relationships.
Ecoswap can – and is – used by businesses to align their employee reward and recognition programmes or corporate gifting with their wider environmental, social and governance (ESG) agendas.
“There are key ESG goals businesses, including retailers, need to adhere to but when it comes to how they reward their staff they are not doing that in a sustainable way,” Gutsa says.
“If they were to incorporate Ecoswap, it would align directly with that agenda.”
Gutsa is confident of organisations bulk ordering Ecoswap for Christmas staff gifting, and general corporate gifting. He says he is in discussions to become integrated with reward and loyalty aggregators and affiliates such as Sodexo and Ovations, which would mean any business already using these systems can gain the option of including his eco-consious gift cards too.
Raising funds is on the agenda for the first half of 2024, followed by plans to develop the online user experience and gifting process. The UK remains the focus for now, but Gutsa views the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand as additional key markets to target.
Retail’s environmental awakening
Gutsa is encouraged by “the definite environmental awakening” that has occurred in the retail space, and he believes it is important this continues.
“One of the big messages I took from COP26 [which was in the UK in 2021 as Ecoswap came to life] was action needs to come from a consumer and a business standpoint because government policy is just taking too long,” he argues.
“My key takeaway was companies need to step up and make the change because consumers are generally followers so it’s up to the businesses to leverage and push towards that change.”
According to Gutsa, more business need to adopt the “three Ps” focus of people, planet and profit – the loose definition for what movements such as B Corp stand for.
“Businesses focusing only on profit are going to shoot themselves in the foot because only looking at short-term gains will mean they are not as robust in the long term,” he says.
“There’s great momentum and we’re moving in the right direction, but there’s still a lot more that can be done.”
At Green Retail World we are giving greener retail champions, like Antony and Ecoswap, a chance to explain how they are helping retailers become greener businesses. Please contact editor, Ben Sillitoe, if you’d like to put yourself forward for an interview on this key subject. Sharing good practice can help the wider sector move in a positive direction.
[Main image credit: Ecoswap]