Natracare – Leading the Way in Sustainable Personal Care
We caught up with Susie Hewson who gave us some insight into running a long-standing, award-winning sustainable business. Susie founded Natracare in 1989, when feminine hygiene brands were giving little thought to using plastic and harmful chemicals. Natracare produced the world’s first certified organic cotton tampons and Totally Chlorine Free sanitary pads. Today, they produce a wide range of products – extending their range to biodegradable cleansing wipes and baby wipes.
In the 1980s and 90s, many consumers were not aware of the environmental and health implications of using personal care items containing plastic and harmful chemicals. What was the response from consumers early on?
Shock, disbelief and outrage most notably. People had a trust in personal care items because marketing had led them to understand that they were safe for use. Marketing implied that someone was watching over them, that there was an authority safety checking on their behalf. When I spoke about the dangers to the community, there was outrageous shock.
What changes have you seen along the way to becoming the award-winning company that you are?
I use the analogy that over the years I have been the first into the field of thistles, and have cleared the thistles and now there are many people coming and setting up their picnic baskets in that field!
I have seen lots of changes – some have been negative – some have been encased in ‘greenwashing’, and some things follow our lead. More than anything consumers have woken up to the fact that there is something very different about plastic free, chlorine free, and organic. They are embracing us, not just because it is better for their health but because they want to do better for the environment and impact climate change.
Does working in a sustainable way present any challenges in your industry? What have the benefits been?
Working in a sustainable way is always more difficult, more expensive. There is more bureaucracy and administration because the whole concept of being sustainable is to have full traceability of what you’re doing and therefore be able to demonstrate the consequences of your actions. So, for us it’s embedded in our environmental policy, our design policy and in our ethos. It’s not like it’s some sort of arduous thing for us to do because we’ve always started on that first step, and that’s the way we’ve always continued!
Has anyone helped or influenced you along the way to achieving your environmental goals?
There has been a lot of companionship along the way. My alliances with environmental groups and women’s campaigning organisations – they’ve been there to supplement what I do, to give encouragement, often contributing research. You might start off on the journey feeling that you are alone but when you look back and look at all the influencers that have been there to help along the way, it’s not so difficult.
Over the many years, and to this day, the people who work around me here at Natracare contribute hugely to our environmental goals – in maintaining what we do and bringing new ideas and making sure we are working along the same path that we all agree upon.
Hale Magazine and Natracare are both based in Bristol. What do you think it is about this city that means so many eco-initiatives are based here?
Ah Bristol – the city of my dreams! Bristol is a very green city, we were European Green Capital , and there is a lot of youth in Bristol. With two universities, there is a lot of creativity and innovation that emanates from here, including green tech.
I think as a vibrant, intelligent, creative city – we are always willing to push back against the status quo. We are quite a revolutionary city here – we like to push back and take care of our environment because we have such beautiful countryside and waterscapes around us.
Natracare is nearly 30 years old (congratulations!) Do you have any plans for celebrating this milestone?
30 years has fled past! We are planning to update our packaging – to have a 30th anniversary celebratory up-design, launching new products, and plastic free is obviously our agenda going forward.
Finally, what are your top tips for anyone searching for more sustainable ways to do business?
If I could give any tips about maintaining a status of sustainability in a business or in products that you develop it is first that you’ve got to be truthful to your objectives. Identify a problem and resolve that problem in a way that in looking back you can see that the changes you make have a positive impact on the environment – not a negative impact.
It’s easy to sit back and say “I did X, Y, and Z and so that’s most of all what I need to do”, but truly do a step by step analysis and be truthful about that analysis and seek external validation. Validation is important when it comes to external authorities because it’s not just you saying you’re doing it, it’s your peers and organisations that are set up to measure what you do that gives comfort and security to those people who rely on that authenticity.
Thank you so much to Susie for taking the time to talk to us – and have a wonderful 30th birthday, Natracare!