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For a small business, being one of the first in a new market is challenging — especially when trying to upend the current value-chain. For Margaret Taylor, the owner of nudemarket, a zero-waste business and refillery, going against the status quo means added hurdles, such as finding similarly minded manufacturers, a lack of public policy support and lower market demand.
Despite the challenge, Taylor is dedicated to making sustainable shopping easier for consumers.
The idea for nudemarket came from Taylor’s own experience as a frustrated shopper. Wanting to make sustainable choices, she found there wasn’t one place she could go to get everything she needed.
“I was just thinking ‘I need to figure out a way where I can get everything I need to live this plastic-free life and I need to make it convenient,’” she says.
She would spend an entire day driving around the city, seeking out products with sustainable packaging or the option to refill. At home, she was spending time sorting through her garbage, recycling and compost, trying to figure out the best way to dispose of everything.
This led her to think: “If I could get everything in one spot, that would be perfect.”
While Taylor’s original plan was a full-fledged grocery store, she decided to start small and scale accordingly. In the summer of 2018, she started going to markets and talking to people about their needs and interests.
By the fall, she was able to use her findings to start taking actionable steps.
nudemarket started as a local delivery service where people could have home and lifestyle products delivered to their homes or picked up around Calgary.
Now, it’s a zero-waste shop and refillery – customers can purchase plastic-free alternatives for products that would normally be single-use. The refillery part of nudemarket allows people to refill their own containers with products like dish soap or laundry detergent.
A grand-opening is set for Nov. 23 at ReWorks Upcycle Shop – a location nudemarket will be sharing with the current shop going forward.
Small business, big world
When it comes to scaling the business, Taylor struggles, knowing that most manufacturers rely on single-use plastics to keep costs low.
nudemarket works only with suppliers who are able to clean and reuse their containers, or take another measure to ensure the items don’t go directly to the landfill.
Matt Mayer, a sessional instructor at the Bissett School of Business at MRU, says manufacturers have mastered their current model of production, and until there’s a reason to change their behaviour, they won’t.
“There’s not necessarily a lot of public policy support, or enabling public policy to level the playing field for these types of endeavours [zero-waste businesses],” Mayer says.
“It just reinforces the status quo, it reinforces the incumbents in so many ways.”
Taylor seeks out other small businesses whose environmental vision aligns with hers, or who are willing to pivot towards a more environmentally-friendly business model.
However, as a small business, she has found it hard to scale because there are a limited number of manufacturers who make similar eco-conscious choices.
While this limits the number of potential suppliers, both Taylor and Mayer believe sustainable manufacturing is going to gain traction moving forward.
“Manufacturers and retailers are continuing to be pressured to do better and never has there been more of a right time for value chains to push in this direction,” Mayer says.
Mayer says a shift in business and industry will happen when there is demonstrable market demand or a public need to be met. As the market demand continues and public policy catches up, he believes change will come in a wave.
“There'll be more and more of an impetus to make things a lot more convenient, easy, cheaper, because there’ll be more volume.”
Until then, he sees nudemarket as an early example of a business who isn’t willing to sacrifice their values for profit.
“Big socio-cultural shifts can happen but they take time and it needs to be convenient [...] there’s still innovators and early adopters that will take this on even if it is inconvenient and not as viable upfront,” he says.
The future is circular
While Taylor is helping make conscious consumption possible for Calgarians, she says that until businesses change the way they manufacture products, there’s only so much the consumer can do.
“People are interested [in living sustainably] only if it’s easy and convenient for them, so that’s why we have to make it easy and convenient for them,” she says.
“It has to change at the systems level. It’s not going to hit if the consumers have to bare the brunt of the responsibility and have to be stressed out about reusing and creating their own products.”
In order to achieve that, Taylor believes that businesses need to move away from the linear economy, where a manufacturer creates a product knowing it will only be used once. Instead, businesses need to adapt to a circular economy where products are made with the intention of having multiple lives.
Mayer says in a circular economy, products and materials are continually circulated through the value-chain. This means it will be at its highest value and utility throughout its lifetime — not just for one single use.
“The product or material remains a part of the economy for as long as it can and not buried in a landfill where it is out of the economy or burned and put into the atmosphere,” he says.
According to Mayer, businesses like nudemarket, will need other manufacturers and companies to get on board.
“In order to circulate products and materials back into value chains, it inherently depends on the rest of the value chain innovating and designing as well.”
Taylor has seen this first hand.
“We’re at a really weird time right now where we’re kind of trying to create our own little systems that aren’t standardized,” she says.
“It’s going to take time. It will happen because that’s the way the world is going, but it’s going to be difficult.”
Even though we’re not there yet, Mayer doesn’t doubt that businesses, like nudemarket, will be the norm one day.
“The future — in short — there is no other way.”
- By Alaina Shirt