Nairobi, Kenya-Ecommerce in Africa is on the rise. There will be “half a billion e-commerce users by 2025, which will have shown a steady 17% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of online consumers”—source International Trade Administration.
How can you integrate the environmental, social and economic dimensions? As part of the B corp month, we discussed with Juliet Kennedy, the founder of Greenspoon | B-Corp 🌍, a certified B Corp in Kenya!
She started her journey in 2016. While weaning her kid, she began questioning “how safe the food was that I was giving her“. That was her eureka moment, the start of her journey as “mumpreneur“, as she describes it.
And “what happened in the process of finding safe food was an awakening for me about what is happening with climate change, and the impact of food systems on climate change, and a realization that we really need to change food systems in order to try to mitigate the effects of climate change“.
And from there Greenspoon was born! At the core was “my great loyalty to Kenya as a Kenyan and wanting to grow local businesses. And there’s just so much wrapped up in our food choices. As the slogan says “Buy Kenya, build Kenya”. She continues, “You should buy local, you should support your own people, not just because it has great social impact, but also we know that there’s always a carbon footprint on anything that’s been shifted halfway across the world”.
So she recognizes “what initially started as a journey just about food and wanting to be able to have an online store grew into much more of an all-encompassing sustainability business“.
From the starting point evolved what is Greenspoon today. And Juliet says “what makes us really different is that we have sustainability at the core of our mission” and have a positive impact socially and environmentally.
The first step in ensuring that starts with your suppliers. How do you select them?
Juliet says that at the beginning, it was not easy to convince suppliers. One critical area for them, especially in the local context, is timely payments. It was not easy for a startup but she “decided to take the risk“.
For the selection “we always put local first“. “So if a product is produced locally, and at the right quality, then we will always prioritize that supplier. But course we also look at social impact and the environmental impact of the product and of the whole business“.
What is the process?
At Greenspoon, we ask our suppliers to fill in an application form, asking them questions about how they are, how they measure their environmental impact from water waste, water usage, energy. And then Greespoon assesses the social impact. Juliet proudly says, “Greenspoon is focusing on delivering on the promise of supporting local producers“.
It is not always easy since “they have to be ready for quite a bit of growth when they come onto our platform“
Greenspoon has in fact acted as a very good catalyst for social and environmental change for many small scale suppliers that now have a nationwide platform to promote their products.
One particular aspect has been the fruit and vegetables section. Juliet was reluctant at the beginning since she could not find the right standards and she was faced with a dilemma. “Kenya is a top exporter of high quality fruit and vegetables yet in the local market there still high use of highly nocive pesticides“. A 2020 study from the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network indicated the presence of pesticides that have been withdrawn in Europe and high toxicity levels of pesticide residues in tomatoes and kale. Link here
But she decided to change that. So Greenspoon focused on selling export quality products and growing “the number of direct farmers we’re able to work with and who are growing organic through the KOAN Network“.
Greenspoon can play an important role to access to market. So we build the market of conscious consumers, and then we give the farmers access to that with fair prices“.
This journey of impact almost naturally culminated in pursuing the B Corp certification.
Why a B Corp?
“What’s so attractive about being Corp is that it’s a globally recognized standard” immediately says Juliet.
In fact “it becomes harder and harder to do all of the nuanced storytelling you want for your customers to understand why you’re a great business.
But when you say, “I’m we are B Corp certified, it instantly puts you at a certain level with businesses that have a positive impact. So it really mattered to us, I guess, in terms of proving to ourselves that what we thought we were doing well would match up to the B Corp standards”.
But it is not finished. Juliet continues, “the B Corp movement is absolutely phenomenal. And I completely understand the impact businesses can have on people and planet and the responsibility that business has actually“.
“Business sits in a very powerful place. And the B Corp movement in that ambition to get businesses to change how they operate is one of the best ways we can positively impact the planet. So I wanted to be part of that journey”.
As well it was a transformational journey and the role of the BIA cannot be underestimated , in fact Juliet says she sees the certification as a journey.
“Our score is currently 83. We want to get to 100. How are we going to do that? And we have three years to get it done. So that’s the other thing I love about B Corp is when you go through that verification process and you get your reports, at the end, you actually can see very tangible actions that you can take to really improve your business and then improve your score“.
Another great benefit for Juliet was the B Corp network and the connections with fellow B Corps. [We can ask] “we have this certain problem; how have you guys overcome it?”
“So I think it’s an incredibly powerful movement. And I feel this kind of connection like a spider’s web across the globe. Businesses like us that care and are trying to do the right thing”.
And lastly the retention and attraction of talent. “We’ve employed a lot of incredibly talented, bright, knowledgeable, young Kenyans. I want to say young, you know, they’re all in their 20s recent graduates, and extremely intelligent, and many of them are working with Greenspoon, because they care about the mission. In many assessments I read -I like working with Greenspoon, because we’re having a positive impact, and it matters“.
Which are the next steps for Greenspoon?
Juliet proudly says that the process of B Corp has enabled them to measure a lot more. They are now transitioning to electric vehicles. They are recycling their cardboard, plastic, and enabling circularity for some suppliers, sending their organic waste for black soldier flies rearing.
And consumer awareness is growing, even in the particular contetc. Juliet thinks that “there’s a rapid shift happening at the moment in terms of consciousness” even for consumers in the context of an emerging market like Kenya. “What needs to happen is the awakening needs to shift into individual choices and action“.
Greenspoon can be part of this movement and support sustainable choices.
As a final question Juliet provided some tips for companies that wanted to follow the journey of sustainability.
“I think one thing that maybe scares people about this word sustainability is that it seems to be such a big job. And my top tip is, don’t let it cause fear. Let it generate curiosity. And I think the best place to start with anything to do with sustainability is to look at the small things that your business does every single day“
“Would there be a better way to do this? “
And Juliet describes for example waste. “How am I disposing of my waste? Do I actually know what’s happening with that waste? And who are the best partners in Kenya, to ensure that my waste is responsibly disposed? What kind of cleaning products am I using? In my business? Am I contributing to chemicals going into water systems, and soil? And ending up finally, in our oceans?”
On the supplier side “Am I supporting as many local suppliers as possible? “
Juliet sees sustainability as a journey. “And the whole planet is on this journey. So it’s not like anybody has got the answer. It’s like all of us are trying to figure this out. And I think, you know, in terms of becoming more sustainable, it’s absolutely crucial to do it right. If you want your business to be economically viable and relevant to future customers, you have to get on the sustainability Journey today. It’s not something that’s debatable anymore. Future generations deeply care about whether businesses are having a positive impact. And we’re seeing that more now“.
“So if you don’t start as a business on the sustainability journey now, then you will end up being obsolete to the next generation of customers“.