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Inspiring Conversations with Christopher Firestone of The Better World Company

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christopher Firestone.

Christopher, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
After meandering through a few random life phases (chemical engineering, acting, sommelier/wine sales, and a story for another day) I thought it might be best to find some stability, so in my mid-30s I hit up graduate school to get my MBA. Spending the next several years in various roles in Investment Banking and Corporate Finance made me realize that climbing the corporate ladder and achieving some random title at the expense of your mental and physical well-being just wasn’t worth it.

Life is short, and I didn’t want to feel empty anymore. The world was heading toward disaster in more ways than one, and I knew I wanted to make a real difference somehow. Around that time I watched a documentary called ‘A Plastic Ocean’ and was immediately drawn in by the crisis of single-use plastic pollution. The wheels started turning, plans were hatched, the foundation was laid, and The Better World Company was born. My story is full of strange twists and turns, but I don’t think I’d be where I am today without each one of those puzzle pieces falling into place along the way.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I definitely would not characterize this last part of my journey as ‘smooth’. After about a year and a half of working on this project in the background, I was finally ready to go live in the Fall of 2019. As was to be expected when launching any new business, I ran into a few minor issues here and there during those first months, but nothing catastrophic. The business was growing, I was gaining new customers, and life was good. Then COVID hit, and all that ground to a halt.

That first iteration of The Better World Company was a ‘milkman’ style pickup/delivery refill service for liquid soaps, cleaners, and detergents. I’d deliver full bottles to customers, and pick up their empties to clean, refill, and redeliver to the next customer. Great idea, right? Unfortunately, an environment where professionals are telling you to spray bleach on your groceries isn’t exactly great for a new business to build public trust in their sanitation skills; even though I had invested in all the commercial-grade equipment to get the job done properly.

Without knowing how long the current state of affairs would last (or when it might return in some other format), I set out to ‘pandemic-proof’ the business – essentially rewriting the entire model from the ground up, while still trying to keep the existing one afloat. Fast forward another year and a half, and Better World 2.0 was finally released into the wild.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
The mission of The Better World Company has always been to end the wasteful and destructive stream of single-use plastic while making every effort to minimize negative impacts on climate change and the environment as a whole. This new version of Better World is still focused on a refill/reuse model but utilizes home-compostable packaging and unique waterless (that is, powder) formulas to minimize shipping impacts in getting those refills to customers.

Why ship all that water when most household products don’t even need it, or you can just mix it with water right in your own home? We’ve been convinced by corporate propaganda that the billions of tons of plastic waste permeating our oceans and choking our waterways are because we (the end users) just don’t recycle enough.

By now we know that’s not the case, since the vast majority of plastic waste isn’t even recyclable… and most of the plastic that can be recycled isn’t because of the cost and complexity of the whole process. It all just gets incinerated or goes into landfills, rivers, and the ocean. Only about 5% of plastic in the U.S. gets recycled, so the only real solution to the problem is stopping its production of it in the first place.

So how do we do that? You look at store shelves and there are very few options that aren’t packaged in single-use plastic. Those that do take that step (the “Eco” brands as I like to call them) are often wildly unaffordable or just don’t work very well, so their adoption by everyday consumers remains limited. As a company, we want to make great products that are accessible to everyone so they can more easily live their values and stop using single-use plastic. We tell our customers we’re here to help them ‘Break Your Plastic Habit’ because there are so many obstacles in the way.

I’ve come to view product development in the “Eco” space according to the three P’s – Price (is it affordable), Performance (does it work), and Planet (are the ingredients and packaging earth-friendly). There will always be tradeoffs and a push/pull dynamic as you work within those categories to launch a business or new product, but I think we’ve been able to optimize all three in a way that other companies just haven’t been able to do.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Resilience. As I shared before, there have been major setbacks in getting this company off the ground. Other than COVID, there were early formulas that I couldn’t get quite right and didn’t ‘wow’ customers like I’d hoped, manufacturing processes that just wouldn’t scale up as I needed, packaging decisions that didn’t pan out in the long-term, or making mistakes with certain supplier partnerships, just to name a few.

But purpose fuels my passion and resilience have allowed me to bounce back each time. It helps me wake up every morning and get in the lab to make the hundredth iteration of a formula, try a new manufacturing process, or do the thousandth hour of research to get things back to where they need to be.

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Image Credits
Rebecca Todd – TruBlu Images

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