How Chia Sisters is redefining business as usual
When they're not trialing new flavours of craft juices and health drinks, sisters and co-founders Chloe and Florence Van Dyke are using their juicery Chia Sisters as a testing ground for more ethical, collaborative, and transparent business. Inside each bottle is all-natural, plant-based ingredients with no added sugar, but how it got there is what makes Chia Sisters drinks radically different.
From solar powered operations to certified living wages for staff, the team behind Chia Sisters believe that positive impact for the environment and their community should come first. Those commitments landed Chia Sisters on the Best for the World 2021 list for Environment. To celebrate, we spoke with co-founder Chloe Van Dyke about how she's help build a business to last.
Watch the conversation here or read the interview below.
Chloe: Chia Sisters produces health drinks out of a solar-powered, Zero Carbon, climate positive, Living Wage, B Corp certified juicery in Whakatū Nelson. We are really proud to be prioritizing the wellbeing of people and the environment, and using our business as a platform for doing that.
B Lab: In terms of your environmental impact, there have been a lot of initiatives that you've undertaken to manage your footprint. What motivated you to make some of those initial - and I assume quite costly - investments?
Chloe: The process of becoming climate positive came about because we recognise that businesses are responsible for climate change. We had a business, so we should do something about it. The process for us for doing that was firstly, to measure our carbon footprint. Because by doing that, that enabled us to identify the problem that we're trying to solve. From there, we were able to go about reductions like putting solar panels on our factory. We also went through processes of reducing waste. We offset by 120% through the Rameka. It's a certified carbon sink in Golden Bay, in our hometown region, that is regenerating farmland to native forest. And it's also a place that our community can enjoy.
B Lab: For some of those investments like eliminating air freight, is there a commercial element to that as well? Is it the cheaper option, or is it something that you make trade offs in your business to afford for?
Chloe: For us there has been an economic benefit in all of our decision making. When we originally started going through this process, we thought there be a benefit from the consumer choosing to purchase more sustainable products, and that's certainly been the case. But I think even more so, the economic benefit has come from the people who want to work with us.
We know that business success is run by the caliber and passion of people. I hope that will mean that the future will see the rise of a more thoughtful generation of business.
B Lab: What about the more industry-specific changes like packaging? Tell us a little bit about some of those changes, and how they might become the norm for your industry.
Chloe: Replacing our internal plastic pallet wrap with reusable covers was just such an obvious and simple change. An easy solution was to use reusable nets, so now we just put a net over the top of the pallet, we ship it 30 meters, we take the net off, and it can be used again. It saves time saves money, and it saves a huge amount of waste.
B Lab: What about returnable kegs? Tell us a little bit about that. It seems like quite a niche thing, but it's something that could also touch quite a lot of food and beverage distributors.
Chloe: The reusable keg idea is that we fill up the keg with our juice, we send it to a store or a supermarket, and people bring a refillable vessel. They fill up the juice and then the keg comes back and we refill it again so that there's no landfill happening.
That process has been harder than we expected to get people across the line. And I think this is where a systemic change is needed, where we need to get every beverage company on board and create these systems in all stores that serve beverages.
B Lab: What do you think is the big barrier to that, in terms of getting people to adopt something like a returnable or reusable keg?
Chloe: They need to have a setup where there's a keg system in store. We need to have beverage suppliers that are able to fill into kegs. We need to change consumer behaviour to think that it's okay to fill a glass from a keg, not just beer. All of those little little things need to change. We're starting and hopefully it will grow.
B Lab: Do you see more demand coming from the consumer level, or at least more so than from the industry?
Chloe: I think it's definitely coming from the consumer. They don't want to put things in the rubbish anymore or use single-use anymore. So that's really exciting to say. The more that the consumer uses their buying power to purchase in the right direction, that's fantastic. But also I never want to put the blame on the consumer. I feel as businesses, we have the responsibility to make these better options available.
B Lab: What have been some of the big enablers of the progress that you've made? What have been the big things driving the changes that you've made in setting up your business?
Chloe: It's having the intention. We have our environmental impact and social impact at the table of every decision we make. We're making mindful decisions.
We recognise that alone, we really can't have the impact that we want to have. We need to work together within our industry, within our community, within our country, within the world to create solutions.
For that reason, we formed Businesses for Climate Action, which is bringing businesses together in our community to collectively measure their carbon footprint. Then industry groups can collectively work on their industry hotspot to find solutions or trial solutions within this region and come up with best practice, and create a blueprint for that. That can then be shared with other businesses because, at the moment, one of the biggest barriers is that businesses don't know where to start.
B Lab: Looking to the future, I feel like everyone in their personal life but especially in businesses has this moonshot - this thing they really would love to see that maybe seems a bit of a far reach. Do you have one of those for Chia Sisters that you want to accomplish?
Chloe: We've got so many. We've been fortunate enough to be involved with the Te Tauihu intergenerational strategy, which is a 500 year plan for this region. I would like to see no packaging, I would like to say no landfill. I would like to see businesses working closely with their communities to solve problems.
Congratulations to Chia Sisters for being recognised as Best for the World in Environment. See the rest of the Best for the World 2021 lists here.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.