Imagine you run a company that produces millions of pots of toiletries every year. Now imagine that, instead of those millions of plastic pots going to landfill, you want to collect, clean, and reuse those pots. But… How on Earth do you even begin to try and achieve this in a system that is totally set up for single use?
Enter Claire and Emily of Reath. Reath have been called the ‘plumbers of the circular economy’: they have developed cutting-edge data tracking systems to enable backend traceability and data management that allows companies to trace their products through a reuse and recycling system.
Practically, this means that for consumable products that have batch codes (e.g. on your pot of moisturiser you used this morning), Reath can generate a digital passport so that you can track your products as they are being returned, cleaned, re-filled and re-used. This trackability ensures that reuse safety standards can be monitored and adhered to, and can help companies optimise reverse logistics and, moreover, provides unique insights into both customer behaviour and of the environmental impact of your reuse system.
Two stark statistics about packing illustrate the chasm at the heart of achieving circularity and sustainability at the moment: 81% consumers want reusable and/or refill options but only 1.9% of packaging fits this bill.
Whilst the public are clearly looking for sustainable options it is, say Emily and Claire, comfort, convenience and cost that drive decision-making from producers, and these three things don't always align with ethical and sustainable ideals. The market research Reath has undertaken over the past few years means the team have a superb handle on these dynamics, and of the importance of being pragmatic: ultimately, businesses have to be realistic - if a new, reusable system is three times the price, you will probably reach a small dedicated market, but alienate the majority of customers and will struggle to scale.
Reath’s data gathering and analytics help companies understand these dynamics and how best they can achieve their sustainability goals. Claire and Emily are driven by their joint vision for a better future and are guided by data analytics. They are clear that they do not want to help companies pivot to a reuse system that is worse for the planet than a single use system; the data they collate and interpret helps them, and their clients, to fully understand and make responsible choices.
Reath’s key customers are retailers, particularly in the fast moving consumer goods world. They work with companies as large as M&S that are trialling new reuse models and as small as reuse-first start-up brands. Their subscription-based software licence fee model means their revenue directly corresponds with the volume of items tracked, enabling smaller, challenger brands to have access to Reath’s infrastructure as well as the major brands.
According to Reath, the future is one of reuse. The team are putting in all their energies into helping make this a reality and helping to enable a healthy future for the planet: this is the world they want to build and they’re absolutely helping to build it.
Before Reath was officially a company, Claire and Emily wrote directly to companies and asked why they were not reusing their packaging. They knew they couldn't develop a solution without first understanding exactly what the pain points and hurdles were for companies to overcome. They learned that legislation, design insights, and the sheer challenge involved with flipping from a linear system to a circular one were key issues. The research demonstrated that there was a space in the market for a digital tech approach to logistics that was tailored for circular systems. They realised they could help companies manage compliance hurdles and predict the pattern of reusable assets will come back.
Claire and Emily have known each other from their university days. They knew they worked well together but did not necessarily know exactly how, when or what would drive them to work together in the future. Fast forward almost a decade, as two young female founders in the tech world, they’ve had to negotiate a raft of difficulties, and having a co-founder you trust implicitly has helped them both to have the confidence to push on.
Early on, Claire and Emily did a deep dive into the world of circularity - they knew this was what they wanted to base a business on, but they didn't hit on data traceability for some time. They were simply learning so fast about logistics and supply chains and company and customer attitudes that they had to fully embrace changing their focus on a regular basis. But such thorough learning - and a commitment to core goals from the off - has certainly paid off.
The Reath team have worked closely with various researchers and circular economy experts, notably with the University of St Andrews, so they can get a proper handle on life cycle analysis. By doing so, they help their clients avoid a greenwashing trap by understanding the full life cycle analysis of any new product.
Ultimately, Reath provides a practical and robust service that really helps their clients get a thorough understanding of their products and the behaviours of their customers. In the words of one of Reath’s customers, their service makes them ‘get up and dance’ - there can be no better vote of confidence than that!