Article by Global Good Awards.
RED-INC; SAVING THE PLANET ONE PAPER DELIVERY AT A TIME
Next-day delivery is imperative for getting medical supplies, or urgent documents, to their destination. But is it really necessary for replenishing the department’s stash of A4 envelopes and black biros? Not at all, says Adam Huttly, CEO and founder of Red-Inc, the award-winning office supplies company that puts ethics and sustainability first and foremost
When Adam Huttly set up Red-Inc in 2008, the office supplies market was a cut-throat, cut-price sector.
“It was pretty grim,” remembers Adam. “There was a ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ mentality. Nothing new was going on and I just knew I could do it differently. In fact it’s fair to say that this mind set is still very present today, companies selling on price alone. I’d like to see a change in this for the sake of the industry.
The industry then was built on price and free, next-day delivery – but why? “We’re not talking blood deliveries to hospitals here. When it came to stationery, the practice was purely based on companies’ purchasing patterns and habits,” he explains. So Adam set about changing those habits, and that’s why customers at Red-Inc undergo a stationery audit before any transaction – which usually results in a cost saving, but delves far deeper into the sustainability side of how they can help the business. “It’s about changing the culture and the way office supplies are purchased,” he emphasises.
Don’t get Adam wrong – customers are still in control of their own delivery timescale. But it’s all about introducing a new purchasing process. So if a customer orders on a Tuesday, then Wednesday is their ‘day of care’, when their products will be packed and consolidated, and the order is then delivered on Thursday. There are no willy-nilly deliveries, and all orders are packed in reusable, plastic tote boxes so there’s no bulky, excess packaging to dispose of either. Of course if a client needs a next day drop, this is fine too.
“We wanted to think differently and run a responsible business. We’ve taken a minimalist approach and created our own business model – one the focuses in service, impact and cost equally”.
Indeed, there are no telesales, no cold calling, and no sales staff at the Red-Inc HQ in Littlehampton. But you will find dedicated, talented people that are aligned with the company’s mission.
It was a brave move to introduce such a model, and Adam freely admits – like many a ‘disruptive’ entrepreneur – to taking a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. And it has paid off: the proposition is attracting companies with similar purpose and values, those that also value a truly sustainable solution.
One badge of honor is the WWF-UK. Lauren Wiseman, its environmental manager, lauds Red-Inc’s approach: “At WWF-UK we strive to ensure that we’re not just doing right by the planet in our conservation work, we’re also walking the talk as an organisation. In the past we’ve experienced limited green product ranges, unnecessary and excessive packaging, and an insistence that there’s just not enough demand from other customers to warrant going green. Red-Inc have proved this to be incorrect and we are very excited to join them in their mission to change the stationery industry and the planet. Working with Red-Inc not only makes good business sense but also proves that stationery doesn’t have to cost the earth.”
Adam admits that ploughing his own furrow has not been easy. “Setting up in October 2008 was at the start of the global recession and combined with a ‘green’ proposition, it was a tough start.”
But his passion and drive rose to the challenge. “Living sustainably is part of my DNA – it’s not about box-ticking,” he explains. “When I’m talking to clients, it’s not just office supplies I’m selling, but the idea and ethos of the company too.”
In the last two years, awareness of sustainability has grown hugely. “Companies now have sustainability departments, not just one man banging a drum. It’s become authentic and the switch has definitely clicked,” says Adam. “Lots of clients are now proactive in asking for help in this area – and we’re here to help. After all, Red-Inc has been operating sustainably from the get-go.”
In 2017 Red-Inc became the first UK company in the office supplies sector to become a certified B Corp. Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end, creating a positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.
“When we discovered the certification, we found a group of people who were just like us – believing things could be done differently and better,” Adam recalls. The process of becoming B Corp certified is rigorous. “However, it really showed that our mission was right and given the way the company had been set up from the start, it only took two months to receive accreditation. We fitted like a glove,” he says.
Every element of the business has to fit the company’s values – hence employees receiving the National Living Wage, the use of renewable energy, and the entire operation being carbon-neutral (through an offsetting partnership with Ecosphere+).
One of the ways Red-Inc is addressing its carbon emissions is through its tree-planting scheme. For every two boxes of paper it sells, an acre of rainforest is protected via a collaboration with the Rainforest Trust UK (for every single box of paper sold, a tree is planted).
“When you’re in office supplies, selling paper is pretty much front of mind for most people,” says Adam. “We supply and encourage the use of recycled paper wherever we can, but this offset scheme really rebalances the equation for us. Planting trees simply isn’t enough; to date we’ve protected 5,314 acres of rainforest.”
By 2021 Red-Inc’s objective is to have funded the protection of 12,000 acres of threatened rainforest.
The company currently operates various recycling programmes – and Adam is currently working out how to solve the problem of redundant small pieces of office equipment such as hole-punches. “How can we solve that problem?” he asks. “Can they be recycled or upcycled in some way?”
Given Adam’s success and determination so far, that old stapler hiding at the back of your desk drawer may well soon be given a new lease of life…