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It’s easy to get skeptical when you hear words like making a difference and changemaker used to describe corporations and their sustainability efforts. Wonder what it all means and if the high praise is deserved?
A company in Chico is working hard to both grow its business and to be a force for good in the world. ChicoBag was launched in 2005 after its founder Andy Keller discovered the humongous amount of waste created by single use plastic bags.
But ChicoBag, which makes high quality reusable shopping bags, reusable bottles and reusable utensils, goes beyond just making great products you see in the supermarket and natural foods store.
In 2010, ChicoBag was honored by the California Product Stewardship Council with the Green Arrow Award. They also recognized the company for its “Bag Monster” character, who represents how many bags the average American uses each year.
Americans use 102 billion single use carry out bags each year. “If you tie them in a chain, they go around the world 776 times,” said Keller.
ChicoBag’s commitment to sustainability is active throughout the company. More than just words or an ad campaign, it lives in its business practices and its employees actions.
“We’re always trying to come up with new solutions that help people reduce waste in their life,” said Keller.
In an unusual business move, ChicoBag tabulates the waste it generates each month. They’re down to under one pound of landfillwaste per employee per month in Chico, said Keller. And it’s not a small office. Their Chico facility houses their design, marketingand shipping departments.
ChicoBag achieves such low waste a number of ways.
They compost their food waste and they have chickens in the office’s front yard to help process it.
“They’re very efficient in processing compost,” Keller said, and you can harvest the eggs! They also minimize waste by encouraging employees to use reusable containers and utensils. In fact, a new product called Take-out kits is in the works based on this idea. These will contain a reusable bag, reuslable clamshell containers, a reusable napkin anda pouch to hold reusable items such as utensils and straws.
“It (came) out of our own internal practices at the company,” said Keller. “We want to share this with the rest of the world.”
The culture at ChicoBag operates more like a family than a business. Employees pitch in to do chores to help minimize waste.
There’s a family job list at the company everyone signs up for, Keller said. Instead of using napkins or paper towels, they usereusable towels that go on hook with each employees name on it. At the end of each week, chores include someone washing the towels, someone signing up to take care of the chickens, someone emptying the dish wrack and putting the dishes away.
“It feels like a family environment (here),” said Keller. “We all contribute.”
Since ChicoBag doesn’t want their products to end up in landfills. consumers participate through the company’s take-back program. It’s part of their commitment to extended product responsibility.
What’s interesting, said Keller, is that a large percentage of the bags they receive from people across the country aren’t even their own bags! But they’ll still take them.
If they’re still usable, we’ll will distribute food in them at Food Banks, says Keller. If they’re not, they’ll work with non-profits to repurpose the bags. Also they make their Grateful Thread Rugs from reusable bags.
ChicoBag is a certified B Corporation – a company that focuses on social issues and the environment as well as profit.
“It’s (a way) to show the world that business can be done in a way that’s helpful and beneficial to the community and to the environment,” Keller said.
ChicoBag definitely walks the talk. Nice to know they’re in our area and always looking to expand the difference they make.