Newday Impactors: Christopher Breen, Head of Partnerships, Public Goods
The affordable e-commerce model democratizing clean, simple, everyday products
Interviewed by Doug Heske, CEO of Newday Impact Investing
How has Public Goods disrupted the industry?
At the core of the business, we are solving a problem all too common in today’s shopping experience, complexity. Too many choices, bright colors, price gouging, low quality. Public Goods has created a headache-free, calm, and simple shopping experience. We believe shopping for essential items should be accessible and simple. Our relationship with those who are curious about our goods only becomes stronger when they experience the items in person. The design-centric nature of the packaging, the clean ingredients, and the way the items look next to each other is something that I know our whole company is proud to represent. It’s amazing to be able to distribute beautiful products that are affordable.
Additionally, we have been able to listen to our customers’ wants and expand rapidly into more product categories. Every new product we add makes our membership more valuable and creates another step in the right direction towards being able to get all of your household essentials from one place.
What triggered Public Good’s mission to push for sustainability?
We found that there is a strong intersection between health and sustainability. In providing our customers with healthy and clean products, making the packaging better for the environment was a no-brainer. The great thing about the sustainability efforts is that there is always room for progress and improvement. It keeps our product development team challenged, and it allows everyone one of us to be on our toes regarding the next steps we can take. It also calls for accountability and it’s on us to do what we can with the resources we have to improve as a company.
What are some ways the company maintains environmentally friendly practices for the product lines?
When looking to launch a new product, most importantly we are looking for ethical vendors who can help us bring healthy, high-quality, clean, safe, and sustainable products into the hands of our customers. There’s a lot that can go into a decision when launching a new product. Organic? Vegan? Gluten-Free? Paraben-Free? Tree-Free? Broader thoughts may be, how can we launch the best product we can, and also make it affordable?
I often am asked “how do you guys manage a product line that large?”. Well in short, it’s not easy. But the work our product development and operations team has put into launching and managing these amazing products is nothing short of incredible.
Beyond the products themselves, the effort to achieve eco-friendliness in our shipping-packaging is a focal point of ours. My colleague Lloyd, our director of operations, published a fantastic write up about our newly introduced compostable box wrap we use in our shipping operations. We have been listed on a great site, Slash Packaging, that links to our packaging story, but also shows other brands and their steps towards eco-friendly packaging.
What type of products best represents your mission to save the planet in small and incremental ways?
We are most known for our white personal care bottles that are made from a sugarcane-based resin. This material is a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastic and is recyclable. I always recommend that those who use our personal products take advantage of our refills and keep their bottles as long as they can. I’ve had mine for over a year now and they have held up well.
Some of our most eco-friendly and popular products that form great habits are the
We encourage our cleaner bottles to be used over and over with the refills—the same with our dental floss jar. The Ayate Washcloth is a personal favorite and has a great story behind it.
What impacts do you think COVID-19 will have on consumers prioritizing purchasing sustainable over non-sustainable products?
That’s a great question. With everyone being home now during quarantine, more and more we are relying on e-commerce sites to bring us what we are looking for rather than going out to get it. Like I mentioned before, I think this will call for a global improvement of packaging.
It’s hard to say how the virus will affect the consumer appetite for sustainable products. Although, I think it will make consumers increasingly aware of their purchasing habits. I also assume that because of COVID-19 and the effect on the economy, consumer spending will decrease and people will look to focus on buying only essentials. We have increased our inventory significantly to meet the demand from our new customers and are excited to continue helping people gain access to a much better shopping experience.
Are there any interesting upcoming products or initiatives in your roadmap that you can share with us?
There was one thing we were just getting started on prior to the travel industry shuttering. I’ve been obsessive about trying to help the hospitality industry be less wasteful. We’ve formed some great partnerships and so much has happened in a short period of time. We were able to work with two hotels in Hawaii to transition their entire amenity away from single-use products.
Soon we will be producing stainless holsters to install in hotel bathrooms, and we are aiming to transition as many hotels as we can to a more sustainable daily operation. California is a state making the most efforts in this regard; their ban against single-use products is set to take place in 2023. But as the problem becomes more widely known, many establishments are taking action now.
What are the values that your management team embraces today that are reflected in the Public Goods business?
Another great question. We are still a small company, less than 30 full-time employees, and we are all very close. We all really lean on each other to make things happen, I especially need my teammates. Without operations running smoothly, my role would be neutralized. Kindness and compassion comes with being an employee, as well as talent and independence. In terms of company leadership, I often think of this quote by George S. Patton: “Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”. The business truly has become reflective of everybody's independent efforts.
How does Public Goods compare to other consumer products companies?
What makes us stand out the most is our breadth of products and our consistency. Simplicity and consistency are undervalued in our shopping experience and should be widely available for everybody.
We also operate on a membership model. We keep our prices low by charging a small yearly membership fee to shop. This gives us interesting opportunities to provide more value to our customers than you would normally get if you were to just buy a product on a website. Our tree planting initiative is a great example of this.
What are some of the challenges you face?
This may be more of a role-specific challenge rather than a company-wide challenge, but our growing number of products can add a layer of complexity to mass-distribution. For example, if we were just selling our toothpaste, which I love, it’d be a clear direction for my team to make our toothpaste a household name. End goal: get the toothpaste out in the world.
When there's a broad selection of goods, one week we may be partnering with a hotel to launch popcorn in their minibar, followed by working with a retailer for our personal care products, and then closing off the week trying to ground-ship 180 units of a glass product like pesto to a client--which we then learned, requires thicker padded packaging! These are good problems to have, but as I mentioned earlier about competitive shopping experiences, lots of possibilities can create confusion and complexity.
If you can change one thing about the world today, what would you change?
Confidently, I can say that our relationship with the environment and outdoors can always be improved. I’d like to see this become a cultural norm, considered equally as important as the importance we put on our individual health.