Interview 27th February 2020
A Studio of Our Own (ASOOO): Could you give us an overview of Zero Waste Club and how you and Rishi started the company?
Pawan Saunya: During A-Levels I watched The Age of Stupid; a documentary which shows the link between unsustainable consumption, global warming and the extinction of animals world-wide. I nearly started crying in class, and it led me to start watching more environmental documentaries at home.
After this I deferred to University and started Zero Waste Club with Rishi. I decided “Hey, we’re limited on time, we have to do something now.” We had no idea what we were doing then; we started with bamboo toothbrushes and planted trees with the profits. We’ve now moved into designing and manufacturing our own eco-friendly products, and we wholesale them UK-wide.
ASOOO: How did you find sourcing the products at first? Was it easy to find good suppliers?
Pawan: When we started, we did a lot of research and we realised that the issue with suppliers is that they’re not always trustworthy. They may have certificates and disclaimers, but when you look into it, they’re not true. For example, the bristles we started with were meant to be biodegradable within 30 years, but, when we received them, they weren’t biodegradable—they were nylon sticks. It’s pretty hard to find true transparency in external supply chains.
ASOOO: They’re so complicated and so far removed from the origin, I guess…
Pawan: Absolutely. Also, if someone says something’s biodegradable in 30 years, no one’s going to come back in 30 years and check it. That’s why research institutions are really good—they go into a lot of depth.
ASOOO: When you look into sustainability you often come across the sentiment that the future holds the answers. However, looking through your range of products, they almost seem old-fashioned. Where would you say that Zero Waste Club sits on the line between futuristic and old-fashioned solutions?
Pawan: That’s a really interesting point—in the past we knew how to sustain ourselves without excessive consumption. At Zero Waste Club we believe that buying reusables is the best thing you can do, and a lot of these reusables are based on older models. In the long run you save a lot of energy and money by not buying disposables, too.
ASOOO: …And what does the term sustainability mean to you?
Pawan: To me, sustainability is all about our ability to live cohesively. It’s about living in harmony with our surroundings; to grow without having a strain on the environment.
If we continue with “business as usual” we’re going downhill in terms of sustainability. Imagine if beef producers made plant-based foods instead—it would consume less than one tenth of what it requires to produce meat. It is possible to transition to a sustainable economy if we change our habits and business. However, eating meat seems to be something closely tied into people’s culture, family and emotions. I’m interested to see where we go with food and animals in the future.
ASOOO: What advice would you give to creatives who want to be more socially and environmentally aware with their work?
Pawan: I think you have to bite the bullet, state what you believe in and then just really go for it; find mentors and people who are excelling in their work and spend time with them.
ASOOO: So much of what we buy is because of habit—but it’s also to do with the Capitalist system within which we operate—a system that encourages reckless consumption. Can sustainable business play a part in changing this?
Pawan: We can’t ignore money, and so I think it’s really important to push our political leaders to take immediate action. Politicians and businesses do play a huge role in what we consume, but I also think that it also comes down to individuals changing their actions and sharing what they believe in; showing that we’re not just shouting because we want to, but because there’s truth and science in what we’re saying.
Businesses are especially bad as they’re responsible for most greenhouse gasses: c. 100 businesses are responsible for 70% of all greenhouse gasses produced worldwide. I really believe that businesses have the power to change how the economy works—what people buy always affects the environment.
The sad fact is that most business wouldn’t put their short-term gain over long-term gain to fight climate change. The larger ones especially take a long time to change. That’s why we have to campaign—the political scene needs to up its game.
Just remember: every time you buy something, you’re casting your vote. In this day and age, how you spend your money and the business that you choose to spend it with directly influences what you put out to the world. It’s important to buy and vote smart.
ASOOO: How do you think being nice, brave and honest got you to where you are today?
Pawan: Honesty is completely crucial in business, but it’s also really crucial in looking after your own mental health, too. And being nice is the essence of being a human being—at their core everyone wants to be nice. I do think that being brave is relative, though. There are times you should be brave and times you shouldn’t be; it’s really important to be brave logically rather than emotionally. It’s also important to do something worthwhile through being brave, rather than doing something because of what someone thinks or says about you.
Visit Pawan at Zero Waste Club and say Hey! From the ASOOO team:
Zero Waste Club Instagram: @zerowasteclub
Zero Waste Club Facebook: /zerowasteclubuk