B Corp, short for Benefit Corporation, is a certification that organisations meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. Since its launch in 2006, more than 700 companies in 25 countries have joined the fray. (You might liken it to the Fairtrade certification for edible goods.)
While a number of New Zealand companies are going through the certification process, Eagle is the first local business to get the seal of approval, something managing director Steve Ardagh is understandably chuffed about. This shows the company walks the talk, he says, and since then the company has further formalised its international supplier processes, auditing employment practices, workplace conditions and environmental impact.
The process has also highlighted other areas for improvement, he says, as Eagle scraped through with just enough marks to pass.
Ardagh, whose previous career included a stint in marketing for PGG Wrightson, set up Eagle in 2006 with two staff (it now employs 11). It imports and distributes disposable goods such as rubber gloves for the food, medical, and general industries, which are sold on by resellers to companies like Fonterra, Sealord, and Talleys.
He says being a business that sells tangible products imported from overseas, particularly disposable ones that end up in landfills after being used by doctors, food processing workers and other end users, didn't make it easy.
"We're in a reasonably dirty business, but it has to be done – these products are needed."
It's then a case of doing the job as well as possible in terms of reducing environmental impact and maintaining good working conditions both here and at manufacturing sites in the likes of China, Malaysia and Thailand.
"It's not the kind of thing you grow up wanting to do, selling gloves," he laughs.
"I wanted to prove that you could have, what was on the face of it, a pretty boring business and make it fun and rewarding."
B Corp criteria span four categories: governance, workers, community, and environment. Factors range from income equality (the different between the highest paid employee and the lowest paid worker) through to local sourcing – something that was "a bit of a toughie" for Eagle. Aside from things like packaging and electricity, it's a business built on importing products that aren't readily made here.
Every two years companies must reapply, and can be audited at any time.
In a sense, he says, Eagle "imports landfill" and so it's looking to reduce waste all along the supply chain. "We have a low value product and I've always thought there must be more to it."
The company is investigating ways to produce different materials in conjunction with nanotech company Revolution Fibres, for example, and ways to improve in the areas of shipping and distribution.
It also developed a thinner glove that's just as strong, enabling it to double the amount of gloves that fit in a box, and redesigned boxes to fit exactly into the containers they come in, increasing the per-container load from 1,000 to 1,380. Its boxes also incorporate mobiles that customers like doctors and dentists can cut out, hang up and keep to amuse child patient, squeezing a little extra out of the packaging.
"The three things people talk about are 'reduce, reuse, recycle'. We're always focused on 'recycle'," he says.
But given that the constraints around dealing with used gloves, it makes sense to look into ways to make disposable gloves that last longer, for instance – gloves that would be still be disposable for hygiene purposes, but might reduce the number of pairs gone through in a day.
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