Stone Notebooks, Forest Fires and Building a Climate Positive Future: In Conversation With A Good Company

Last summer everything was just fucked up.

A good origin story always has an element of tragedy or disaster that leads to an epic realisation. It’s Spiderman’s “great power meets tragic death” moment. Or Batman’s oath to rid the city of crime after being orphaned in a back alley.

For many companies, there’s a burning desire to achieve something with their company. But for budding ecommerce startup A Good Company's CEO Anders Ankarlid, that desire comes from a life-changing personal experience.

It was crazy.

Our closest neighbor was 10 cows and we were just spending hours and hours just protecting them.

Anders was on his summer vacation with his family in northern Sweden. A vacation that should’ve been a very average stay in the Northern Swedish countryside.

It was something they did on a regular basis. But Summer 2018 was a whole different ball game.

The water dried out

It hasn't done that in 150 years.

Everything was burned so we had to spend basically most of the time just keeping the cows alive.

It was almost like we were in California or in some Hollywood movie which, yeah, felt very ... to put it in a not too dramatic manner, very unpleasant.

"Unpleasant" felt like down-playing the significance of his experience. Perhaps to not let his story overshadow the bigger issue of climate change that is the at the core of A Good Company.

A series of wildfires ravaged much of northern Sweden and parts of Scandinavia in the summer of 2018. The truth is, for Anders and his family it was a wake-up call.

Yeah. It freaked us out basically!

We as a family changed. We stopped eating meat.

We stopped doing traveling and we travel now in Sweden. Typically what we did before was going abroad as a lot of Europeans do. Yeah, we tried to shift with both us and our three kids. My oldest one does this climate strike every week. It's a huge movement going on where this comes to scale.

The awakening proved pivotal. With a background in e-commerce, Anders eyes were firmly opened to an industry ignorant to the damage they’re causing.

Mindless consumption is taking place every day and I have surely been a part of that as well.

I had an idea of coming back to the e-commerce field since I believe there’s a great potential and that led us onto the road of A Good Company.

We are a sort of counter reaction from my own climate panic. []A counter reaction and a shift from mindless consumption to conscious decisions.

The Good Cycle Beats the Revenue Cycle

One thing that’s clear is that climate change is a pressing issue for Anders. It’s unsurprising after the horrific ordeal that sparked the journey into climate positive e-commerce.

It’s a journey driven by a singular vision for the company. One of positivity and optimism for a better future.

We are trying to build an umbrella of climate positive innovations and build sustainable everyday products

I thought why not spend the best years you have doing something positive? That's the reason and the foundation of the company and hopefully that comes to light when we communicate and where we work with our new products and where we meet the factories that we are putting a lot of heart into it since it's basically, yeah. I'm not sure if we can fulfill the dream or not, but at least I will be able to look into my kid's eyes and say we gave it a fair try.

The ultimate goal is to change the behavior of consumption basically.

It’s a lofty goal, for sure. One that’s not pursued lightly.

The trouble is, as Anders points out to me, it’s not just the products that are screwing the climate. Every part of the supply chain needs to improve. From manufacture to packing, distribution, and a product’s after life.

Of course if we can have a decent amount of sales that is perfectly fine, but we're doing one thing as a good cause initiative where we have developed our own shipping material. So both outer boxes and envelopes and so on are made in stone paper.

We are approaching other e-commerce companies and other retailers to basically stop sending their, whatever items they sell, stop sending them in plastic and just bad paper and start to use this innovation. It's not that much more expensive. We spent six months developing it, it was super complicated, but now we have a solid product.

That's the major dream about the company, to change the behavior of how we as consumers do shopping online.

A Sustainable Future isn’t Rocket Science

It’s clear the driving force behind A Good Company is a burning desire to build a better future. Something more sustainable. To alleviate the strain on the planet through innovations such as their flagship product, a stone paper notebook.

Yes, you read that right.

Stone paper!

With all the various options for sustainable paper—Hemp, Linen, Straw—I can’t help but be curious about what led Anders and his team to settle on stone as their paper pulp source.

We’d heard about it and we thought it wasn't true. Then since we had people in Asia we were able to meet with this factory and really see that it was rock solid. I think the one thing that was really fascinating to us was that it's only reused material and secondly it's a completely dry process. So you don't add any water to it. To be able to produce a pulp paper notebook, like a standard A5 one, to be able to it in pulp paper this is maybe 400 liters of water. That's a lot. And you need to have fresh water. You can't use salt water. And the fresh water supply is limited, it stands for 2% of the total water serve. A lot of people don't have water, they can't take it for granted as we can do, we can just open the tap.

One thing we found out that actually, we can do it without adding any water. So, then we started to read about trees and how important they are for us as people.

I realized after digging into trees that they are, as of now, the only thing that can hinder carbon emission. Those are the only things that can bring down the carbon emission. Of course, we as people can produce less emissions which is super crucial. But for the existing emissions the only thing that will help us to refresh the air is trees.

To be able to make one of those notebooks again in a pulp paper alternative, that's 0.3 trees, like a regular, normal tree.

There's also the case of deforestation in the Amazonas. So we thought that, okay, maybe we can develop a product that can, one, be better: it's super nice to write on, it's super smooth, it’s tear resistant, water resistant, blah blah blah.

But also it's actually doing super good. So as of now maybe we sold, I don't know, 20,000 notebooks or something. That's like saving 5000 trees. Each tree is fresh air for two people in 20 years, so we then give 10,000 people fresh air. That's how we calculate.

It’s fair to say I’d never really thought about how much of an average tree goes into a single notepad. Or indeed made the connection between trees and the future of clean, breathable, fresh air. Like many I guess it’s just something I’ve never thought about. A Good Company wants to change that.

I believe that a lot of customers are blindfolded. And I feel that a lot of consumers even in areas like Asia which have a bad reputation of the environment, they are about the environment. They care about the pollution and they care about having the kids be able to have a solid earth to walk on.

So I believe if we can help educating and inspiring both our consumers but also in the end other brands perhaps, I will be super, super happy. That's a lot more important than achieving a budget. So it's very value driven. A lot of time I've been stupid, but you only have one life.

It's not rocket science, we’re not building something to go to Mars, we're building a sustainable e-commerce chain. It's not that complicated.

Transparency Breeds Equality

It’s fair to say A Good Company have an incredible ambition. Changing the world by saving consumers from their own crappy purchasing habits is no easy task.

And it’s a task that’ll no doubt bring scrutiny from climate change deniers and sceptics.

Throughout my research I was surprised and overjoyed to see A Good Company putting vast amounts of effort going into openness and transparency. Sharing crucial details about their supply chain and products, right down to the failures.

I think on one hand it's much easier to be completely transparent than hiding in the dark. It's easier for us to communicate. Like when I was in Asia last week, to communicate about that and the things we achieve there rather than just writing a regular story.

We are quite transparent people, Swedish people with their legacy has also a very transparent history. It’s how we are as people I guess.

Secondly I believe that the whole e-commerce industry and the retail industry is too much of a black box. You get a product in the end, but how’s it made? By who? By which type of raw material? How is it all blended up? How is it shipped? how does it come through the fulfillment center? It's all a black box kind of thing and we just want to open that box and say, hey, this is how it's done!

I think that me and you as a consumer can set those demands to companies. It's not realistic and someone is just always paying.

I tend to use this example if you buy a shirt. Both of them are white and one costs £5 and the other costs £15. They look alike. One is maybe a little bit better in terms of the fabrics and so on, but pretty much the same.

The only difference with that is that the one that costs £5, someone else is paying. That's the only thing with it.

We are quite automated. We use a lot of apps. We use you to decrease the manual customer service and be able to reply to one common question one time in a good manner instead of replying on the same thing over and over again. But there is an end to how much efficiency you can put into things and we just think that there must be a fair price.

Why is my Swedish or your UK life, why is that more important than someone working for us in Taiwan or Vietnam that can't put food on the table working 16 hours.

He’s right, of course. It’s something we hear time and again. Somewhere along the line someone is paying the price for our cheap t-shirts and budget groceries.

I think—at least I hope—it’s also true that most of us do care about how things are made and who’s impacted by our purchasing decisions. It’s hard to miss the backlash against people like Amazon for the way they treat their employees.

As Anders points out, it’s easy for us as consumers to ignore those details in favour of mindless consumption. And A Good Company aims to change that through transparency and education.

I believe that we need to declare why we do things and hopefully we can influence other companies to be more transparent since I think that consumers can take it. And they're interested, we get a lot of emails of appreciation for being very transparent.

I think if you're transparent and in some respects educate the consumers on how it's made and how complicated the process is, perhaps they can value the product a little bit more and value the craftsmanship behind it.