Smollan Wasting No Time in Backing Green

For a sustainable shift to happen in the circular economy moves must be made to step outside brainstorming sessions, and lip service paid to the nice to have narrative, and an investor who believes in using business for good to make their mark. Enter stage left Smollan and their recent partnership with Mr Green Africa, a fair-trade plastics recycling company based in Kenya.

Smollan, a retail solutions company delivering growth for retailers and brand owners across five continents, is powered by talented people and focused on enabling communities in which they operate. The Mr Green Africa partnership made perfect sense in terms of the bigger picture and a green future forward approach.

Partners in Mr Green Africa Kieran Smith, CEO and Co-Founder and Karim Debabe, Managing Partner, felt that with their expertise when it comes to building the waste network and Smollan’s long standing influence in dealing with consumers along with their purpose led value proposition, this was a meeting of minds with the potential to make a real difference.

Mr Green Africa is on a journey to improve the livelihoods of waste pickers, who play a vital role in the reclamation of recyclable materials across much of the developing world as the business scales. With the key focus on closing the loop from consumer to plastics manufacturer through its supply network and high value recycled plastics, and a desire to push beyond, ‘recycling on Mars – why not!’, this was a space for their collection system and infrastructure to drive impactful purposeful procurement.

Likewise, this speaks to the passion that Smollan brings to this partnership, with the goal of building business’s through connecting people, brands and opportunities in ways that create growth and transform lives. “We hope to contribute to reducing the environmental impact associated with single use plastic and support many of our FMCG clients who are on their own path towards enhanced sustainability within their supply chains” says Mike Smollan, Chief Growth and Innovation Officer at Smollan.

But it goes even deeper than that as one comes to realise when chatting to this young, dynamic crew of self-starters, where the duo of Kieran and Karim are like two heads on one body as they explain what the circular economy means to them.

“One needs to consider several aspects – the first and most obvious is, resources been kept in a loop. Plastic over-and-over again; the same cycle without having to extract and waste and pollute. The second point, and this is where the opportunity lies, is the life cycle of products. We now need to consider that on a human level as we make sure supply chains and stakeholders in the cycle are equally benefitting. And then finally the local element is required for it to be truly effective. Local context with local solutions, where working with vulnerable groups of people goes way beyond price points” says Kieran.

As the pandemic reached Africa earlier this year it highlighted to the Mr Green Africa team that local value chains are getting more important and magnified the downside of the globalised world. “It revealed that basic needs like waste management remain even more in crisis. Whatever happens, even with a virus, people want to get rid of their waste and not have it laying around. And that local, government and legal support is critical. This was a real eye opener for us” says Karim.

Making the conscious shift for consumers can also be tricky. As the waste journey unfolded for the Green team, they realised that the environmental narrative is not close enough for ‘us’ to act today. One brings one’s bottle back but there is no real emotion to that. The goal of Mr Green Africa is to make it a more tangible and emotive connection for consumers where they are drawn in to participate and where the process is kept as simple and convenient as possible and barriers removed. In fact, Karim feels that the breakthrough will happen when no one notices. “When the key driver will not be consumer driven but it will be brand owner driven. When big FMCG companies decide to shift their attention things will start to change. It is a triangle of innovation, convenience, and marketing. When these three harmonise, it will bring change and a new approach to circularity”, he said.

Undoubtedly all moving parts are being considered in the Mr Green Africa’s business model in close co-operation with Smollan – with the understanding that there can be no circularity if the concept itself doesn’t have the local value addition and financial and incremental sustainability which will ultimately solve issues around waste.

“We are excited about the partnership with Smollan, as the vision and values of our organisations are perfectly aligned. We share the fundamental belief that this partnership is a perfect example of the African proverb; “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” says Kieran.

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