Sandra Ann Harris is the Founder and CEO of ECOlunchbox. Sandra is a thought leader, influencer, visionary, and successful entrepreneur. Sandra provides the leadership and energy that has inspired the creation of ECOlunchbox. Sandra Ann Harris joins other leading Bestselling Authors, International Speakers & Entrepreneur, and Founder and CEO’s taking part in our Leader Roundtable Interview Series. The DotCom Magazine editorial team is delighted to have Sandra join us for our Leader Roundtable Interview.
Let’s start by telling us about your business.
People globally are searching for solutions to reduce their plastic footprint. ECOlunchbox is meeting this surging demand for non-toxic, plastic-free food containers that are healthy for people and planet.
Our California company has been a market leader in the eco-friendly food container category since 2009. We develop and sell innovative stainless steel and silicone lunchware designed to help people reduce their use of plastics for health and environmental reasons. Our popular leakproof Blue Water Bento collection features leakproof steel containers topped with colorful silicone lids embossed with inspirational ocean designs. Our ECOlunchbox Classic collection is made from 100% stainless steel.
We sell our products direct to consumer via our online store as well as on Amazon and in brick-and-mortar stores. Natural and zero-waste grocery stores, children and maternity stores, outdoor retailers, and online boutiques as well as The Container Store and Anthropologie stock our products nationwide. Internationally, we have established distribution throughout Canada, Europe, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico and Chile.
Demand for our zero-waste, plastic-free products is strongly surging now due to heightened awareness of plastic pollution in our oceans and the health risks associated with exposure to toxins in plastic. Our mission-based brand and products are already much beloved by consumers and we’ve been featured in Martha Stewart, Real Simple, Cooking Light, Architectural Digest, Forbes, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Sierra, Eating Well and scores of other publications.
Q: Please tell us how you make sure your customers will become raving fans of your company?
The heartbeat of ECOlunchbox is to be of service to our customers and the environment. There are several ways we seek to be best in class in terms of putting to market exceptional, plastic-free products as well as attending to stakeholders through out our business ecosystem. Whether it’s providing excellent customer service, measuring our carbon footprint, requiring our manufacturing partners to sign a code of conduct to ensure fair labor, we are constantly striving to improve the way we go about operating as a business with multiple bottom lines. In addition to driving profit, we are also focused on people and planet. All together we have a triple bottom line business: profit, people and planet! Furthermore, we’re mission based and certified as both a B Corp and a California Green Business. B Corp
Certified B Corporations™ (B Corps™) are for-profit companies that use the power of business to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
They meet the highest verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. As of 2018, there are more than 2,500 B Corps in 130 industries and 60 countries around the world. B Corps™ are businesses that meet the highest verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
California Green Business
Certified California Green Businesses exceed all environmental regulations, and implement specific practices to reduce pollution, save water, conserve energy, and protect human health. Being a Certified Green Business is the clearest way to show your community and customers that you care about sustainability. It shows them that you are committed to taking action to conserve resources and prevent pollution in both the facility and operations. It means that your business complies with environmental regulations in the areas of waste, energy, water, pollution prevention, and air quality.
Q: Please tell us the one thing that separates your business from the competition?
ECOlunchbox puts to market products that are 100% plastic-free. Why no plastic? Currently, plastic is accumulating in our environment at an alarming rate. Almost 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans annually, according to the latest study available from the University of California Santa Barbara. More than 1,200 species are threatened by plastic pollution and 1 million sea creatures are harmed and killed every year, according to plastics researchers. Indisputably, all animals, including humans, rely heavily on the health of our oceans and will sicken and die if our big blue continues to be choked with plastic. My passion for plastic-free living started with my kids. I was worried their long-term health would be jeopardized by constant exposure to plastic food containers and a myriad of other products used in our daily lives. I also love to sail, kayak, hike and explore our natural world. I was alarmed to see the plastic building up on our beaches and blowing through our forests.
I was unexpectedly spurred into action in 2008 to do something to help alleviate this growing problem. So, I launched ECOlunchbox to make available a 100% plastic-free food container line. We are a mission-based company helping families to reduce their dependence on plastic for health and environmental reasons. Even I was surprised by my decision to undertake this consumer product approach to positively addressing the growing dependence on plastics. My background previously had been journalizing and humanitarian aid work, so I had no experience that would have prepared me for starting a company. I have now published a book about my entrepreneurial journey and the plastic pollution crisis our globe faces. The book is called “Say Goodbye to Plastic: A Survival Guide for Plastic-Free Living.”
Q: And to finish this section, Please tell us what is the one major key to your company’s success?
We authentically care about doing the right thing and serving our stakeholders at the absolute highest level! Furthermore, we’ve build strong relationships with other businesses working in the eco-friendly space as well as non-profits with alignment, such as the Plastic Pollution Coalition. These partnerships have strengthened our reach as well as provided an ongoing (free) opportunity for mutual coaching, lead sharing and brainstorming for solutions to continue to build our success.
Q: For our readers just starting to build a company, what advice can you give entrepreneurs just starting out with a new venture?
If you’re looking for quick cash flow, keep your day job. I wouldn’t recommend being an entrepreneur. It’s generally a risky business with a long on-ramp to profitability. But if you have passion and persistence and think you can afford to stick with your concept long enough to kickstart a baby business’s engines, then read on. Start with a dream. Then, get down to brass tacks by doing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and listen to what the data shows. A “back of the napkin” SWOT is enough to get started looking at whether you think you can surmount the challenges to win your market share. If you think you’ve got a good idea and a winnable plan, find an advisor and get some candid feedback.
The Small Business Administration in your county can probably connect you for free with an expert who can help you develop your SWOT into a business plan. Yes, you’ve got to write it down and set some metrics when it comes to timeline and financial targets. Ready, set, and go to launching as soon as possible a simple version of your product, sometimes called an MVP (minimally viable product) to see if you can get people to open their wallets to pay you for your offering. Try to quickly make something available for sale. The proof of your concept will be not in the “pudding,” as the saying goes, but in your target consumer’s willingness to open their wallets!
Q: For entrepreneurs seeking to build a business as successful as yours, what big piece of advice can you give them when times get a little challenging?
Re-do your SWOT! Check your business plan to see if you’re on track of off track. Call your advisor for advice and encouragement.
Q: In today’s fast changing business environment, how do you stay abreast of things?
I try to maintain a relatively strict information diet. As a former journalist, it’s easy to go down rabbit holes of information. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to prioritize action over passive activities, like reading too much instead of working in your new business. Sample a few podcasts or email newsletters or Zoom seminars or LinkedIn groups and pick just one or two targeted to your area of interest that provide valuable insights. Unsubscribe from the rest!
Q: What is your “Why”? In one sentence, why do you get up in the morning?
After 12 years, I’m still 100% passionate about our plastic-free mission of educating, inspiring and empowering families to reduce their dependence on plastic by providing high-quality, plastic-free food container alternatives.
Q: In one sentence, what is the most important thing one has to do to be a great leader?
Be brave, vulnerable and curious!
Q: In one sentence, describe how important your customers are to your business?
We consider our customers to be our community and they mean the world to us.
Q: In one sentence, describe a positive way that technology can make the world a better place?
Technology provides many things, but I’ll recommend it here specifically for entrepreneurs who are short on time and seek to automate routine tasks by setting up rules and sequences, such as a series of Google Forms to intake new customers or a shipping system that can calculate based on weight and zipcode various freight options.
Q: In one sentence, tell us how something positive to motivate our readers?
With passion, persistence and patience, you can achieve your goals!
Q: In one sentence, tell us how you start your day to get ready?
I breathe mindfully. Plus, coffee with homemade almond milk.
Q: In one sentence, describe how you handle rejection and setback?
I breathe, take a brief walk to reflect and then lean in to the learning.
Q: In one sentence, describe what your hiring philosophy is?
I seek people who care about our mission and love what they do.
Q: In one sentence, describe how you keep your sanity in a competitive business environment?
I schedule vacations quarterly no matter what.
Sandra Ann Harris, thank you so much for participating in the DotCom Magazine Leader Roundtable Interview Series. We appreciate you participating in this important roundtable interview series, and helping our readers learn more about what it takes to build a great company and become a great leader. We wish you, your family, and of course ECOlunchbox, nothing but the best.