Environmental entrepreneur: Kresse Wesling

Kresse Wesling, founder of recycling company Eako, explains why she gives half of her profits away to waste management charities.

Kresse Wesling, founder of recycling company Eako, explains why she gives half of her profits away to waste management charities.

Kresse Wesling, founder of recycling company Eako, explains why she gives half of her profits away to waste management charities.

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Who you are and what do you do?
My name is Kresse Wesling, I’m an environmental entrepreneur. I’ve been doing environmental work for seven years now. It’s all I’m ever going to do because I don’t think we have time to do anything else as a civilised society. Eako is my social enterprise. We reclaim industrial and commercial waste. We up-cycle it. That means we build as much value as humanly possible into it. We sell it and then we donate half of our profits to charities associated with the waste.

How did you get started?

I met the London Fire Brigade basically. I was doing a course on ISO 14001, which is an environmental management system. I wanted to be able to audit all of the things that I was working on at the time. [The] London Fire Brigade was there with a problem – hose has to be decommissioned when it gets too old to repair, to damaged to repair or beyond its shelf life. And I saw it, loved it and started storing it. We stored it for about two years before we knew what to do with it. And then we got a call from Live Earth, they wanted green merchandise for the London event. We made them five hundred belts, they all sold and the business was begun.

Tell us about your products.

Fire hose is double-wall rubber. It’s built absolutely to last. It will never, ever degrade in landfill and it’s got this incredible sheen to it. It comes in beautiful colours. French hose, which we’re going to get our hands on very shortly, is this lovely gun-metal grey and everyone knows how trendy that is. It’s got a longer life than leather. It’s fireproof, it’s waterproof and you can treat it like leather. You can work it like leather and build something that is incredibly beautiful and filled with skill and love and commitment. So I think if you see the end product you will understand its value. We’ve also started another range which is made from jute sack waste. When coffee beans are imported into the UK they come in big seventy kilo sacks and these typically end up in landfill, even though they are compostable, which is kind of insane. So we started collecting them. Our first project is with Sainsbury’s. We’ve made them a re-usable shopper. In the case of that 50 per cent of our profits are donated back to the coffee growers, which is a great loop because the coffee comes in sacks that they’ve packed, so it only makes sense for them to benefit from the re-usable shopper and Sainsbury’s has been a fantastic partner in that.

What is a Social Enterprise?

Social enterprises have either the environment or people at the core of the business. So my business doesn’t exist without the waste problem. We exist and we were launched to solve a problem which was the fire hose, ok, so that in of itself makes us a social enterprise. Equally, we give 50 per cent of our profits to charities associated with the waste because we want to create this loop, we want everything to keep feeding back within the system. And because we make those donations and that’s embedded in the business, so anyone that bought the business from me would have to continue to do that. I also think that makes us a very strong social enterprise. We only exist to solve environmental problems. That’s the whole raison d’etre so I don’t think we could be called anything else.

Currently people have to pay to have their waste taken away and as landfill space decreases in the UK landfill charges are only going to go up, and that means that people are going to look for ways to make money from their waste or at least not to spend money on their waste. We take people’s waste away for free, we solve a problem for them and we save them money. And we also give them something to talk about, you know, we collect coffee sacks from Bettys and Taylors, this is the company that makes Yorkshire Tea. It’s incredibly exciting for them and their CSR department to be able to talk about all the waste that’s no longer going to landfill because someone is reclaiming it. We’re also cooperating and collaborating with them on the donation back to the coffee growers, so they get a marketing story, they get good feeling from within their business and all the staff feel great about it because they know that a waste has been eliminated and money was saved in the process.

Why do you run a social enterprise?
I think that really comes down to a personal decision. I think it’s who you are as a person and if you can express that in what you do, then great. You know, you’ve got that Maslow’s pyramid and you’ve got self-actualisation at the top. If you can combine what you love with what you do to make money then this is obviously the best way to live because you spend so much of your time working and it’s something that I always knew I had to do. I like to get out of bed in the morning and be really incredibly excited and impassioned by what I do and I get to collect waste for a living. I love waste, I love hanging out at landfills, I love digging through tips. I love wearing a big pair of old wellies and, you know, this is as dressy as I ever get in a shirt and a pair of jeans, so I think this is what I love to do, this is what I’ll always be doing and it’s really just about me and what I love and I wish everyone had the opportunity to express that in the work that they did as well.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for growthbusiness.co.uk when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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