Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Social Enterprise - Defined and ready to launch!

I'm so excited, I might just burst!

It is time!  We are as delirious as a bee in a nectar storm as we announce all the structural changes for us as ScENT in the coming weeks.

If you have been following the blog you will know we felt we were dealt a bit of a death blow a few months ago by the Consumer Safety Council - over a piece of legislation called the "food imitation policy".  It risked putting us as a company under the water long before it was deemed possible to fulfill our dream of becoming a social enterprise.

But, I'm pleased to say - it did the reverse.  It forced us into a dark corner where Carla and I talked and thought, and prayed about where to go and we figured that if we were going out - we would go out with a bang!

We looked at what we were doing and where we wanted to go and started to veer headstrong into the vision that we set ourselves all those months ago when setting out.  We decided that we didn't need to make massive profits before giving money away - we could just factor it into the costs of the soap.  We looked at our ingredients and made choices on ethics and quality rather than on cost and delivery.  And, importantly, we looked past the soaps that look like food (as wonderful as they are) into a range of cosmetics that could be made by people, like me (Garreth) who are a little less talented than Carla.  Products that could still be hand made but made in larger quantities.

I don't want to bore you with the detail - but there is a fair about of stuff we are passionate about and when it got knocked around a bit we were able to hone in on some things we think are important to us as pioneers. And it all boils down to ethics.  Its always been about transformation and justice.  We'd always wanted to focus on Organic and Fair Trade - but I think we may well have excelled ourselves.

Here are our 6 reasons to buy from ScENT

  •  For every product purchased, we will donate 10% of our wholesale price to marginalised children in Nigeria through Stepping Stones (see below). 
  • Every product sold will provide funds towards a weeks clean water for one person with Charity: Water.  We will keep you posted when we get to build our first well.
  • 1 square metre of rainforest is protected for every bar of soap, bath salt, or candle sold by supporting CoolEarth.
  • We will also make a donation to help fund micro-credit loans to other social entrepreneurs.
  •  By purchasing organic/fairlytraded ingredients we are helping to improve the lives of the workers and communities who farm the raw materials.  We are proactive in abstaining from ingredients such as Palm Oil and hope to be Palm Oil free by the beginning of 2015.
  • Lastly, we are still working towards is providing employment in disadvantaged areas of Northern Ireland and fully functioning as a social business.

Stepping Stones Nigeria:

We are big fans of Stepping Stones the charity – which is why we are choosing to give a percentage of each bar of soap we sell.  This charity focuses on children of the Niger Delta and works in the following four areas: 

Interestingly, Nigeria has a long history with soap making.  When the slave trading ended in the 19th Century the traders turned their attention to Palm Oil. West Africa used to be the centre of the palm oil industry but in the 1870s, British administrators took the plant to Malaysia. Now Malaysia is the world's leading palm oil exporter, based on huge plantations which are stripping us of one of the most valuable rain-forests in the world (but that's another story!).  Nigeria’s agricultural income has withered from almost 100% of GDP to 18%.  Perhaps this is just our way of giving something back.

Clean Water Program

Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.  Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.

90% of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are in children under five years old.  The WHO reports that over 3.6% of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. Source: Charity Water

It seems and issue that a soap company should be involved in.  Its also an equality issue, as is often the case, women and children who suffer most.  

But what can we do?  Well, we considered giving a bar for every bar as a strap-line of the business.  This would have been a good marketing tool but would have been yet another totally useless charitable gesture.  People don’t need soap.  Many of them have it.  They do not however, have access to clean water or the knowledge about the wonderful cleaning power that a bit of soap and clean water can have against some potentially life threatening diseases.  

So, that is where we step in. For every bar of soap, bath product, or candle purchased, we will donate 5p to Charity:Water.  That 5p, we calculate, gives one person at least a weeks supply of clean water. It may take us a while to build our well for 300 people but step by step we hope to raise enough to build our first well.

Sustainable, Organic & Fairly traded:

Each bar of soap is natural, biodegradable, and contains ingredients ethically harvested from sustainable resources.  Where there is an option we buy Fair-Trade as our first option, organic as second and natural/wild as third.  We have created what we consider to be the ethically conscious soap on the market today – preferring to avoid becoming a single issue product (say fair trade, organic or palm oil) and cover as many possible areas of interest and passion as we could.   

Our products are not currently certified by any particular body.  (It’s a money thing – it simply costs too much to get registered as Fair Trade by the FairTrade foundation , Organic by the Soil Association, and  The Social Enterprise mark.  In fact its the same story for most of our suppliers too!

However to reach these criteria one must prove the following:

Fair Trade Certification: Products must contain a minimum fairly traded ingredient set requirement of 2% for a wash off and 5% for a leave on products.

  • Our soaps, on average, contain 25-60% Fair trade ingredients the lower percentage is because we also buy local organic ingredients, 
  • Our body butters – 50 to 90% fair trade ingredients, 
  • Our lip balms - 50%, 
  • Body oils 30% 
  • Hand salve – 60%. When others do the bare minimum, we strive instead for the maximum. We also actively pursue opportunities to work with suppliers and producers directly to ensure we can increase our percentages.

Organic Certification: Under the COSMOS standards there are two levels of certification: COSMOS organic and COSMOS natural. Products certified to COSMOS organic must have a minimum of 20% organic ingredients or 10% (hardly breath-taking!) organic ingredients in the case of rinse-off products.

  • We can safely say that we can easily meet this requirement on all our products (one exception being our bath salts as salts are not minerals or plants.)  In fact almost every single mineral or plant that we use is certified organic by the Soil Association.

Cruelty free

We love animals and never test our soap on them.

Palm oil

There are many negative environmental issues that are derived from the production of Palm oil, even when organic.  86% of palm oil is produced in Southeast Asia. High demand for palm oil has lead to rapid clearing of tropical rainforests. The United Nations Environmental Programme predicts that by 2022 the palm oil industry could wipe out 98% of Indonesia's remaining forests.  Many orangutans and other wildlife are killed in the process, so that this one vegetable oil can be used in many of our everyday foods and products. Palm oil plantations are also directly linked to a decline in biodiversity, soil degradation, carbon emissions from burning forests, and a disregard for local communities and land rights. To find out more, please read this report from Friends of Earth or this link:  "Say no to palm oil"

While we DO NOT use ingredients, specifically palm oil, derived from cleared rainforest, we recognize that many other soap companies do.   As such, we are doing our part to stop the destruction of rain-forests by protecting just over 1sq metre of rainforest with each and every purchase.  We do however use some Palm oil in our cold process soaps sourced from two ethically renowned suppliers.  Even this we hope to abstain from by the beginning of 2015.  The co-operatives we buy from are Co-operatives and we try to source from Ghana or Nigeria as opposed to Indonesia where the Orangatangs tend to live and suffer from forest clearing.

Social enterprise

The foundation needed for sustainable economic growth, specifically in the developing world, are thriving small businesses'.  Scent is therefore helping to secure microcredit loans for local businesses to get up on their feet, or get the jump start they need. Offering a microcredit loan to a small business empowers the individual, which in turn, strengthens a community. For every product sold we will make a donation to a fund which will be set up to support other social entrepreneurs.  It may take a little bit of time to build but we have got to start somewhere.


Sustainability means more than just providing eco-friendly soap.  We have had to think seriously about our packaging.  Having looked at carbon-offsetting we decided to proceed with our donations to Cool Earth in protecting the rainforest.  We then took the following decisions about our packaging.

Reusable, recyclable and sustainable.

To support local business we haven't been able to use recycled paper for our retailed soaps.  We have however ensured it is sustainable and recyclable.  The craft paper we use to protect the soap is fairly traded Nepalese Lokta paper.  The PET bottles are recyclable but hopefully, and importantly, people will much rather clean them out and reuse them.  That's why we have gone for the nicest looking cosmetics jars we could find anywhere.  We are also keen to look at sustainable & biodegradable innovative cosmetics packaging in the future as we grow.

So, What do you think of all that then?  No wonder we got excited.  Our desire and journey of wanting to see transformation through soap may well just be about to begin!