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Nothing to sneeze at: eco-Warrior Ziah Lane on the success of her sustainable tissue start-up

Each year, an estimated 15 billion trees are cut down worldwide to produce paper, timber and other consumables. Terrified by the statistics, Sydney-based entrepreneur, designer and self-proclaimed ‘eco-warrior’ Ziah Lane launched 100% tree-free tissue brand NO ISSUES, eager to drive a consumer revolution that would help preserve the planet for future generations. Validation, both of Lane’s business model and her mission, came in the form of major supermarket support: NO ISSUES was picked up by Harris Farm Markets and Woolworths in 2015 and by Coles the following year.

Lane, who also founded branding and design company Vive Creative, spoke to Dynamic Business about running an eco-friendly business and why ‘going green’ isn’t just a moral imperative for companies, it also makes good business sense.

Dynamic Business: What experiences led to the creation of NO ISSUES?

Lane: In 2011, I developed a tissue box prototype as part of my final project for a Masters in Design from The University of New South Wales School of Art and Design – then known as the College of Fine Arts. Inspired by my personal passion for environmental sustainability, the prototype gained industry attention for combining an underutilised renewable resource (bamboo) with a contemporary design (green doesn’t have to be daggy!). This led me to start speaking to investors about bringing an environmentally-friendly tissue product range to market.

Landing investors and supermarkets was crucial but I also relied on my extensive brand and design background to bring NO ISSUES to life. I ran Vive Creative for ten years from 2001, working on retail brands sold in major supermarkets (for example, The Healthy Baker Flour). Gaining a strong understanding of the industry over this time, creating a retail brand of my own was a natural career progression.

Dynamic Business:  What is the company’s unique selling point?

Lane: NO ISSUES is the only premium, environmentally friendly tissue product available in Australia. Our range is 100% tree-free and made from bamboo – a type of grass that is sustainable, renewable, and grows practically back in front of your eyes (up to one metre a day!). Unlike trees, bamboo is among the most abundant plant resources on earth and one of the most rapidly renewable resources for pulp. Naturally soft, it can reach full height in just a few months without the need for pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Bamboo also removes CO2 from the atmosphere and produces over 30% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees. Our other USP is the fact that we’ve designed the packaging to be chic and modern, adding sophistication to your bedroom, lounge or workstation.

Dynamic Business: What have been the company’s biggest wins to date?

Lane: We’ve had so many over the past five years! In the early stages, our big win was landing investors, including Jason Ashton (CEO and co-founder, Big Air) – they understood we were addressing a gap in the market for eco-friendly products. Getting onto the shelves at Coles and Woolies was also a dream come true – it reflected the strength of our USP and the significant demand for green alternatives amongst Australian consumers.

Probably the biggest challenge for me has been learning to juggle cashflow with stock supply to ensure demand is met. In this regard, we’ve been incredibly lucky to work alongside suppliers and business partners that understand the unique challenges faced by start-ups.

Our biggest win, of course, has been the support we’ve had from grocery buyers, who’re challenging products that impact the environment. Also, on a personal level, I was thrilled to win the Australian Women’s Weekly/CPA Australia Women in Business Awards, last year. I felt that all the hard work and persistence had really been worth it and I was really doing something very positive.

Today, the NO ISSUES team consists of a warehouse and international shipping manager, an accountant and a bookkeeper. We also have a supermarket account manager and receive support from a graphic designer, a PR agency, and various mentors, all of whom have been instrumental in helping NO ISSUES grow!

Dynamic Business: Is there a business case for companies ‘going green’?

Lane: Absolutely. Companies that persist with practices that aren’t eco-friendly face a very high risk of losing customers. They need to respond to the fact that consumers are increasingly eco-conscious and want to play a part in preserving our planet through informed, sustainability-driven buying decisions. Also, let’s face it, if companies continue to damage Earth, eventually there won’t be a planet to do business on!

Of course, going green must involve raising awareness of critical issues so that people are empowered to make choices that help the environment. In our case, the issue we highlight is deforestation. We’re not here to put down other brands, but we are here to say, ‘hey, here’s what you are contributing to when you purchase traditional toilet paper – there’s an alternative if you prefer’. Any movement starts with education and we want to take our customers on this journey with us.

Dynamic Business: How can consumers reduce their ecological footprint?

Lane: I encourage people to be mindful of the value of our forests, which may host threatened or endangered animals and ecosystems, and actively consider whether their buying decisions will adversely affect the environment.

To this end, it’s important to conduct research – know the product you’re buying, check for any ‘nasties’. I’m very conscious of what – and how – I consume on a day-to-day basis. For instance, I use organic products (I LOVE Dr Roebucks natural skin care!) and, where possible, I recycle and reuse bottles and other items to minimise waste.

Dynamic Business: Finally, what does the future hold for NO ISSUES?

Lane: Our immediate plans involve expanding the NO ISSUES range to include innovative products such as environmentally friendly wet wipes. In terms of the bigger picture, we’re looking to partner with airlines, petrol stations, independent retailers and hotels and break into overseas markets.

To support our growth strategy, we will be looking for new private investment and considering bank finance for large forward orders. We want every business and every consumer to join the green movement and switch to TREE FREE!

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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