Tidying Up One Reusable Bag at a Time: Green Entrepreneur Interview, ECOBAGS

Cleaning up the planet one bag at a time™ has been ECOBAGS’s motto since their start in 1989, when they decided to offer quality, sustainably produced products to make bringing your own bag to the store easy and enjoyable. For founder and green entrepreneur Sharon Rowe, it’s step one in the process of addressing the incredible amount of waste that’s created in our consumer culture. We talked to her about what was involved in forming her online store and what she’s learned during the journey.

Has your business evolved and changed over time?

OMG, yes. When we introduced the reusable String Bag to the USA, there were none. When we introduced the cloth produce bag, the organic cotton shopping tote, the net bags, etc. there wasn’t anything like them on the market. Now, there are many choices. But I always caution consumers: be conscious, because not all options are responsibly sourced and manufactured or produced to be long lasting.

How do you find the products you offer and what criteria do you consider in assessing their eco-friendliness?

We develop our ECOBAGS branded goods ourselves. Third party goods come to us through our network or outreach and we’re very picky about who we partner with.

How are your bags different than other reusable bags?

We do certifications. We travel and visit our production facilities. We have been working with one of our producers for almost 15 years now.

What do you think of the recent study that found lead in reusable bags?

Our bags are all certified and approved for European standards on all heavy metals, standards that are stricter than in the USA, through testing completed by SGS. Our inks on cottons are azo free. Our custom print inks, in our US facility, are environmentally friendly and approved. Our organics are certified seed to sewn by GOTS.

Do you stock your inventory, or rely on drop shipping? Or is yours an affiliate model?

We stock inventory and build product to custom specifications. We manage our own warehouse. We have been talking about building an affiliate model but haven’t gotten to that yet.

What ecommerce website platforms and checkout platforms do you recommend? Do you have any advice on how to evaluate these technology platforms for online business?

We use an integrated system that’s in the cloud – Netsuite. We’ve been using it for years. There are pluses and minuses but basically it meets all our needs. As for recommendations? Tech isn’t my strong point. You’d need to talk to Andrew our guru.

How do you reach your green consumer target audience?

We reach our target audience through SEO, web maintenance, social media and partnering. The most useful marketing tool is the phone. When we see a good opportunity we pick it up, establish a relationship and work to finding the touchpoint for the larger audience in a vertical that could be an audience.

Are there any mistakes that you made on this entrepreneurial journey that you would like to share with other green entrepreneurs?

I’ve made every mistake you can make and there are still more to be made. My advice is don’t be afraid to make the mistakes and keep going. Also, don’t think you can get a different result by doing the same thing. Try new approaches and grow them.

What advice would you have for other aspiring green and social entrepreneurs?

Build your dream and talk about it with everyone. Be an inspiration. Work and play hard and fair and don’t compromise on key things.

You can connect with Sharon via Twitter and Facebook.

This post was written by:

Maryruth Belsey Priebe

Maryruth has been seeking the keys to environmental justice - both at home and at work - for over a decade. Growing up adjacent to wild spaces, Maryruth developed a healthy respect (and whimsical appreciation) for things non-human, but her practical mind constantly draws her down to earth to ponder tangible solutions to complex eco-problems.

With interests that range from green living to green business, sustainable building designs to organic gardening practices, ecosystem restoration to environmental health, Maryruth has been exploring and writing about earth-matters for most of her life. Of special interest is the subject of ecopsychology and the role the natural world plays in the long-term health and well-being of humanity. You can learn more about Maryruth's work at www.JadeCreative.ca.

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  1. Lea Cullen Boyer says:

    Thank you for this insightful article. Sharon Rowe is an amazing powerful example of green entrepreneurs sticking to their values and mission while listening to and growing with the market. I remember seeing Ecobags hanging from the racks above the produce isles at Integral Yoga’s health food store back in the 80s and marveling at the idea.

    Sharon is an Advisory Board member of Green Guru Network. To hear her speak about her experience check out GGN’s video section. Look for the Women’s Green Business Network, “Going Green, Why Bother”.

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