THE FOUNDER FILES: TROPIC TALKS TO JESSI FROM PROVENANCE
We spoke to Provenance Founder, Jessi Baker, about what ethical transparency is all about, and how they’re using it to see through industry greenwashing.
Please could you tell us, in summary, what Provenance does?
Provenance is a software solution for sustainability communications. We help brands share their social and environmental impact with shoppers in a credible way, connecting the things they say to proof and data from their supply chain. We offer brands an efficient way to communicate their impact across multiple channels and, ultimately, help them build brand trust.
Today, it’s difficult for shoppers to make positive choices about what to buy – the facts about a product’s impact are pretty well hidden and there is a lot of greenwashing going on. Our aim is to provide those facts, so that people can shop in line with their values. And brands that are doing the hard work to make their products more sustainable, even if they aren’t perfect yet, get the recognition they deserve!
And how/when did you notice this gap in the market?
I’ve always been interested in where products come from. My parents grew their own food and worked in manufacturing, so we talked about this stuff as a family. Then I studied Manufacturing Engineering at uni and spent my early twenties learning about different supply chains, which really opened my eyes to how products are made.
I wanted to be able to buy products from brands that match my values – from brands that are making genuine efforts to benefit people and the planet. But I couldn’t find the information I needed in a consistent, trustworthy format. All I could find were internal supply chain and impact management tools for business, and consumer apps using inaccurate, open data. Still today, there’s hardly any decent open data. I concluded that for people to be able to make positive purchases, brands needed to be more publicly transparent – so I decided to build the system to enable that.
Why is it important for you to help increase sustainability transparency?
As things stand, it’s often difficult for citizens to shop according to their values; without knowing a product’s impact, we might inadvertently invest in products causing social or environmental harm. But when transparency is the default, each purchase can be a vote for a just future for people and the planet.
Transparency is the first step in creating change. But of course, it’s redundant without proof. Companies are beginning to show us their factories and farms, which is great, but these marketing efforts need to be evidenced.
Is the beauty industry comparatively bad when it comes to sustainability?
Beauty has a long way to go, especially when it comes to how open brands are about their ingredients and sourcing – the British Beauty Council found that 86 per cent of beauty shoppers want more information around ingredient supply chains.
Besides transparency, packaging is a crucial issue for the industry to tackle. Too often, brands claim their materials are recyclable when they’re only ‘technically’ so. In reality, recycling these products means dismantling them altogether and separating into the appropriate bins. But first of all, very few people actually recycle in this way, and secondly, brands just aren’t making this clear to shoppers in the language they use. It’s an issue that we’re helping tackle at Provenance by demanding specificity and proof in recyclability claims.
Do you think it’s still important to talk about being a female-owned business? If so, why?
Yes. Across the world, female-owned businesses are still the minority, despite great strides in some places. From social expectations to access to funding, they face completely different (and more significant) hurdles than their male counterparts. For those who do set out on this path, they often find themselves in places designed for and built by men.
Provenance has been very lucky to have a pretty fantastic set of women leaders, including two early board members – Alexsis de Raadt-St James and Chemain Sanan – who started and exited their own funds and are incredibly inspiring people. Another woman who’s been a fantastic mentor and coach is Alicia Navarro, who built Skimlinks from zero to a $50 million turnover and recently sold the company. The startup journey has a million unknowns and to have her help guiding me through the process of launching my own company has been amazing.
Our Infinite Purpose is to help create a Healthier, Greener and More Empowered world, what would yours be?
At Provenance, we’re working towards a world where shoppers know the impact of products and can drive progress for people and the planet through what they buy.
For more information on how Provenance® works, click here.