Esha Chhabra: Sustainability, Regenerative Business,& Mission-Driven Brands

Elizabeth’s guest this week is Esha Chhabra, author of Working To Restore, and journalist with a decade-long focus on global development, the environment, and business. Esha’s work has been featured in publications such as the New York Times, Economist, Guardian, Wired, and more. In her talk with Elizabeth, Esha defines what “regenerative” means to her and shares the common threads that she sees in successful businesses. She discusses the challenges she faced during her research and writing of the book, how reporting out in the field led her to write Working to Restore, and a few of her favorite stories along the way. She discusses the book’s nine areas including agriculture, waste, inclusivity in the supply chain, and more. Esha provides some great ways consumers can make an impact and also shares how she regenerates and restores her own energy, including computer-free weekends and slowing it all down.

We have to restore the imbalance that we have created as a society and in business. Regenerate means to bring new life into something. When you regenerate the soil, you're really giving it new life, and new nutrients and enriching it. And that's more of what we're trying to do with business today. -Esha Chhabra

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Podcast transcript below:

Elizabeth Stein 00:00
Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, Founder and CEO of Purely Elizabeth and this is Live Purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey. This week's guest is Esha Chhabra, a writer and journalist focused on global development, environment, and business for over a decade. Her work has appeared in New York Times, Economist, Guardian, Forbes, The Washington Post, Fast Company, Wired and many more. Her new book just released, Working To Restore, looks at how over 30 companies are trying to usher in a more regenerative era of business. In this episode, we dive into her new book, which is an exploration of what's possible, a selection of stories from around the world that are held together by a common thread, a regenerative and restorative approach to business. We chat through the surprises and challenges she found in her research, how businesses are moving beyond sustainability, and instead pioneering regenerative practices as catalysts of change to solve social and environmental problems. We talk through the nine areas that the book examines, including agriculture, waste, supply chain, inclusivity, for the collective good, women in the workforce, travel, health, energy, and finance. Esha shares some of her key takeaways, and how consumers can have impact today. I love how she weaves these inspiring stories of hope into the framework of doing better and really shows how businesses can thrive while still living their mission. Keep listening to learn more. Smoothies are one of our favorite meals or snacks here at Purely Elizabeth. But you know what we love even better? A smoothie bowl. That's why we've partnered with Smoothie King to add our organic original granola on top of their new smoothie bowls for the perfect salty, sweet crunch. All six new smoothie bowls, features an acai or pitaya basw with a variety of fresh ingredients such as locally sourced fruit, dried coconut, goji berries, honey or peanut butter and our granola. It's super easy to order directly through the Smoothie King app, or you can order in store starting April 6th. I can't wait for you to try it, I know you're gonna love it. Enjoy. If you haven't had the chance to try our grain free granolas yet, head on over to Walmart to now find them in the gluten-free, healthy living aisle in select Walmart locations. Our grain free granolas have crunchy clusters of nuts, super fruit seeds, and creamy nut butters, all baked with organic coconut oil and sweetened with coconut sugar. They are gluten-free, paleo, and keto-certified. Use the link in the note section to find Purely Elizabeth products at a Walmart store near you. Esha, welcome to the podcast. It's such a pleasure to have you on today. And I'm so looking forward to diving into your new book.
Esha Chhabra 03:05
Thank you so much. It's a pleasure.
Elizabeth Stein 03:06
My big takeaway from the book is really about hope. Like I came away feeling very hopeful for the future and so much more, I think of a holistic view of what's happening in the world of regenerative as it pertains to so many businesses and industries where, you know, I selfishly have been so focused in on food. And so it's really wonderful to open up the world to say, wow, what is happening across industries and so loved to walk through all of this. But before we jump into the book, I'd love to start with your background. And really get a sense of where you started from, have you always been interested in agriculture, business social impact, or has that developed over the last couple of years?
Esha Chhabra 03:54
It's something from early on in my career. So I went to Georgetown for undergraduate and I was there in DC doing internships in news and TV news. So I was at CNN, I was at CBS News. And it was a lot of political journalism, which I don't know. But I felt like it was kind of wearing me down after a while. And I wanted to write about stories where I felt like one, they weren't getting the attention that they deserved and two, that they were actually like meaningful and doing something positive in the world. So I was given a fellowship by Rotary, which is an organization I didn't know much about in those days. This is like about I think, 14 years ago now. And it was just really eye opening to me because here were all these individuals that were traveling around the world doing things in their own communities or overseas and really trying to create some kind of positive impact. So they were doing work at the time that was on the polio campaign to eradicate polio, so I had an opportunity to spend time with UNICEF and WHO and Rotary, in the field. A lot of it was in India which is my native country I was born there, and just see how health played out in communities that had very limited resources. And I started freelancing about it and writing about it pitched my article to the Atlantic, to the Guardian and the editors were kind enough to take them. And I thought, okay, this is really interesting. Like I can write about a campaign that's doing something empowering for our community, and get that into these major publications. And then I was introduced to a gentleman by the name of David Bornstein, who started something called the Solutions Journalism Network. And his approach at the time was also like, how do we highlight solutions? I feel like everybody feels like there's too much doom and gloom. So many negative things being written about so can we talk about the solutions and in a critical way, not just kind of, you know, saying like, hey, this is the perfect answer. So that was the origin of my reporting. And in those days, you know, microfinance, Corporate Social Responsibility were more the terms that were being used. And so in the last decade, I've seen it evolve from that to impact investing, you know, be corpse, mission driven companies. And I've just kind of followed that journey and made that my niche as to what I decided to write on.
Elizabeth Stein 03:56
That's wonderful. So where did the idea or when did the idea for the new book Working To Restore, Harnessing The Power of Regenerative Business To Heal The World? Where was that inspiration? And what was your why behind it?
Esha Chhabra 06:23
So much of it stemmed from this reporting, I had seen books written about the impact sector that were either written by academics, or were written by people really deeply embedded in the space. And while they were lovely books, I felt like they were a little too theoretical or a little too more geared for the audience that they lived in, rather than for a mainstream audience. And I had had a really journalistic experience, I mean, I'd had an opportunity to travel to a lot of places, visit these kinds of farmers and supply chains firsthand. And I thought, how do we bring this to the public in something that's easy to read, digestible? And also, I'd seen like this was around 2018. So I had really seen now that there was this appetite, like a lot of young people were very interested in supporting these kinds of businesses. So I hadn't seen a book like this. And that's when you know, I took it to the publishers, they were like, yeah, there's definitely momentum behind this. And we use the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a framework initially, for the nine chapters. Those are kind of nine major areas that you know, the goals look at. But it's really speaking broadly to, like you said, in your intro, so many different industries. And that was the other thing, a lot of the books had been written for specific industries, here was a book that kind of shows, look, this is happening across the board, you can be in any industry and try to make this change happen, if you really want to, that was another thing I hadn't seen.
Elizabeth Stein 07:41
So in researching the book, could you talk a little bit about you mentioned that it took a while, like, what is that process? Especially this, you mentioned, you were traveling around? So how, what is the process look like? And how did you pick the companies? Because certainly, there's a lot of not a huge amount, but certainly a lot of companies that are doing wonderful things? How did you decide on the companies that you talked about in the book and featured?
Esha Chhabra 08:05
Yeah, I mean, this was the challenge, because there's so many more companies I could have written about, honestly, I mean, we had to keep it to a certain page count. But I wanted to write about companies that had been in existence for long enough that they proven that the model works to some degree, this is not to say that they might not fail in the future, some of these companies may not be around 10 years from now. But that's part of doing business as you know. So that was one criteria. The other criteria was I stayed away from corporates, just because I felt like they had been covered in a lot of the other works, a lot of the other books and journalistic articles. And the other thing was also, these were companies when I thought about it, I mean, they were really led by people who had so much commitment and focus on their values. And I could see that set apart from you know, when you interview as many people as I have over the years, you can kind of pick out the entrepreneurs that you can tell this is something that they're gonna stay committed to for a really long time. And they're kind of like slightly crazy, they're so focused on it sometimes that they're just not seeing what's around them. So I think it was those kinds of individuals that I thought were really committed to the cause as well. And then, of course, the different topics. There's a chapter there, for example, on travel. And I think that that's such a fascinating topic. And it's become a topic of discussion last couple of years, like, Should we all take flights? Should we not fly this kind of thing? And so I wanted to take on some of these more controversial topics. I don't think the answer, for example with travel is that we don't all ever take a flight again. But there are things that we can do, whether it's supporting hospitality companies that are really thinking about their impact, or in the opening of the chapter, I look at how the aviation industry is making innovations in that space. And that can really help us in the long run, in terms of the kind of fuel that they use in the term the kind of planes that they use. So I also wanted to kind of take on some of these topics that might be hard to find an answer for, in terms of sustainability. Because I mean, you know this the reality is that like, there is no perfect sustainable solution. It just doesn't exist, you kind of have to go on that journey and figure out what's your sweet spot. So not being scared to take on some of these topics as well.
Elizabeth Stein 10:17
In your research, was there anything that was most surprising that as you came into it with, you know, a conception of what you were going to share? And then is there anything that was different than what you had thought?
Esha Chhabra 10:33
I think there's two chapters that I found challenging because there's so much discussion about it, the agriculture chapter, actually, the fact that we're still under 5%, for organic farmland in the United States, despite the demand in the industry. And the challenges that these farmers are facing, I mean, after talking to so many people in ag, I realized really what's going to move the needle is economics, you know, farmers are people just are business people just like everyone else. And they're only going to be able to do some of these practices, if the economics of it work for them. The agricultural chapter was a hard one to tackle just because there's so many certifications out there. And I really sympathize with brands, it's hard to get every single certification. They're costly, they're expensive. There's also so much variation between different crops. So you know, what might work for one crop doesn't work for another crop, and then geographies on top of that. So I think that's one where there's, is there like a easy answer to fixing ag? No. And like, I know, we often kind of just point to the industrialized farms or the large scale farms, but there's a reason that they exist, you know, the economics model has supported that for a while. And so to deviate from that is not easy. The other chapter that was challenging was the energy chapter, to be honest, we all are like trying to find again, that solution in renewable energy, that's gonna be like the one shot, fix for everything, we've done all the damage that we've done, but it really does not exist. I mean, all even the renewable energy sources that we're looking at today, they all have their ups and downs, and you start to talk to people and you get into the weeds of this stuff. And you're like, oh, gosh, is electric the answer is wind the answer is solar the answe? Though, in that chapter, I looked at, like, for example, two companies, one is called Arcadia, which is doing something super simple that I think every you know, homeowner can do, you just convert your bill over so that whatever you're using, bill use RECS for renewable energy credits for it instead. So you're supporting that economy, it doesn't require you to have any infrastructure, it doesn't require you to get solar panels or anything like that. It's a very easy one. The other one is called and ACOP, which is out of France. And they're looking at renewable energy in the sense of like, how do we create cooperatives so that, you know, everyday folks can also benefit from this transition. It's not just large companies that are going to benefit from this transition. So it's kind of taking that agricultural model and applying it to the energy sector. But those were two chapters that I was just like, oh, I could, you could write a whole book the whole but yeah, yeah, it's very, it's very hard to distill it down into 10,000 words or so.
Elizabeth Stein 13:15
That must have been the biggest challenge of all for you. So let's take a step back and go through kind of the overall premise of the book and what those nine categories are that you've focused on.
Esha Chhabra 13:29
Absolutely. So the overall premise of the book was, let's show examples of companies that are trying to fix some of the big social and environmental problems that we have of our day. And so each chapter opens with an intro where I kind of lay the land of what is problematic. And then we dive into three to four case studies of companies that are trying to tackle it in very different geographies with different demographics. And that's again to show like, look, this is not specific to the US or specific to Europe, it can really happen in a variety of places. The topics discussed in the book are agriculture, not necessarily just for food, but even like, you know, cotton for fashion industry, plastic waste, how plastic waste is being repurposed and reused.
Elizabeth Stein 14:10
That was really interesting what they're doing.
Esha Chhabra 14:14
Inclusivity in supply chains, I mean, supply chains are so vast and big in today's world. So I was really interested in companies that were tackling their supply chains in different ways. There's a company called the seven virtues, which does perfumes here in the US and Canada just recently launched in Europe. You know, they were working in Afghanistan for many, many years. I mean, unfortunately, what the dollar bones returned last year, it's affected their supply chain, but to be able to work in a conflict zone is fascinating. And to take that on, you know, requires a lot of guts. We look at the coffee supply chain, which is so which is a popular topic. Everybody's interested in coffee, cacao and chocolate is another supply chain. And then we also get into in the book, questions within the workplace like how do you bring more equity in the workplace, you know, do you give your workers a share of the business, the ESOP model that's popular in the US. And then there's health health is an interesting chapter because we look at not just companies that are, you know, doing low cost health care systems in the developing world, like diagnostic tools, but also preventative health in the United States. You know, we all are aware that there's lifestyle choices that are contributing to our health. And so companies that are kind of really trying to help create better food choices, better healthy lifestyles, in communities where might be hard to reach. Then there's energy there's travel, as I mentioned, is a chapter on finance, which is, which is also you know, one that I look at impact investors investing in companies like yours, but also investors that are operating in developing markets like Africa, like South Asia. So it's quite the gamut. It's quite the gamut.
Elizabeth Stein 15:51
So really, the thread you talk about the word regenerative, and restorative, that rejuvenation, which I love. I would love for you to dive a little bit into the word regenerative. It's certainly a hot topic. It's certainly a hot topic for us at Purely Elizabeth as we are embarking on our regenerative journey, but also just coming out of Expo West where there's so much conversation around what is regenerative mean and confusion. So I'd love from your perspective and the the wide variety of research that you've done, what does that mean to you?
Esha Chhabra 16:29
So it started with me hearing from every entrepreneur, that sustainability is not enough. Sustainability, like people were becoming just allergic to the word sustainability. A lot of the entrepreneurs I interviewed in this book were like, please don't talk to me about sustainability. Like I just, I don't like that word. They were more interested in transparency, they were more interested in equity. And as I started to see also, so much of the greenwashing that's been going on, I realized sustainability isn't really like what we're striving for, in many ways. And one entrepreneur said to me, like, what are we sustaining like sustaining this like a very broken system. And this was, you know, again, 2018. So this was almost five years ago, when I feel like the word regenerative hadn't blown up in a way that so I loved the word restorative and regenerative was kind of an extension of that is that we have to restore the imbalance that we have created as a society and in business, and regenerate means to bring new life into something right, like when you regenerate the soil, you're really giving it new life, new nutrients and enriching it. And that's more of what we're trying to do with business today, in these companies, or this kind of sector, is that can business regenerate communities? Can it regenerate, you know, nature? And that's more of of the direction that these companies are looking to go in. I think when you look at the term regenerative, the way it's used in agriculture, if affiliated with the ROC certification or with the Savory Institute certification. And that's perfect for agriculture. But it's as a mindset. I think it's much broader. And that's kind of what this book looks at. Sustainability, I feel as someone who's written about it for a really long time. It's kind of one of those buzzwords, that's been, I think, bastardized. I mean, lately, it just seems like everybody's claiming to be sustainable. And it's my job as a writer, and as a journalist to kind of pick through that and trying to help consumers also ask the questions to figure out, is this company really better for the planet better for people? So that's where that terminology comes from.
Elizabeth Stein 18:30
Do you worry that regenerative is going to take on that same sustainability? Kind of..
Esha Chhabra 18:36
It is..I mean, it's great marketing, you can use the term and say that you're doing it, but are you truly doing it in the way that that it's intended for? I've seen a lot of big ag companies use the word regenerative, and it makes me wonder about that. So yes, I think so. And I think that's where consumers are getting quite savvy, I think the media is getting more savvy. Also there's far more scrutiny of this space than there was five, seven years ago, which is what I think is going to help us find the better answers.
Elizabeth Stein 19:06
Sure. But are there any commonalities that you found as far as the brands companies that you featured and and how they are conveying their and communicating to the end consumer what it is that they're doing? Because I think that there's certainly a big education piece that we still don't have, right? And so how to educate the consumers accurately to understand what you know, one brand is doing versus another and to truly come across authentically.
Esha Chhabra 19:39
So this might be a slightly not ideal answer, but most companies are leading by design and by product, and the sustainability and impact story comes after that. The ones that I've found that are doing it effectively. So you look at a brand like Veja which is a footwear company in the book. They're based out of Paris, they've been around for about 15 plus years now, they've been doing this stuff long before there was a term for it long before it was fashionable. They were just so committed to doing it. And the reason why their shoes took off was because of the design, not because of the supply.
Elizabeth Stein 20:14
I was going to say, I was actually shocked to learn that story, because I have those sneakers. And I knew nothing about their story.
Esha Chhabra 20:19
And I think that's the challenge for companies is that, in a way, it kind of reiterates what we know, which is if you really believe in this stuff, and you really do want to be a part of this movement, just do it, like don't do it because it's good marketing, you know, don't do it, because you think you're gonna get some brownie points from it. You really have to believe in it and just do it. I mean, when I look at Sebastian and Francoise and what they were doing 15 years ago, trying to build a supply chain in Brazil, and use organic cotton and you know, rubber from the Amazon, it's wild to think that you could build a business like a scalable business from that. But they really led by the design, you know, their design was so alluring for the fashion community that that's what got people interested. And there's countless examples like that in the book. If you look at the coffee industry, I mean, it's really driven by taste and a premium product, you know, it's not driven by the sustainability practices. So unfortunately, I don't know if sustainability marketing or regenerative marketing will ever be the reason why a customer picks a product up, it might be one of the top three reasons but not the only reason. And in terms of educating consumers. I think if you can make the messaging fun and interesting and less didactic, that definitely helps I've seen with these companies. The companies that have great branding, that are fun and entertaining about it, and aren't just like constantly reiterating it in your face often have most success with it.
Elizabeth Stein 21:45
Ya no that, I think you're so right. I mean, for us on our journey, I was just asked this on a panel at Expo, you know why we were getting into this. And it was like, well, it had nothing to do with a consumer. It's I feel like we have an obligation as a brand that I want to be doing this and the consumer piece is after but, there is the piece that I also feel the obligation that we need to educate, right? And it's not, hey, here's what we're doing. But hey, educate on why this is important. So I think, to your comment about how you make it fun, so that people can understand and learn and know, the why they wouldn't be supporting, you know, those sorts of brands and moving that cause forward. So I'm curious to hear your perspective on you talked about like big ag, but where you're seeing sort of these bigger companies in the conversation of change. And from my perspective, it feels like there's so much positive momentum, I look at someone like a General Mills, who's really made a lot of commitment. That's one small example. But curious to hear, you know, for the greater good of change in our world. How much of this is relying on big companies, how much is of it is really just the groundswell of small businesses that are at the helm.
Esha Chhabra 23:02
I think this is the biggest challenge. And I don't know if I've come up with a clear answer to it yet. We need the big companies, right? We need them to make the changes. That's obvious, you see this in fashion a lot, if the big ones were willing to make the changes, that would have a dramatic impact. On the other hand, what I heard from a lot of the companies that are in this book was that the answer is not to have more global multinationals or conglomerates, the answer is to have a lot more medium sized companies that are committed to these values. And so it brings up this question of scale that I've been wondering about for a long time now, which is that we are so driven as a business community as a society to like push for scale. Like it's, you know, when you launch a business, also, how are you going to scale this? How you gonna scale? Yeah. And maybe the answer is not to scale everything to that level, you know, maybe the answer is that you have to ask yourself, when is enough and kind of stop at that point? And that's fine. So it seems to me that what we've seen with people burning out in their workplaces with people looking to have more work life balance during the pandemic, all of these things are speaking to this question of like, is it always necessary to do more? Is it always necessary to scale up? And so my response would be to a lot of entrepreneurs who are in this space and thinking about that, maybe figure out when your enough is enough, and for the big companies that already exist, I would say I would welcome that. You know, I remember speaking with the Rodale Institute about this, as they were launching the regenerative ag movement, and they were saying the same thing. They were like, look, we have to accept it that these large companies are interested in this space. We can't say no to it in that way. And I think that's the right attitude. You have to kind of embrace it and hopefully companies like yourself that are, you know, very mission driven, can guide them in the right direction and really get them to be accountable for their actions. But that's I mean, that's the hard part, the media has a role to play in that the business community has a role to play in that to make sure that they're actually doing what they're saying they're doing.
Elizabeth Stein 25:09
Yeah, I love the takeaway that you have for entrepreneurs of when is like enough enough. And it's certainly been built in our DNA to think we need to keep striving for this bigger and greater, but is that really necessary? And I also feel like that goes kind of hand in hand with just your overall message. Also, in the chapter on agriculture and waste of like, fast fashion and having so much, you know, we're just a culture of more and more and more, and those two kind of go hand in hand.
Esha Chhabra 25:45
Absolutely. And the thing is, I mean, if you think about it with sustainable fashion, also, the answer is not to have a wardrobe, like spilling out with sustainable fashion pieces, either, right, like, stick to maybe what you need. And that's enough. I remember, you know, Sebastian, telling me at Veja. He said that, sometimes people would get upset with them, because they would run out of styles, and they just couldn't get them in stock. And they were like, sorry, we ran out. Like, that's all we're making. So to have that attitude is, I think contrarian to what society have told us for a long time. It also brings up the question of finance. Now, certain companies in the book, many of the companies are self funded in the book, or they have very few investors. And the reason is because the entrepreneurs wanted to have that ownership creatively, in addition to just financial. And that brings up another question, because these large companies that do need to have, you know, quarterly returns, can they say enough is enough? Maybe not you know, the model is built in such that you have to constantly be scaling.
Elizabeth Stein 26:43
Yeah. I love that takeaway. What are maybe three other takeaways that you would love people to come away after reading the book, and maybe it might be different from a consumer lens takeaway, and then just typical, regular consumer, and then a business entrepreneur lens?
Esha Chhabra 27:00
I think number one takeaway is like, stop trying to figure out what the perfect solution is, in any industry, just start on that journey. If you're an entrepreneur, start doing it to what you think is the best solution, whether it's packaging, whether it's the supply chain, I think all of these entrepreneurs will tell you that there's so much work to be done in their own companies, not none of them have figured it out entirely. You know, at Expo west last week, I was talking to so many people that are in the packaging space. And like, there's frankly, I don't think there's an ideal packaging solution. Right? I mean, whether using post consumer recycled or using compostable or whatever, I mean, they all have their drawbacks. And I think that's the one major message we're so critical, I feel like as a society to say, oh, that's not perfect. So it's not good enough, right? But that's not it, the answer is like, okay, they're trying. And in five years, hopefully, the r&d will be better in that space, and we can come up with a better solution. So that's number one. I think number two would be pick an area that you're really passionate about as a consumer, some people like really are interested in their in their home. So maybe it's you know, the things that you bring into your home, whether it's your food, and you think about food, it's something you consume three, four times a day. So if you start choosing companies, you're going to have a ripple effect. I mean, you're buying their product and consuming it multiple times a week, that's really something that has scalable impact in that way. So I think really start with where you're most passionate, you can't do everything, you know, like you don't need to live in a house that's like solar paneled and self sufficient and like cooking your own meals from scratch, and everything's not necessary. So I think just start an area that you're really passionate about. For entrepreneurs, I would go back to that question of when is enough? I think that's a really poignant conversation that I've been having with, you know, people that are in this space that are now almost friends. And everybody's asking that question. It's like, do we need to be a part of a rat race, even in the world of regenerative and sustainability? I mean, isn't that the reason why we got in it to kind of create some sort of balance? And so to really kind of think about what is enough for you, I think that has so much power. I mean, if a lot of people said like, sorry, that's enough consumption for me or enough finance for me. You know, it's a very different way of looking at capitalism, though. And I think that's the hard part is it requires a paradigm shift.
Elizabeth Stein 29:21
Yeah, completely. But it's very interesting. Curious to hear what were some of your favorite conversations in the book, but also from the sort of the source of maybe be it the farmer or some of the supply chain, individuals that you might have talked with?
Esha Chhabra 29:41
So I loved California safe soil this company, I just thought it was so interesting. It's a very like industrial operation it's not very glamorous to go visit. You're literally looking at a conveyor belt of like, grocery waste being channeled into machines that's been turned into fertilizer. But Dan Moore actually started that company. He actually had a couple of companies before, one of which was not successful. And so I salute him that, you know, he still got up and decided to do something else and try to make it successful. So that was one thing that I loved about him. But the other thing was that he was trying very much so to work within a system, which I thought was so smart that, you know, if we can make it super simple for farmers to use this organic fertilizer, as opposed to using what's conventional, like it will just go into their drip systems. So there's nothing additional that they have to do, would they do it, then? You know, and there's a little bit of a price difference, perhaps, but would they consider it then? I think that's the key thing with you know, and you know, this with entrepreneurship is when you have to change human behavior a lot, it can be really challenging. But when you're willing to work within that system, it's much more easy, you know, to try to create that change. So he's taking basically grocery waste, you know, produce that doesn't sell or produc that's not perfect, and turning it into an organic fertilizer, in Northern California, just outside of Sacramento. It's when you think about it, it's such a simple concept, like, why don't we do this already. But for him to get like the grocery stores on board, and you know, get all the logistics in place, like that's a challenge, because again, the industry has operated in a different way. So I love the simplicity of that I just really, you know, thought that that was such a simple, straightforward solution. And there's nothing like sexy about it. Like there's no sexy marketing, there's nothing like that about it. The other one was with Veja, that I loved their approach where they just said, we don't spend money on marketing. So when they started the shoe company, you know, they were children of the 80s. And so they'd seen like athletes wearing sneakers, and celebrities wearing sneakers. And they realized early on that so much money goes into marketing, especially for apparel and footwear brands. And they said, We're just not going to do that. And it was just like, it was like a matter of fact, like we're just not going to participate in that. So they decided to put that money into their supply chain and pay for higher quality materials and pay their workers higher wages. And that's worked out for them, which is the other thing that it really goes against conventional wisdom, which is that you need to get influencers to wear your stuff and to you know, show when they were just like, No, you can also build a brand, the old school way where it's just going to spread through word of mouth, and it's going to be something that will take time, that's the thing that you know, do you have 10 years, are you willing to wait 10 years. But that was not a priority for them. They didn't want to do that. So I love how some of these entrepreneurs just said like, sorry, we're not going to do what everybody else has done. Konrad Brits, who runs Falcon coffees in the UK it's in the chapter about supply chains. And he's been having a think so much about coffee supply chains, where it's not just about how you support farmers and teach them, you know, better farming practices to create a better crop and all that. But he was like, the most fundamental issue is that finance, like who's going to back people who don't have a credit score, who don't have collateral who just are risky, you know? So at one point, he actually said, I'm going to support a group of farmers for a loan. And yes, it's risky, but I'm going to do it, I'm going to back them. And he proved a lot of people wrong, because it was successful. And there was repayment terms of like 99% of them like to you know, repaid. So it was just really incredible to see people who were like, sorry, we're not going to follow conventional wisdom.
Elizabeth Stein 33:31
I love that. Well, I love how you said one of the commonalities amongst all of these individuals was that they were a little crazy. I'm curious to hear any other commonalities or threads that you found.
Esha Chhabra 33:43
I think the other thing was patience, I think understanding that you're really going in this for the long haul, like you're not looking at a five year, you know, seven year we're gonna sell this and it within a decade kind of mindset. And that's very different from the tech community from the Bay Area, you know, this kind of VC backed model that we've seen. That was the other thing was like, they were like, look, this is something I could see myself doing for the next 20 years. And they enjoy the journey just as much as they've enjoyed the success that they're now perhaps reaping. And that's not easy to do. I mean, that's really committing your 20s and your 30s to some pretty hard work and possibly some very low lows as well. So you have to have that kind of resilience as a person also, I feel.
Elizabeth Stein 34:30
Yeah, well, that kind of, to me goes hand in hand with also the concept of when is enough enough. It's also like this rat race of I gotta start a business and sell it and that's really not necessarily the case.
Esha Chhabra 34:45
I am perhaps partly responsible for because I'm in the media community. I feel like we have glorified this. We've really glorified this model. And it's not to say VC is bad all the time. I don't think that that's the case. But I do wonder about companies that raise really large amounts of money upfront. And I just wonder, forget about the financial pressure, but just the pressure that you have then to perform is really, it's driving your business. I mean, it's going to drive the decisions that you make. So oftentimes, I hear in the sustainability space that the companies that can make the choices where they can experiment with packaging or experiment with a new material, or because they have investors that are willing to do that, or they are not in that kind of financial rat race.
Elizabeth Stein 35:33
Yeah, I think we have, frankly, I've been so lucky. I just realized this week at EXPO that it's going to be our 14 year anniversary in October, which is hard to believe that, you know, as you say that it's you know, we were lucky not to have investors at the very beginning. So we didn't have to have that race. And we were set up as a B Corp, pretty early on that then that was part of our DNA when we did have investors, but it's really being thoughtful and taking that time. Which hopefully there's more of a shift of so hopefully, in this economy that might be a silver lining, as it's harder to raise money, that the outcome may end up being building more sustainable businesses that aren't rushing to have an exit right away.
Esha Chhabra 36:18
Absolutely. And you know, I am a geriatric millennial as we joke, but I see, you know, the generations that are younger than me, and they're so committed to some of these causes. I mean, they're really passionate about environmental issues, in particular, I've seen. And so I think even if their working style is a little different, they're really going to champion this going forward. So I don't see these things going out of vogue anytime soon.
Elizabeth Stein 36:43
So what do you think is next, when it comes to social impact regenerative business? What's the future over the next couple of years?
Esha Chhabra 36:53
You know, I was on a panel about carbon credits a couple of weeks ago at the Sorensen impact center. And it was a fascinating discussion, because even the folks who are within the carbon credit community, were like saying very point blank that this is not the answer, like you can't just write off all your emissions. So I think that's going to be the next challenge. There's a lot of terms being thrown around now. Whether your net zero, your climate positive, climate negative, I mean, I can't even keep up with them. I see so many of them now. But I think for companies who are really interested in doing something regenerative, they need to think about their own emissions first and not turn to carbon credits, I think carbon credits have become such a quick and easy fix. And that's not necessarily the answer. So fix your own emissions, first, fix your own issues and supply chain and workplace first, and then think about, okay, do carbon credits fit into the picture? I think that's going to be a big discussion going forward, what is the role of carbon credits in the community, you know, when you start seeing big oil and gas companies like using carbon credits, and like saying that they're going to be carbon neutral? I don't know. I think the other thing is also going to be innovations in materials. So many industries are so aware of the challenge with materials, when you look at the outdoor industry, the outdoor industry is so connected to the environmental movement, right? And yet, they have to use a lot of synthetic material, because that's what gives you all those properties that you want when you're in crazy weather hiking up the mountain. So I think materials innovation is going to see a lot of growth, I see it all the time I see companies making stuff out of seaweed, I see companies making stuff out of you know, all kinds of mushrooms and different bio based alternatives. And again, like some of them will be completely just crazy ideas and flop, but some of them will have some legs and will prove to be successful. Because if I think about it all the time, like at a show like Expo West, I mean, the amount of packaging that is being used there and the kind of waste that's being created if we could just fix that one problem, right? Imagine the ripple effect that that would have, because I think we've realized that recycling is a challenge. And we haven't been able to solve that problem yet. Less than 10% of of materials are recycled, really. So if we can figure out packaging materials that would have a serious dent for the economy, especially so I see a lot of momentum in that. And I think that's great. We need to work on that more. And the last thing would be what's come out of the pandemic, which is more about social impact. I feel like there's a realization that worth is not everything, which seems like you know, an obvious statement, but there really is like a deeper discussion happening. I feel like for people searching for not just a balance, but like a real meaningful work life. I don't know if it needs to obviously always be divided like 50/50. And I don't know how realistic is that? Especially people who run their own businesses and all but I think that there's now like a real awakening of how do we make our work lives just more fluid more compassionate, I've heard the word compassionate a lot working with employers that are far more compassionate without losing, obviously, the work that needs to be done. So those are the three areas, I would say, are hopefully gonna see some improvement.
Elizabeth Stein 40:20
Yeah, those are all exciting next frontiers and areas that certainly need development. For you, what would you say, from a work life balance? How do you do that, and any tips around how you may or may not be able to do that in your life?
Esha Chhabra 40:38
I've struggled with it at times, it's definitely very hard, especially when you're starting out in your career, you have to take every opportunity that comes your way. But I think in recent years, I've learned to say no, you know, and this is not easy for a lot of folks who are driven and want to set some career goals. But I've learned to say no, I've learned to really be content with doing less in my life. If I don't, you know, get to every accolade. It's totally fine. I've shortened my own list of achievements, perhaps that I want to get to, because I think the pandemic at least for me, was not so much so awakening just because of the health issues that people faced, and you know, the workplace work issues, like people not having enough work. But I think it was just a time where all of us finally slowed down. And we realized, like, you can have a life that's slower, and just as beautiful. And I found it very calming and grounding. I mean, I spent a lot of time gardening, I spent a lot of time walking in nature. I'm someone who's very connected to nature, I like spending time in nature more so than in you know, cities. So for me, it's not a massive shift. But I found myself like the tenacious 20 something or old was like not as prevalent anymore. And I don't know if it's just simply getting older, perhaps, but you realize that your time is really valuable. And so for me, it's been something I think about much more now I really value my time. And I say yes to certain things only.
Elizabeth Stein 42:06
I love that saying, though, is such a good skill to have and to work on, it's not easy.
Esha Chhabra 42:11
And I have a couple of friends and we hold ourselves accountable. We're like, you know, if you're doing too much, we're gonna call you out on it. Because when you've been there, and you've been frustrated and overwhelmed, so it's nice to have a group of friends that can you can discuss these things with?
Elizabeth Stein 42:26
Absolutely. Alright, we're gonna move into some rapid fire q&a. Okay, the best advice you've gotten in the past six months?
Esha Chhabra 42:35
Don't try to do it all.
Elizabeth Stein 42:37
Perfect, perfect for our nose. A favorite book, mentor or podcast for growth.
Esha Chhabra 42:45
I've always turned to the words of Pico Iyer. He is a travel writer so not a sustainability writer. But I just loved the way that he's explored the world. And he wrote a book that was about stillness, which I still try to read every year, every so often, it just grounds me again. So I really love his words.
Elizabeth Stein 43:05
Three things that you're currently loving. It could be a product, a TV show, anything.
Esha Chhabra 43:11
You know, it's not really things to be honest. For me, it's more activities. So I've really enjoyed spending time in the garden and trying to teach myself to garden and I'm not a perfect, I'm not good at it always I fail. But I'm really loving that. I'm loving, learning how to make things from scratch. So I didn't get on the whole sourdough bandwagon during the pandemic. I missed that. But I've been making a lot of focaccia bread at home lately, teaching myself how to make like different breads. And in terms of the third thing, I'm trying to think there's a podcast actually, that I've been listening to that I think is kind of interesting. It's by a doctor turns kind of author in the UK, Rangan Chatterjee. And he explores different aspects of mind body health. I just I find it fascinating as someone who's not like a medical student, or from the Med field. It's been really educating.
Elizabeth Stein 44:06
Sounds interesting. Favorite Words To Live By?
Esha Chhabra 44:11
Peace, kindness, and humility.
Elizabeth Stein 44:17
What is one thing that you wish more people knew about you?
Esha Chhabra 44:23
That I don't always have it together, I think will see me as someone who's always had my act together, and I don't always have it together. And sometimes I am juggling and trying to just get on top of everything. Yeah, I think in general, it's just, we see the exterior and it seems all glossy and perfect. And it's like, no, it's not. We're all just trying to figure it out.
Elizabeth Stein 44:45
And lastly, what is your number one non negotiable to thrive on your wellness journey?
Esha Chhabra 44:54
I have started doing this thing where I just really try very hard not to work on the weekends. And as basic as that may sound I don't open my laptop unless it's absolutely urgent. And it's been really great. Like my mind is just so rested by Sunday and I feel great when I started on Monday then.
Elizabeth Stein 45:17
Do you have a hard time not looking at your phone, though? How do you deal with that? Yeah,
Esha Chhabra 45:23
Yeah, no, I do look at my phone. But I'm not like in a rush to reply to people. Maybe I'll see it. And I'll just be like, You know what, I'll deal with that later. And even my phone. Also, I use my phone more for like, entertainment or just to connect with someone on the weekend, but I don't use it for work in that way.
Elizabeth Stein 45:43
That's great. Well, in closing, is there anything that we haven't touched on? And then where can everybody find you?
Esha Chhabra 45:50
So there's a website that I've just put up with for the book, it's, my name, so it's very easy, you can find everything about the book. Is there anything we haven't touched on? You know, I would just reiterate that this is really, whether you're a consumer or you're an entrepreneur, this is really going to be a long haul, journey in terms of sustainability and regenerative. So just go on that journey and do the best that you can. And don't get too hard on yourself. I would also invite consumers to ask questions, you know, to not be scared to ask companies questions. I found even as a consumer myself, when I ask a company a question, and they send me a thoughtful reply, you know, you realize that they're actually thinking about these issues. They may not have the perfect answer, but they're thinking about it. And I think that goes really far. It doesn't have to be just like, we're perfect. We're checking all the boxes kind of thing. But just as a consumer, get engaged and ask these questions, if you're curious. I know companies love to hear from their customers.
Elizabeth Stein 46:50
Yeah, absolutely. I think it's love to hear from it. And it's also all about progress, not perfection.
Esha Chhabra 46:57
Yeah. You said it. Well. You said it well.
Elizabeth Stein 47:00
All right Esha, Well thank you so much for coming on today. It was such a pleasure to chat with you.
Esha Chhabra 47:05
Absolutely. It's my pleasure as well.
Elizabeth Stein 47:10
Thanks so much for joining me and live purely with Elizabeth. I hope you feel inspired to thrive on your wellness journey. If you enjoy today's episode, don't forget to rate subscribe and review. You can follow us on Instagram at purely_elizabeth to catch up on all the latest. See you next Wednesday on the podcast.