Plastic waste pollution in the ocean, disposable gloves with seagrass and a sea turtle underwater
iStock/Damocean

What do sugar cane, bamboo, and cassava have in common? They’re all eco-friendly alternatives to plastic.

Pollution and climate change have inspired entrepreneurs the world over to seek innovative, renewable solutions for more sustainable business models. A 2020 study by start-up accelerator TechFounders and sustainability consulting firm akzente found that 62% of startups in Europe considered the sustainability factor prior to their founding—only 14% said they hadn’t thought about it at all.

But some startups are going beyond just thinking about sustainability, or even implementing internal processes. These future-focused leaders are actually building products that impact the sustainability of their customers and communities.

EcoNest Philippines is one of these.

Joshua Caampued, cofounder of EcoNest, proudly states that his company specializes in “eco-friendly, technologically advanced, unique packaging products,” as well as “custom business solutions for enterprises in the Philippines.” We spoke to him about how EcoNest got started and how it’s moving forward.

Joshua Caampued holding a tree sapling in a plastic-alternative EcoNest bag at a community activity
Joshua Caampued, cofounder of EcoNest Philippines | ©EcoNest Philippines

The market for plastic alternatives is growing fast. What makes EcoNest special?

Our products range from cassava biobags that dissolve in hot water (a direct alternative to plastic bags or mailer pouches) to takeout boxes made from sugarcane. We even have bubble wrap alternatives made from sustainably sourced paper. But we don’t only sell products that are currently on the market. We’re constantly looking for the latest eco-friendly items, both to curate them for clients and assess whether they are really earth friendly.

For example, we see to it that our paper-based items have Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, ensuring they were sourced without harming the world’s forests.

The ultimate goal of the company is to alleviate the consequences of plastic and chemical waste, and this is reflected in our three brand pillars: prevent, sustain, and cure.

By prevent, we mean to prevent further damage to nature by offering truly eco-friendly products.

By sustain, we mean to help our partners sustain their transition to eco-friendly materials through communication campaigns. We educate end users on the proper care and disposal of our products through social media, as well as through webinars.

By cure, we mean to help cure what is already damaged in our environment. We do this with donations and activities like beach cleanups, mangrove and pawikan (sea turtle) preservation, and tree planting activities. These are also opportunities to engage the community. During our tree planting activity, for example, we reached out to young kids in the area and taught them about the importance of preserving Mother Nature.

Guided by these pillars, last year we were able to eliminate around 2 million pieces of petroleum-based plastic thanks to consumers who switched to using our eco-friendly items.

EcoNest helps educate communities about sustainability. | ©EcoNest Philippines

Did you always envision yourself working in this industry?

Not in the beginning. Only after finishing the GLOBIS course on kokorozashi did I realize that my life goal is to help save the world from climate change.

Initially, my goal for my MBA was to strengthen my knowledge in the field of finance and investing, since I’m an active trader on the Philippine Stock Exchange. I decided on GLOBIS because I was attracted to the diversity of students and successful alumni. I really enjoyed Japan and came to appreciate its rich culture and exceptional cuisine.

But studying about kokorozashi made me realize how important preserving nature is to me, too. I greatly enjoy the beach, especially surfing. Knowing the current pollution situation of our waters, I realized the beaches I love probably won’t last for future generations if we don’t take action immediately. Our legacy should be to pass on the beautiful things we have and that joy we feel in nature.

Back when I first started thinking about this, my partner was into the food business and joined a certain bazaar that requires sellers to use only truly eco-friendly packaging materials. It turned out these were really difficult to find. At the same time, I was seeing a lot of new eco-friendly technologies and products being sold and distributed in other countries. I thought to myself, “Why not make these available here, as well?” That’s when we realized the potential of the industry and the positive effect it can bring to society.

I know now that it’s my purpose to protect what I am passionate about. And I do that through EcoNest Philippines.

EcoNest Philippines' social media announcement about adopting mangroves
©EcoNest Philippines

What are the biggest struggles you’ve faced? Did you learn anything important in the tough times?

Most people think that starting a business is easy, and I was guilty of this prior to launching my business. But in reality, this is no easy task. Every day, there is a problem that needs to be addressed, ranging from HR and daily operations to financial concerns.

This stems from the problem most start-ups experience: systems need to be employed and adjusted to cover all areas of the business. Problems will arise on a regular basis, and the business should be able to adapt and adjust. Like they say, “Fail fast, and pivot.”

Formulation of a business plan prior to launching is not all there is to it. You should also be prepared to make adjustments along the way. You need to identify the changes necessary to perfect a system that fits your business so it can run smoothly.

What’s been the biggest success of your career so far?

Simply being able to launch the business and keep it running! The challenges I have encountered have strengthened my character and my business know-how. I never imagined that I would be managing this type of business—I had no background in it, after all. But my MBA equipped me to better handle various situations.

I have accepted that things will not get easier as we run the business. It will only get more and more difficult each day. But only by continuously learning and adapting can I make a great impact on my community.

It can really be overwhelming, especially now that we have an ongoing pandemic that’s forcing so many businesses to close down. We had to adapt in the way we run the business. Like a lot of companies, we implemented work from home setups. We had to make extra sure we had proper sanitation of the warehouse and boxes.

But we are here, surviving and continuing to save Mother Earth one plastic bag at a time.