My latest guest in the Content Pathway interview series has a rich history in the environmental industry. He is a serial entrepreneur, has appeared on Dragons’ Den, and is the brains behind both the collapsible bottle ‘Ohyo’ and the extendable bag ‘2Bag’.
I’m very pleased to welcome Guy Jeremiah, an environmental consultant and entrepreneur with big ideas, vast success, and more than 20 years hard work helping the environment. Whilst he has had a role to play in many projects and businesses, I’m most curious to pick his brains about Ohyo and 2Bag, two ideas that positively contribute to the environment, sustainability and the circular economy. I believe that the widespread or mainstream adoption of these two products, in particular, could have a huge effect on society, and I’m sure you will too.
Hi Guy, thanks for sparing a few minutes for this interview. Would you like to tell the audience a bit about the journey that led you here?
Ohyo was born out of necessity. I found myself at St Pancras station with no water fountain in sight, no bottle in my pocket, and no option but to buy a bottle of water. From my background as an environmental consultant, I knew the wasted resources that made that bottle of water. It takes a quarter litre of oil and up to 7 litres of water to make 1 litre of bottled water. There are enough plastic bottles discarded every year to stretch around the world 1000 times!
What was the main problem you faced that helped you conceive the idea for Ohyo?
I concluded that people are reluctant to carry re-usable bottles because they are too bulky. I invented Ohyo as a handy, collapsible water bottle that’s easy to take anywhere. An extended Ohyo holds 500ml, or 1000ml for the larger version. When empty, an Ohyo will compress down to fit in a pocket. Using (and re-using) an Ohyo avoids the need to buy environmentally-damaging bottled water. In the Summer of 2009, we cycled around London looking for fountains and established www.findafountain.org with a free app for users to find drinking water sources near them.
Where has Ohyo been most popular?
From my initial idea (in 2008) to prototype, it took me two years before launching, to great acclaim, in 2010 at Prince Charles’ “Garden Party to Make a Difference” at Clarence House. In 2012, I struck a major deal to stock the bottles in Marks and Spencer as part of their Plan A Sustainability Campaign; a great example of how sustainable credentials can help to promote a product. The bottles are “carbon neutral” after just two to three uses. They are now stocked in Wholefoods.
I’ve always been concerned that large events, like trade shows, concerts, and festivals create too much plastic waste, and that patrons should keep one cup with them for the entire event. Do you think Ohyo fills that need?
I have been pursuing the festivals for many years. In the early years, there was a reluctance to adopt re-usable containers because of the loss of revenue for bottled water. Now we are facing another problem; the festivals are keener to offer fountains and re-usable containers. However, because of the backlash against plastic in general, many are planning to offer imported steel bottles from China with a carbon footprint 33 times bigger than a Sheffield Ohyo bottle that will last 10,000 squishes! Try as I might to educate people that the battle is against “SINGLE-USE PLASTIC”, the perception against plastic in general persists.
2Bag is an extendable bag, allowing you to leave the house with something suitable for your laptop, and to come back later with a bag big enough for some groceries too. This flexibility must have caused some challenges in the design?
I took the problem to London Designer Felix Conran (Grandson of Sir Terence Conran), and from there the Ohyo Bag was formed. The Ohyo Bag saves resources by limiting the waste of plastic bags and saving people buying two different bags when one will adapt to all scenarios. Felix Conran said “I want to make objects that have a longer lifecycle than is expected of them because if you only need to buy something once, this is the ultimate in sustainability.”
You’ve been in the environmental industry for a long time, what led you into it? Was it intentional?
Yes, I studied environmental sciences from 1989 to 1992, so it was an early career choice in a pretty new area at the time! It just seemed like a problem that wouldn’t go away – and it hasn’t!
In my home, we’ve always called the plastic bag full of other plastic bags ‘the sausage’. I think everyone has one of these, and usually, they get bigger rather than smaller. Whilst the plastic bag tax has certainly tackled this, how do you address the mentality change that is required in encouraging people to switch to a reusable bag instead of disposables?
Ohyo has developed the Ohyo Bag that grows with your day. I came up with the multi-purpose bag when my work bag was never big enough for the groceries I buy on the way home, forcing me to buy plastic bags. Furthermore, there’s only one thing worse than a bag of plastic bags under your sink, and that’s a bag of reusable bags that you never remember to take with you. It’s easy to forget to bring a bag to the supermarket unless it IS your daily bag!
Content Pathway is all about communicating environmental change, so I’m curious to know how you approach the communications aspect of your products. Do you try and drive interest through convenience, environmental benefits, tasteful design, or something else?
I would say that the convenience is the real seller for both our products. I describe the eco-benefits as the halo effects after the purchase!
Can you tell me a bit about Greenspace and Legal Register?
I set up Greenspace in 2004 as a way for companies to stay compliant with ever-changing environmental laws. The system has developed over the years as a way for companies to manage their total EHS Management Systems (ISO 14001 and 45001) and continue to make improvements.
What is Find-a-Fountain?
In 2009, we created the Find-a-Fountain campaign and compiled a database of the UK’s public drinking fountains. With support from The Prince of Wales’ Start initiative we launched our app to show users where to find their nearest drinking fountains and encourage users to crowd-source the map with new finds. The Find-a-Fountain website now resides within the 1859 Drinking Fountain Association.
In these austere times, I don’t expect the public sector to foot the bill for installation and maintenance of the fountains. But neither do I expect them to stand in our way. Like our Victorian predecessors, there are philanthropists willing to fund memorial or corporately sponsored fountains. However, if you’d like to leave a fountain rather than a park bench, get started now as it will take years to gain planning approval and negotiate the minefield of the Water Regulations Advisory Scheme. These barriers led the Mayor’s Office to abandon Boris Johnson’s 2008 pledge for a new era of water fountains.
However, the tide is shifting. After we lobbied Network Rail in 2009, they refused to instal fountains for fear of upsetting retailers, but more recently with a little media pressure, they performed a green U-turn with the first fountains installed at Charing Cross. The Royal Parks installed brand new ornamental fountains and Borough Market has followed suit. Perhaps the era of fountains is slowly returning?
Isn’t it time for a fresh approach? Rather than regulate against fountains, perhaps Local Government should plan for fountains by publishing a list of pre-approved locations and fountain specifications. Benefactors could then bid for a location via a Fund-a-Fountain website. A sponsored fountain in Leicester Square could, for example, attract in excess of £75,000, with enough surplus to finance the scheme and potentially fund a few fountains in less glamorous locations?
Environmental technologies, products, and awareness are all rapidly evolving. If you had to predict what will happen in the next few years, what would you expect to start seeing?
As an optimist, I would like to see technology, apps and products to tackle the massive challenges ahead. I hope my ventures make a positive impact, but it will be developments in Renewables, such as tidal energy, and more efficiently managed cities that are going to make the step change we need.
I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but what was it like appearing on Dragons’ Den?
Armed with a prototype bottle, a great story and a handful of initial sales, I ventured into BBC Dragon’s Den. My pitch was really quite good and in the two-second pause before the Dragons attacked, I thought everything was going well!
“A LUDICROUS invention” Duncan Bannatyne as he hurled an Ohyo at me.
“I’d rather stick pins in my eyes” Theo Paphitis
I left with no cash, some great PR but no regrets. With almost 700,000 bottles sold to date and the team’s equity intact, why would I?
Do you have any ideas under production?
We hope to launch a collapsible coffee cup for Ohyo, and an Improvement Tracker for Greenspace.
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