Beyond Bamboo: Ethical Ratings System Interview


hands holding a globe of the earth in a blue sky
photo from Beyond Bamboo website

Who are Beyond Bamboo, and what can people anticipate from the service?

Beyond Bamboo is a community and marketplace that has been created to inspire people and organisations to be more ethical, sustainable and conscious consumers. We source locally, advise our sellers and suppliers how to become even more sustainable and vet them through a rigorous accreditation process so we can make it easy for our customers to make better choices. We do the hard work so they don’t have to.

We also provide resources for more sustainable packaging options, for offsetting delivery and transport and showcase our sellers so we can raise awareness of their brands, what they stand for and the causes that they support.

All of this is transparently shared on our marketplace through a Look Behind the Label for each seller and supplier.

Why is it important to buy from ethical and sustainable businesses?

For years, people have been talking about sustainability without realising that to sustain means to do no more harm but does not work to restore the damage we have already done to the planet. I believe we need to go beyond sustainability and create solutions that are restorative and rejuvenate the eco-system. The start of this for many people is making the decision to buy from ethical and sustainable businesses. We live in an instant gratification, throwaway society and so making choices easy is important.

light blue sustainable face mask in a bamboo bowl

You've developed a way of ranking the ethics of businesses that will feature on the platform. Can you tell us a bit more about the Ethical Ratings System and why is it important for consumers and businesses?

We have worked with Ethical Consumer who have 30 year’s experience of vetting businesses for sustainability and ethics to develop a bespoke accreditation so we can ensure that we are doing due diligence on the sellers and suppliers that want to join our site. The accreditation has two parts. The first part is mandatory for everyone and is the minimum requirement for people to join Beyond Bamboo. With this we can assure our customers and clients that the brands are definitely well on the journey to being the best that they can be from a sustainability and ethical perspective. 

The second part is much more rigorous and what we are calling ‘Working Towards Beyond Sustainable’. This has been created to ensure that we and our sellers are constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries of possibility in terms of negative impact on the planet.

Our accreditation is important because it demonstrates that we are not green washing and that we are walking the talk, we have been through our own process and are ‘Working Towards’. It provides a measure of success and support system for our sellers and suppliers and gives peace of mind for our customers and clients that we are doing everything we can to ensure that they can feel good about what they are buying. 

What inspired you to develop this system?

The fact that so many marketplaces out there say that they are sustainable and ethical but aren’t taking the time to actually ensure this is true and provide evidence towards this. As a vegetarian who doesn’t want to buy anything that uses animal products or by-products and also doesn’t want to see cruelty to animals, it is hugely important to me that I can believe what I am told by retailers. I also wanted us to create an aspirational industry standard for people to raise awareness for the need to change. 

field of British wildflowers with daisies

One of the criteria for the Ethical Ratings System is that the products listed must be “non-toxic” to pass. How do you define non-toxic, and what standards will businesses be held to in this category? Will this extend to the ways in which the company disposes of waste products (i.e. when manufacturing bamboo fabric)?

Bearing in mind that many companies are at the start of their journey, we ask them to work towards change and guide them with what is acceptable and what is not. They commit to aiming towards not using toxins.

Having said that, certain 'ingredients' within the manufacturing industry are now definitely not allowed. Non-toxic, for example, must be free from SLES, SLS, PEGs, parabens, triclosan, triclocarban, any Formaldehyde-donating preservatives, and petroleum-based ingredients (PABA, Benzene, Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Phthalates, Toluene), BPA plastics,  Methylisothiazolinone (MI), Microbeads and no artificial colours. These are mostly for cleaning, skincare, hair care and cosmetics, etc. You can find an extensive list of exactly what these are under 'our policies' and sellers have to make a declaration they do not use such ingredients in their manufacturing process. 

As to the manufacturing of goods such as bamboo fabric for accreditation we will require clear transparency and certification of their supply chain and the processes the manufacturers follow to ensure they are indeed ethical and sustainable during the manufacturing and following the manufacturing processes.

Another criteria for the Ethical Ratings System is a written commitment to using more sustainable materials and moving away from plastics. What resources do you see being used in future, and why do you think it is important to move away from plastic based packaging?

Most of us know plastic isn’t biodegradable, and that is what makes it so damaging to the environment. Unfortunately, the majority of plastic waste is sent straight to landfills and because it isn’t a natural material, it cannot break down easily. Ultimately, if and when it does manage to break down, it is extremely toxic to the surrounding ecosystems. Out of all the plastic produced, only a meagre 9% is properly recycled. If it doesn’t end up in landfills, plastic often ends up in the ocean where it is consumed by marine animals. 

So, the first steps we can take is to reduce our usage. There is the packaging of the products themselves e.g. use refillable such as glass containers or steel and aluminium. This isn’t feasible for packing and shipping so we have polices in place to guide our sellers to seek alternatives for packaging including reusing old packaging or recycled paper and cardboard. There are now lots of fantastic companies whose materials and systems are based on biological entities using organic and biodegradable materials such as mushroom packaging.

hands using a tablet on a white table with houseplants as a person browses Beyond Bamboo

The pass the Ethical Ratings System businesses need to follow the Ethical Trade Initiative base code. However, when it comes to child labour this policy does not specify an age restriction and many companies (including self-defined 'ethical' brands) employ children as young as fourteen due to the lack of definition. Will Beyond Bamboo have a stricter approach, and if so, what will this be?

Under the ETI base code, our guidelines are; all workers must have reached the age of 15, or have reached the minimum legal working age under a countries specific national law, whichever age is the higher. But as we aim to work as much as possible with UK manufacturers, under the school leaving age of 16, working hours are strictly limited to the number of hours a child is allowed to work. 

This system could be a huge help for those looking to shop ethically and sustainably, but how can customers trust that everything is accurate in terms of the claims? How are these checks on businesses conducted, who is doing the assessments, and will there be reassessments periodically to ensure the ratings are up to date? Will the full reports be available on request?

Our team currently manually takes each seller through our accreditation process requesting evidence where relevant and making recommendations for changes. We have a look behind the label for each brand with more details and we can provide full reports on demand. We will reassess yearly, but our sellers are able to resubmit every time they make changes. Eventually this will be automated with team checks for low scores or lack of evidence. 

How do you predict Beyond Bamboo and the Ethical Ratings System will change the online marketplace, shopping experience, and/or standards that businesses are held to?

I believe that our accreditation will become an aspirational industry standard for organisations looking to be beyond sustainable. As we grow globally, I would like to see us become an ethical and sustainable alternative to the big online retail giants. We are working hard to make it easy for our customers and clients to switch to us. 

Tiffany Kelly founder of Beyond Bamboo

About Tiffany Kelly:

Tiffany Kelly is founder of Beyond Bamboo, a global community of sustainable products, services and suppliers working as a collective to restore and rejuvenate the planet. With a marketplace, a B2B supplier portal, a knowledge hub and a team of passionate people dedicated to triple bottom line reporting, Beyond Bamboo aims to help us all do well by doing good.

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