Refill Startups Go Green With Sustainable Packaging

sustainable cleaning products

When cleancult Co-Founder Ryan Lupberger looked at other brands of cleaning products, he noted that the same problems always appeared to arise even with better-for-the-world offerings. “They used really heavy plastic packaging,” Lupberger told PYMNTS in an interview, adding he also didn’t understand their ingredient lists. At the same time, he said, “no brand has come at this from an online perspective” through new branding and distribution online. Today, his company sells green eco-friendly cleaning products on its direct-to-consumer (D2C) website through starter kits and recurring refills.

The company’s business model focuses on cutting down on packaging waste through online sales: cleancult ships its green products in milk cartons or paper mailers for refills instead of sending consumers bottles of cleaning products with each order. As for the products themselves, Lupberger said he uses ingredients such as coconut oil that distinguish it from other products on the market. The company’s products essentially use three, four or five ingredients and are unique as Lupberger noted that not many cleaners use coconut. And, as the company operates on a D2C model, Lupberger noted that it can use better components — essentially using “the cleanest ingredients on the market,” he said.

The Business Model

To start a recurring purchase at cleancult, consumers answer questions through a membership builder (i.e., do they have a laundry machine and how often they clean each week). They then can choose which type of hand soap they prefer — bar soap or foaming hand soap — and which items they would like in their cleaning plan, ranging from liquid dish soap to laundry tablets. The tablets are shipped in paper mailers — and those cleaning products were made in their current form because of their ability to be packaged that way. “That’s what we actually designed and developed tablets rather than pods,” Lupberger said.

The company’s website is integrated with Stripe for payments and its custom checkout process is built on Django. Customers can elect to start their membership by receiving a recycled plastic bottle for their products — and a glass offering will be coming soon. If consumers already have a glass or plastic bottle that they can use to store the cleaning product, they can opt for the refill packaging right away. And, beyond its own eCommerce channel, the company has taken an omnichannel strategy to involve brick-and-mortar brands as well as an online retailer.

For starters, the company is working with The Container Store (“They’ve been a fantastic partner for us,” Lupberger said). Lupberger has found cleaning to be too omnichannel to be only online, as people buy cleaners when they go to a brick-and-mortar store. Beyond The Container Store, the company also has products such as all-purpose cleaner and laundry detergent tablets on Amazon. Those two channels allow consumers to make a one-time purchase, while the company’s website enables shoppers to purchase memberships.

When it comes to the company’s target market, Lupberger sees cleancult beginning with consumers who are concerned with the environment, and also working with the broader market. “Ideally, we’re starting with really eco-friendly customers [who] are not happy with their green cleaners because of how much plastic that they’re wasting.” However, he then hopes to go to the mass market because of the company’s design, efficacy, and ingredients. “We just don’t want to be for eco-friendly individuals,” Lupberger said.

Overall, he said the company would like to create the next brand in the space to compete with established natural cleaning offerings. Moreover, for now, there isn’t currently a plastic-free or eco-friendly brand from a packaging perspective. “We want to be that brand,” Lupberger said, adding that he wants to be the next pillar to inspire the millennial generation of people who say they want to purchase green but have not done so yet.

In 2015, for instance, Nielsen found that millennials are the “most willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings” or “almost three-out-of-four respondents.” At the same time, 72 percent of Generation Z was “willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact.” That willingness, too, extended beyond younger generations: More than half of baby boomers were also willing to pay more, too: “This segment will remain a substantial and viable market in the coming decade for select products and services from sustainable brands,” the report noted.

In the era of sustainability, direct-to-consumer startups like cleancult are striving to connect with shoppers of all ages — from baby boomers to Gen Z — through eco-friendly products and packaging that helps the earth, instead of hurting it.



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