Social Responsibility at Scale
Sarah Paiji Yoo is CEO and co-founder of Blueland, which is reimagining cleaning products to eliminate single-use plastic packaging. In a crowded landscape, she’s successfully cutting through the noise by connecting with consumers in innovative ways through social impact. With a strong mission to make eco-friendliness easy, effective, and affordable, read on to discover how Yoo was able to scale her company while keeping true to Blueland’s mission.
Today, Blueland is known for its cleaning products, but at the company’s inception, Yoo was just focused on eliminating single use plastic packaging. Stemming from her personal journey as a new mom concerned about microplastics in drinking water, “it was never about cleaning. It was, how can we start eliminating some of the single-use plastic packaging,” she says.
She dabbled in a number of potential products (including toothpaste, deodorant, and hand soap) before settling on cleaning spray. Why? It had the potential to address plastic pollution with a really strong carbon emissions story.
“We're shrinking down what's typically a bottle of solution down to a tablet that's about on average about 100 times lighter and smaller,” Yoo explains. “We can fit 100 more of our tablets onto a truck, a plane or a boat, which again, is a lot better for the planet from a carbon emissions perspective.”
The takeaway? Hone in on one problem and define how your product or service can provide the solution to it.
The DTC Approach
As a new brand with an innovative approach to cleaning products, Blueland always leaned towards a direct-to-consumer concept allowing them to better educate and form direct relationships with customers. “With Blueland, this was a new behavior and there was a level of education involved,” she says of the brand’s tablets that get mixed with water to create a cleaning solution.
Yoo acknowledges that being a DTC brand allowed Blueland the flexibility that proved essential to its success. “That flexibility enabled us to really address the questions that were top of mind for consumers,” she says of in-the-moment feedback. Being in traditional retail would have made it difficult to address customers' top-of-mind questions and update messaging in response to changing preferences.
Understand your target audience and make sure you’re communicating in the correct channels to reach them.
Sizing up the Competition
Who’s the main competition for a startup like Blueland? Yoo has set her sights on the big dogs of the cleaning product industry. “The original inspiration and ongoing motivation for Blueland is in our desire to really have an impact, a positive impact on the planet,” Yoo says. “And I think for us to be able to truly maximize that, our goal needs to be products that are in every household in America. And so we have a really big vision and a big set of goals. And we really want to flip all of these traditional notions of what an eco-friendly brand is and product is on its head.”
How is she able to compete with the main players? By having non-negotiables like a cleaning product that works really well and pricing that is in-line with what customers want to pay.
“I truly believe that if we're going out with a product that is a lot more expensive, we're going to be a product that's only for the 1%. And that's not how you maximize the impact that we can have on the planet,” she adds.
What sets your product apart and what are the areas you are not willing to compromise on? By identifying these factors and committing to them, you’ll be able to create a competitive advantage.
The Social Media Effect
An amplifier at a relatively low price, Yoo says Instagram has helped Blueland share its brand to a larger audience while showcasing products in an authentic way.
“I am constantly in the flow of our communities’ feedback and response,” she says of her involvement in the management of the platform. She believes that direct consumer feedback is valuable for understanding consumer preferences and can inform other areas of the business — like website experience and product development.
Not only is Instagram for community building and engagement, it allows the brand to showcase its bigger plans and mission beyond being just a quiet cleaning brand on a retailer’s shelf.
Leverage social media to share about your brand authentically — from product education to company mission and values. Find the channel(s) that resonate the most with your customers and nurture your digital communities.
Mission Alignment is Mission Critical
“I think businesses can't sort of singularly be focused just on maximizing profits, but have a responsibility to, the planet, the communities that we exist in, [and] our team,” Yoo says of developing the business as a B Corp. Not only is it important to have mission alignment with prospective employees, it’s equally crucial for investors. Yoo admits, sometimes the founders may prioritize things outside of profit, and it's important for investors to believe in the mission and have a passion for it as well.
Additionally, Blueland has partnered with Cradle to Cradle, one of the most comprehensive certification programs in the world, from the very beginning of the company’s inception. Recognizing that their actions and production methods have an impact on the environment, the team aims to have a holistic view of operations, not just in terms of their impact on single-use plastic packaging.
“We’re really able to leverage years, decades of, very thoughtful work that they've done to make sure that we can [sic] be the best versions of ourselves,” Yoo says of the partnership.
From hiring new employees to considering future investors, it’s integral to your business that everyone is on the same page when it comes to mission, vision, and values.
By staying true to her mission and making a concerted effort to connect authentically with customers, Yoo has successfully delivered on her goal to make eco-friendliness approachable, effective, and affordable.
How can you sync social impact initiatives with business growth? Focus on making your product or service the best that it can be, remain steadfast in your mission, and actively engage in genuine connection with your stakeholders.