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Kitchener packaging manufacturer tackles climate change

Georgette Packaging wants to make sustainable and carbon-neutral packaging more accessible and transparent for small businesses
Sarah Landstreet - Changemakers photo 1
Sarah Landstreet, founder and CEO of Georgette Packaging

One small Kitchener-based company is tackling climate change, through one carbon-neutral package at a time.
 
Georgette Packaging has been making environmentally-friendly packaging since 2013, with recycled, recyclable and biodegradable boxes, paper, cold and hot cups. The bulk of their clients are food businesses, like Four All Ice Cream, Donut Monster, Smile Tiger Coffee and Tin Roof Cafe. 
 
According to CEO and founder Sarah Landstreet, there are two ways of considering the environmental impact of manufacturing. The downstream environmental aspect considers the impact of the packaging after it has been used. 
 
“So after the customer has used the coffee cup or the box, is it going to go into the ocean? Or is it going to get recycled or composted?”
 
Whereas the upstream aspect considers what happens while the packaging is being made. This is the primary aspect Georgette Packaging is focused on now. 
 
“The reason we became a carbon neutral company is because we found that, even if packaging is technically compostable or recyclable, many municipalities can’t recycle or compost it. Or for the individual walking around the city, there’s no compost bin or recycling bin,” she said. “So we said, ok, what can we do if we don’t have any control over that?” 
 
So, they decided to shift into carbon neutral packaging in 2018. 
 
“The majority of the environmental impact of packaging is on the upstream side. Everything to do with climate change and greenhouse gas emissions happens there,” she said, citing that it takes a lot of electricity to make a packaging product, and then fuel to transport it. 
 
Being carbon neutral means that they calculate the emissions associated with the manufacturing and transportation of their product, and then invest in equal and opposite amount of trees “that are busy absorbing that much carbon dioxide.” 
 
“So the net result is that although we put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by making this packaging, we then invested in a natural system that absorbs an equivalent amount back, which makes it carbon neutral.” 
 
Sustainability is something Landstreet has always been passionate about. 
 
“I care a lot about resource stewardship; thinking about what impact we have on the systems around us, and how we can tread as lightly as possible to leave things a bit better off than we found them,” she said. 
 
This passion led her to mechanical engineering, where she worked in sustainability in London, England after her undergrad. But she found that engineering wasn’t “big” enough for her: she needed a project she could sink her teeth into. 
 
So when she was 23, she left engineering to open a bakery in Northern Ireland. 
 
“I didn’t know anything about baking. I just have a lot of energy, and the idea of starting a business really appealed to me,” she said. 
 
It was during this time that she noticed the packaging industry lacked transparency for small businesses. 
 
“So my objective was to try to open up the packaging manufacturing sector and make it more transparent and accessible to smaller businesses, who really need that branded packaging to make their mark, to look professional and get their brand out there,” she said. 
 
With this in mind, after running the bakery for three years, she sold the business and returned to Canada to get her MBA. By 2013 she had opened Georgette Packaging. 
 
Although it may seem that Landstreet is business-driven, her favourite part about the business is that she can educate people on sustainability and climate change. 
 
“I remember, I spoke with a lady who was head of marketing for a major U.S. brand. And she said ‘I've learned more about climate change in the last half an hour than I knew in [my whole] life. And this is a person making decisions on behalf of millions of customers, you know, so that's a huge thrill for me, for someone to be like, ‘now I have this information, I might see things a little bit differently, I might make my decisions a little bit more based on that.”
 
As such, she said the future of Georgette Packaging will continue to be an educational one.  Already, she and one of her colleagues have launched a website to inform people of where their packaging comes from. 
 
“We wanted to convey information to the end user, the person who is actually getting the coffee, or the box of donuts. They might not be looking to buy packaging, but they would still like to know where their packaging came from, and how to dispose of it.” 
 
The website is filled with short articles and videos about how to properly dispose of packaging and what makes something more or less sustainable. 
 
However, Landstreet, was recently awarded the Globe & Mail’s 2022 Report on Business Changemakers Award, is about to embark on a totally new journey. In May, she will be handing over the reins of the company to her colleagues, and heading to med school. 
 
“It sounds like it’s out of left field, but it’s not too different,” she said. “It’s still very much within the sphere of good stewardship of resources, except the environment is a broader, long-term scale, whereas with health you’re looking at individual people and helping them take good care of their own health."
 
“There’s a huge education and advocacy piece there, taking something that is complicated and scientific and making it accessible to somebody and inspiring them to take action,” she said.
 
Kristopher Lewis and Jennifer Appleby Vines are set to take over ownership of the company in the summer. 

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