Anita Spiller’s parallel careers are defined by passion. As a United Church minister, a private business owner, and now, directing ESG (environmental, social and governance) initiatives for Tru Earth, her work and life are characterized by social justice, collaboration, and leaving the planet better than she found it.
At Tru Earth, a Certified B Corp, award-winning, household cleaning products organization, Anita and the Executive Leadership Team focus on disrupting the billion-dollar homecare market, eliminating household plastic jugs (and other single-use plastics), battling microplastics and donating earth-friendly products to organizations in need. Tru Earth has prevented 165 million plastic jugs from being created and donated over 33 million of its earth-friendly laundry detergent strips in just four years.
National Retailers Where Tru Earth Products Can Be Purchased
|Wakefern – Shop Rite
|Kroger – Corporate
|Ahold – Stop & Shop
|Kroger – Ralph’s
|Delhaize – Hannaford
|Kroger – King Soopers
|Kroger – Roundys/Cobb/Pick n save
|Kroger – Fred Meyer
|Kroger – QFC
|Kroger – Mariano’s/Roundys
|New Seasons Market
|Healthy Edge Retail Group
|True Value Hardware
|Do It Best Hardware
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian. I’m so honored and privileged to have with us today Anita Spiller. She’s the director of ESG at Tru Earth. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Anita.
Anita Spiller: Thank you, John. I’m so excited to be here. I feel like I’m amongst the superstars, so thanks for making time for us.
John: You are the superstar today and we’re so happy to have you on to tell the story of Anita Spiller and the story of Tru Earth. Like I said, before we start talking about what you and your colleagues are doing at Tru Earth to make the world a more sustainable and better place, I’d love you to share, where did you grow up and how did you even get on this journey?
Anita: Great question. I get to go way back to the beginning.
Anita: I was born and raised in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, a teeny-tiny little suburb of Toronto. You all might know or Toronto as we say here in Canada. I am the youngest of 4 which is important. It means that I’m the scrappy one, I’m the one that’s always trying to run ahead of my big sisters, all 3 sisters. There were no men allowed in our house other than my dad. I was surrounded by some pretty incredible mentors in my life. My mom had a gay friend in the early ’70s before you could do that.
Anita: My aunt was always a woman who wanted to raise up other women. She wrote a book Some Eye[?] and Advice for the Working Women. I think it was 1986. She wrote a column for what it meant for women to be in the workforce and how to crash away those glass ceilings. From a very young age, I was surrounded by incredible people. We’re really just trying to fight for humanity and the planet. I was recycling before it was even a thing. I was the kid that had the same pack for 12 years because it was perfectly fine. I was the one who was sewing on patches on my jeans. I do think environmentalism has always been in my blood and then very early on, I think in my teens, I realized I think I’m hearing a call from God. So along the way in my early 30s, I also became an ordained minister.
Anita: So for me, it’s the intersectionality that matters. I care about the people and the planet. It is the 2 that interact with each other. I’m part-time on purpose. I’m an Ecotheologian, so I’m an environmentalist in half of my time. The other half, I have a community of faith that I lead. And [crosstalk] it the…
John: That’s wonderful.
Anita: It’s really a cool thing. I have a really cool life and one of them informs the other, right? It is the environmentalism and creation that I can talk to with my folks at my church, but then it also is that which helps inform my business and the work that I’m doing here at Tru Earth.
John: That’s so… And what part of the faith is your church? What kind of faith-based church is it?
Anita: It’s the United Church of Canada, and as we say, we have a very large tent. We are open and welcome and loving to all.
John: It’s great. We don’t care who you love. We’re going to love you and welcome you or quite a liberal faith. But we’re also too struggling with what it means to belong and what it means to be a member of society, what it means to be stewards of creation since I believe we are all stewards of the planet.
John: We are. Let’s go back to what you just said. It’s so funny. You frame it up as though, “We have a big tent.” Isn’t that really what God… We’re all God’s children. The tent is as big as… It couldn’t be we wanted to be as big as possible, right? That’s [crosstalk] the language with me.
Anita: Got it then. At least from my tent, the tent that I want to be a part of in this world. It is also a space for non-believers, for people that are questioning faith, for people that have been hurt by the institution we call church.
Anita: There’s been lots of damage at the hands of churches, lots of reconciliation that needs to be done. But for me, we can’t be in conversation, we can’t take steps towards reconciling unless we’re in that tent together and being in conversation with each other. So, it’s a big tent.
John: I have to tell you, after having over 2,000 guests on this show over 16 years, I’ve never had the honor, and I say honor I mean it, to have an Ecotheologian on the show because you’re calling is just what a duality of purpose and what a wonderful way to spend a life.
Anita: I am living my passion and my dream. I feel sometimes I’m the luckiest woman alive. There are very few people that really get to do their passion activities all day, every day and for me, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, right? If I’m talking to amazing people like you or people who are struggling with loss or their faith or looking at new packaging for our new product. It all is driving towards my shared values which are justice and joy. I’m a joyful person and I want us to live with joy but also to fight with justice. I think that really matters in whatever work we’re doing is to fight for those who are suffering from all kinds of injustices.
John: I love it. I love what you’re doing and I’m so glad you’re here today.
Anita: Me, too.
John: It’s really one of the most unique backgrounds I’ve ever heard and that is a great combination because now, I could see how one fuels the other and feeds the other and it makes total sense. Let’s switch over to Tru Earth. For our listeners and viewers who just joined us, to find Anita and her colleagues and all the important work they’re doing in sustainability and making the world also a better place, please go to www.tru.earth. Talk a little bit about the mission, how Tru Earth got started, what its mission is and where you are now on the journey at Tru Earth in sustainability and truly making the world a better, greener, more sustainable place.
Anita: I love that question because it speaks to our core values and we are constantly trying to encourage and talk to people about what is it that we stand for. There are lots of environmental-friendly household cleaning product companies out there. We are one of them. We were the first to develop our patented Eco-Strip. We were the first in the market to disrupt this huge market that is doing nothing but producing and forcing consumers to buy plastic. So the very first thing that stands for us as a core value is our battle against plastic. I think you can only battle a couple of things in life. We can’t do everything, but the one thing we can do is eliminate plastic from household cleaning products. That’s our number one goal. We want to eliminate that plastic in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the laundry room. We started with our laundry strip, our first patented hero product and we’re going to keep going. We have a bunch of other products and I’m super excited that we’re eliminating plastic at source. What matters for me is system change. It’s not enough to just give consumers a different option. We have to change fundamentally the system. So, show-and-tell time. Ready? Can I do show-and-tell?
John: Yes, absolutely.
Anita: Show-and-tell. Okay. This is one of our laundry strips. This is our packaging. It is 100% eco-friendly. You can throw that in your recycle bin. We’ll just do a quickie little, open up the top at the back and then we pull out. In what could be the size of your cell phone is a month’s worth of laundry. You take one of our sheets and you rip it in half like this. One strip, one load of laundry. It’s as simple as throwing this strip into any laundry machine, any sink, any bucket and this will do your laundry. Easy, effective, earth-friendly and super small [crosstalk], and plastic-free.
John: Oh my God.
Anita: No plastic packaging at all. We’ve now done that for dishwashing detergent, for toilet bowl cleaner, for fabric softener. We have a whole line of cleaners, no plastic packaging.
John: I love this. Let’s step back, let’s parse this out though. When we talk about plastic, as we know, the media has done a great job of making plastic the boogeyman of the planet, and it is. We’re talking about for the most part right now, single-use post-consumer waste plastic.
Anita: Single-use and short-lived.
John: Short-lived. Got it.
Anita: Short-lived, right? The difference is, single-use is, the mass majority is used within 30 minutes, so your plastic water bottle, your plastic takeout container, your straw.
John: Good point.
Anita: It’s single-use. But if you think of the plastic household containers, those are more short-lived. You might have that container for a month or two depending. That’s what we consider short-lived.
John: Understood. This is the stuff that ends up, obviously, in landfills, rivers, lakes, oceans. Highly pollutes our environment. Hard to ever get out of our environment and then it becomes not only part of our ecosystem but eventually becomes ingested through water or other means into human beings which has all sorts of negative effects, which we haven’t even figured out all of the negative cascading effects that all these micro plastics now have on the… But what we do know, is that cancer rates have gone up in many instances, especially among young people across the world and the environmental burden we now have placed on this planet and on the people on this planet is greater than ever. Plastics are doing a great job of adding to that burden on a regular basis.
Anita: Right and that’s our critical cause. Us at Tru Earth, our critical cause is to make true, lasting change that helps save the planet. For us, we know that the mass majority of plastics that have been developed are still on this planet and they are degrading and affecting our human health like never before.
John: Unbelievable. Now, what year was Tru Earth started?
Anita: Tru Earth was started– we are coming up on 5 years. We’re four and a half years old. We were started in February- April 2019. We’re very young. We’re a very rapidly growing startup here in Canada, but we’re making our way into the U.S. We’re certainly on the shelves already for all of your U.S. listeners. We will be able to walk into many of the largest chains.
John: Let’s tell our listeners where to find these great products. Name a couple of chains and we’ll put in the show notes the chains and any other links you want us to give to [crosstalk] our Impact listeners.
Anita: Sure, of course.
John: Obviously, we’ll give a link to your website Tru Earth www.tru.earth, but name a couple of brand names that our listeners would be familiar with, where they could find your great products.
Anita: Yeah. If you know the Kroger’s chains and all of their sub-chains. You’ll be able to see it at Kroger’s and Publix is a big partners of ours as well. For your Canadian listeners, the Great Canadian Superstore and all of their sub-brands as well. It’s out there and we’re really trying hard to disrupt this ever-growing industry.
John: Is it also being sold online as well?
Anita: It is, yeah. You can buy it directly on tru.earth.com.
Anita: Certainly on Amazon, you can see it. You can see all of our bundles if you want to bundle our laundry with our fabric softener and our dryer balls. You can buy them the whole kit and caboodle, but for us, we’re just wanting consumers to make one small change. We’re not asking everybody to change the world. Change is the hardest thing to do for anyone and everyone, right?
John: I love this.
Anita: For me, it’s the… sorry to interrupt you. It’s the moment that it runs out that we want you to make the change. It’s the moment when you realize your fabric softener is out. It’s not just the bottle against plastic that are our core values, we also have core values to help the people who are most infected by this climate crisis that we are suffering from. We have a donation strategy which began as the pandemic was launching in the early part of March 2020. Since inception, we have donated 30 million loads of laundry across North America and as far away as Ghana. We are helping people with the second most requested items at food banks and shelters.
John: Wait a second. I’m having a little bit of a déjà vu moment, because without… I wanted to say when this show was new, 12, 13 years ago, year was 2010 and 2011, I had Jeffrey Hollender on the show to talk about the brand that he created, Seventh Generation. Jeffrey’s an amazing speaker …
John: … leader, and I started seeing his great product Seventh Generation all over the place and they became ubiquitous to all of us and we use them now in our house. This seems like an evolution in that whole process. You’ve even revolutionized it further. You’re saying that strip, I could take my dirty sweats and my dirty laundry, put it in with that strip, I no longer have to fill up cups of soap, need big containers that I have to lug home, full of heavy material, etc. It’s as easy as that strip.
Anita: You don’t have to store it. Imagine in your teeny-tiny little New York apartment, this is what you were storing, and then you added your fabric softener, your toilet bowl cleaner, and your dishwasher tabs. Your space is going to be this big. Really small, really manageable. My 88-year-old mom can carry it home from the grocery store instead of this big giant planet-killing jug.
John: Efficacy, I’m going to be happy with how my clothes smell and feel when they’re done.
Anita: Four different scents. If you like a fresh lilac or if you like unscented plus it’s not bad for the planet, It’s not bad for you. We don’t test on animals, we’re vegan. We’re trying really hard to produce the best possible product that’s also good for the planet.
John: Also, you have it for the dishwasher. What other areas of the household as well?
Anita: Yup, toilet bowl cleaner as well, and then we have a disinfectant spray.
Anita: So if you don’t want to use that plastic bottle, you can use our strip and put it in a bottle you already have.
John: Now, talk a little bit about some of the programs that you have that you just were mentioning that are having massive success. By the way, if you’ve just joined us either by viewer or if you’ll just listening in on a podcast or one of your payment favorite platforms, we have Anita Spiller with us today. She’s the director of ESG at Tru Earth. You can find Anita and her colleagues and all the great products they have that are making the world a more sustainable and a better place, please go to www.tru.earth. Go ahead, Anita.
Anita: Yeah. Part of it, for me, is we were recently B Corp certified which is a very big deal for us having that third-party verification. We’re the first amongst our competitors set to have that worldwide certification. But one of the reasons we were successful in that certification is our donations program, Is our commitment to have strong ties with all of those people that are fighting to help folks that are suffering from poverty. We’re building global and national partnerships to make sure that Feeding America has laundry detergent, that Food Banks Canada. Our product is in the Netherlands, it’s in Europe, it’s in organizations feeding Hong Kong. Because we know, for every dollar that someone can save on laundry detergent, they can then put a dollar into the gas can to go to work, or their bus pass. They can buy fresh food for their families.
Our hope is that we will have given away 100 million loads by Earth Day 2027, because we have big goals. Make no small plans because you’re not going to be able to manage it, but we think big. We know that it is all of us working together committed to helping to be a part of this really important solution. I would challenge anyone who’s listening to this podcast, “What product do you have that you can get into the hands of people who need it .” If you need help then you should call me. You should email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, because we’ll help you. We have strong partnerships. We know that transportation is a huge issue. There’s lots of product that’s available and there’s lots of need and it’s the transportation piece. If there’s a transportation company out here listening, we want to work together. Let’s get the product from where it is to where it’s needed, especially when it comes to food, right?
John: Yeah. Was this….Where was the “aha moment”? We know what the 3M sticky notes, that was just a mistake that happened over 3M that then became a very big product. Was someone trying to invent this? Was there some genius engineer or chemist or somebody who tried to engineer this and where is that person now? Or was this some laboratory mistake that turned into a stroke of genius?
Anita: No, this was an inventor who invented this product and it is patented. We do own the patent on that. For 7 years, he tried to tell his story. He tried to get it commercialized. He tried to get it marketed. But he was a scientist and so he was a family member of one of our co-founders who kept saying, “Help me with this product. Help me with this product.” It wasn’t until Ryan, one of our co-founders, was early morning with his kids watching some videos and it was an unboxing treasure chest. What was being unboxed was plastic. Plastic on plastic on plastic. He along with their other two co-founders got together to say, “Can we actually make this Eco-Strip work? What is this thing?” They all started to use it and they realized it’s magic. It’s small-sized and it is highly effective. They were able to take this product and this invention that sat on the shelf for 7 years, and were able to commercialize it. Part of that for me, too, is what other inventions are out there. Who is listening to this podcast saying, “I’ve got an idea,” that maybe it’s being squashed by a large conglomerate or maybe they just can’t tell their story. We all need to invest in those inventors, in those million dollar ideas that are sitting on the shelf somewhere that really have the capacity to provide systems change.
John: It shows you really– like Steve Jobs used to point out, “It’s the crazy ones that truly just don’t stop believing, keep us moving forward” and eventually, they’re seen as crazy until they’re seen as geniuses.
John: Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, the list goes on, the Steve Jobs of the world. “Crazy, crazy, cuckoo bananas,” until they’re seen not as cuckoo bananas anymore, but it’s really the ones that have led us out towards the light.
Anita: Right. Yeah, can an Eco-Strip change the world? Well, maybe not the whole world, but maybe a small part of it. Maybe we can encourage and we often say,” If every single organization that is producing household cleaning company converts to a strip, then we’ve done our job.” Our critical cause to help make true lasting change that help save the planet. If we can eradicate plastic in the production line, then we’ve done our job to help people.
John: In every journey, sustainability is not unlike other journeys, starts with one foot in front of the other and 1 person to ten people. That’s why we have great people like you and great brands like Tru Earth on this podcast to help message this, get this out. If a couple thousand people after the show take a chance and just buy one of your products and try it and see the efficacy is as good as they want it to be, and as you say it is, and then they start buying all of your products and then they tell how many people, this is how it all changes. That’s the whole beauty of this. What’s fascinating to me and also really encouraging, Anita, is your company by its own mission is already changing the planet and making the world a better place it’s obvious, but the fact that they also then bring in you, an Ecotheologian, to be then the director of ESG, it almost sounds redundant. It sounds like you already are an ESG company, you already are. But, as they know, we could always all be better. We can always all do more with what we have, and so bringing you in talk a little bit about besides the core products that you have, how do you then exercise? As you said, you have the giveaway aspect of what you do. What other aspects of ESG are part of your focus at Tru Earth?
Anita: That is a great question. Part of it, for me, is we have an environmental product, but we are not yet a 100% environmental as an organization. We struggle. How do we manage our own emissions as we become this global brand, right? When we’re shipping our product? How do we leverage? We have 1.2 million customers who we call our Tru changemakers, and it really is thanks to them that we are expanding so rapidly. It really is that they are telling friends about this. They’re trying the product and they’re doing crazy things. Like, we have Valentine’s Day sale about a year and a half ago, and people were buying a laundry detergent and fabric softener as a Valentine’s Day gift, as stocking stuffers.
People are buying our laundry detergent and our dishwasher tabs that fit beautifully in a stocking because they’re so excited about the product. That is how we’ve been so successful. Our Tru changemakers are telling two friends who are telling two friends. Back to your question about ESG, for us, it all matters. We’re pretty locked and loaded on the environmental piece, but we’re very young and so, we have to try to figure out what does it mean on our scope one, two, and three emissions. We’ve pretty good handle right now on scope one and scope two, but not yet. We’re just developing our supplier code of conduct. It matters to us what’s happening in the organization’s where we’re getting our raw materials from.
Our team, my team is doing this huge level of research on, “What are the ingredients? Where are they coming from? How are they treating their staff? How does that all matter to us?” From the social pit, “Our donation program is the core of that and our team works hard every day to make sure we’re giving it away.” We can very easily put that money in our jeans. We’ve given away the value of 15 million dollars since inception in 2020 of this program and our investors could easily say, “Will just take that 15 million dollars. Thank you very much.”
John: Happens all the time.
Anita: Right, but they are social investors, because we’re a social mentor. We believe the intersection of profit, planet and people is what will drive us forward. Our investors are not saying, “Give us that 15 million,” they’re saying, “How do we give more? How do we give 100 million, 200 million? How do we make sure that your laundry strips are available to anyone across the globe who needs it?”
Anita: In terms of the governance piece, which is probably the hardest of that work, “What does it mean for our diversity, our equity and inclusion? Who are we hiring? What does our staff makeup look like? How are we treating our staff?” When we asked our staff last year, “What’s the thing that you’re struggling with?” Mass majority of them said, their mental health, and so we launched a mental health month. It got a huge response of people wanting to talk about their struggles. Now, we’re launching a new-cut campaign called Tru Clean by Tru Earth. Part of that Tru Clean is coming clean and talking about our struggles. For many, many years, I’ve been in business for a long time, we’re all about the competition, we’re all about getting first to the gate, we’re all about beating out the competition. I live in a world where I hope and dream and pray every day that our response to this plastic crisis, to the climate emergency, might get the same response that we gave during the global pandemic.
When organizations came together, when large pharmaceuticals were working together on the race for vaccines. What would it mean if we moved from competition to collaboration for the planet? What would it mean for me to say as an organization, “I don’t have all the answers, but I’m pretty good here. I can help somebody now get B Corp certified.” I should have asked for help two years ago when I was literally drowning in, “How do I manage this monster job? How do we come clean and say I need help?” Who has the help right? How do we get together more often than just those climate weeks and those great big conferences? How do we have clusters of organizations who will come clean and help each other and say, “This work is really hard.” It’s really hard, John.
John: It is really hard for a lot of reasons. First of all, you bring up a great point about asking for help. Most people have been raised, unfortunately, culturally speaking, to believe and it has been ingrained in them that asking for help is a sign of weakness when it’s absolutely opposite. It’s a sign of strength, it’s a sign of ability to ask for that help is already taking the first great step in the right direction. That’s number one. Number two, when it comes to the planet, it’s not a zero-sum game as you said. It used to be the innovation side of entrepreneur, used to be a zero-sum game. If they’re doing well, whether to my competition or my perceived competition that I’m doing less than well, when it comes to the planet, it’s, “No, no, no. Let’s all collaborate.”
Even if we’re on different sides of other opinions, political opinions or other types of thought processes, we could collaborate on the common ground stuff such as; we all want to drink cleaner water, breathe cleaner air and want to leave our children, grandchildren and other family members a better place than we found it, than when we were born. To meet collaboration is just keep heading to the institutional and generational changes that are happening right now from linear to circular economy, number one, to a world that cares about ESG and sustainability which by the way, when I started my recycling company 20 years ago, there was none of this institutional Involvement.
Financial institution, Wall Street’s, excitement about it. I have a son and a daughter that’s 36 and 30. They’re on fire for this stuff. They love everything. They’re going to love your products when I make them aware of your products. They are constantly searching for new and better ways to do things that are more sustainable. I think, you’re onto something big. Is your headquarters in Vancouver?
Anita: We are based here in Vancouver and, I think you are a twin to our CEO Brad Liski, who also started a recycling company called Recycle Regina before household recycling was the thing. He literally had trucks that would drive around to households and organizations on a subscription to pick up their recycling, long before we ever had systems and municipalities and and all of that. Yes, we’re Canadian-owned and operated and manufactured here in Canada.
John: That’s my next question. How do you scale the company? What is your leadership and your vision and dream in terms of scaling it, not only across North America, that as we know laundry and these issues of plastic are worldwide issue? How do you scale it quickly to go become the leading brand in your space, in Europe, in Asia, in South America, in the UAE? How does that work?
Anita: Yeah, we have big fans. We have lofty goals and part of it starts with hiring the right people, hiring smart people and letting them do their jobs. We don’t hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people and then let them tell us what is the next thing. We do have an international team who is driving hard. We have just opened up an office in the Netherlands. We are going to be opening up in the UK as well. We’re in 80+ countries already, we want to have feet on the ground, because what matters to us is ambition’s piece for us. We want to make sure and we’re looking at micromanufacturing. What would it mean to micromanufacture in all of the countries where our customers are?
We can reduce those emissions. The last thing we want to do is to be shipping from Canada to all of these global countries. What would that mean? We have a really smart team of international people that are leading the international expansion. We’ve just hired a brand new director of sales who is based in Texas and Fraser’s going to be leading that for us in terms of the U.S. We’re already in 7,000 doors. We’re already out there for consumers, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. We are just starting to make waves, we’re just starting to get noticed. We’ve got a couple of big hits, we were on the Today Show last week. They did a beautiful hit on us and we saw a big jump on our Amazon sales as a result of that. That’s the piece for us is sharing the story. Getting people excited about it, getting them to try it, because we believe that’s the first step. We’ve 100% money-back guarantee.
If you don’t like it, we’re going to give you your money back, but that has rarely ever been used. People see the product, they try the product and they love the product. It’s doing what they want for the planet and its effective and it’s easy. When it comes to change, if it is not easy, we can’t ask people to do it. It’s those small changes that we all need to ask people to do, because we can’t transform our lives. No one can go plastic-free in a day. No one can eliminate plastic from their life. Did you use plastic today?
John: I’m sure. I’m embarrassed to say, “I’m sure,” but I don’t know where. It’s so big thing to our life. I’m sure I did. Now, I have a water bottle that’s glass on my list because I try to stay away from plastic water bottles. But again, I’m sure I could be better in my lifestyle choices. And literally, the thing I’m thinking about is when you and I, at the end of this discussion, I’m going to go on Amazon and I’m going to buy your products, not only for myself and my wife’s household, but for my children’s. My daughter lives next door to us. My son lives a mile away and I’m going to share it with them because they’re always themselves searching for the next best way to live sustainably and protect. My daughter already has a child so she’s always thinking about what’s toxic in their household and what they what can they get rid of.
Anita: That’s fascinating. As new moms, and clearly it’s still is, women are making the mass majority of decisions when it comes to purchasing in the household. It is fascinating to talk to new moms who all of a sudden are looking at the world in different ways from different lands. They look around their house and they think, “Oh, wow, that’s toxic. That’s made from plastic. Do I want my child putting that in their mouth or eating from that?”
Anita: That’s not something we want. That is a critical moment especially for new moms to say, “Yeah, I can do things differently. I can do things better.” But, it isn’t and shouldn’t be reliant just on them. We all have to take steps to prioritize sustainability.
John: Moms are also what the marketing world would have called “historically sneezers,” “great sneezers.” Once they fall in love with the product, they’ll tell every one of their girlfriends and when they sneeze, everybody gets hit.
Anita: Totally. They’re our best advocates.
Anita: They’re our best influencers. They are the ones that are sharing the good news and when a new product comes out. It’s crazy to me, how it just zoom, right?
John: Yeah. Are you working on new products as well or are these your four core that you’re going to continue to scale and get them around the world first? Or is it a concurrent process of doing both at the same time?
Anita: Yeah, so it’s a dual runway for us. We have our 5 hero products, that for us, we could scale the organization simply by getting everyone who has purchased laundry to purchase all of those other pieces. If they purchase fabric softener, we’re going to have a huge lift, if they purchase dishwashing detergent, toilet bowl cleaner, and disinfectant. That’s a huge strategy, that the one lane is to get all of those Tru changemakers who have purchased laundry, to try at least one other hero product, because we know that they’re as effective as the laundry. But then there’s the longer-term play. That longer-term play is to get into new countries, into new markets, and to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to buy these products. That also means we can give more. The more we sell, the more we’re able to donate. That is part of that core piece for us and it’s a part of helping people as well.
John: Anita, you go back to us put your… let’s take the director of ESG hat off for a second, and let’s put back on the Ecotheologian hat. Talk a little bit about how each of your fascinating professional career paths. You’re on a duality path yourself, as you mentioned the word dual. How does one inform the other? How does one make you better at the other?
Anita: It’s a great question because often I am asked by people, “You work for a consumer household product company? How does that align with what you’re doing?” Some days I think, “Really I’m just talking product. Is that what I’m doing with my life?” but it’s not though, because it is the core values that really matter to me. A lot of it is around the justice peace. I believe that having clean clothes is a basic human right. I believe that fresh water and clean air is a basic human right. I have the capacity to launch partnerships. We have a huge partnership with Ocean Wise who are a global NGO organization, who solves bottling plastic, who themselves are trying to educate young people.
For us, investing in education is so important and whether I’m preaching from the pulpit or preaching to you on this podcast, or helping to educate our staff, sustainability is a complex topic. It is for us, as leaders, to make it digestible into teeny-tiny pieces. Whether I’m talking, and right now I’m doing a creation series at my church, “What does it mean for us to be on this journey? What does it mean to put the earth first in everything that we do and how do we change?” For much of my career, many people called it “our planet,” “my planet.” I don’t think of it as “my planet.” I think of it as “the planet.” I think of it as, “We are stewards of this planet, we have been gifted.”
John: That’s right.
Anita: It’s a beautiful planet and it doesn’t belong to me and it doesn’t belong to John and it doesn’t belong to my children. We have been gifted this to be stewards of it. Frankly, we’re doing a crappy job. I think Mother Earth and God are conspiring together and they’re showing their power. There are 400 wildfires burning last week in British Columbia alone. Maui got wiped out. I have stood under that banyan tree with my daughter in awe of creation. I witnessed people caring now for that tree, trying to keep it alive. Wildfires and droughts. We have to pay attention.
John: Eastern Canada has the fires that are burning that are blowing smoke into Chicago and New York. Never have they been affected like this. Ever.
Anita: Right, but you watch the media and they blame Canada for the spot fire. It’s like “What are you talking about?”
John: Me right now in California, we’re so used to it. We’re shrugging our shoulders because we have wildfires every year and the sky goes black for a month and we’re, “Oh, just wildfire season.” That’s not okay, but it’s been normalized. It’s been normalized.
Anita: Yeah, so part of it for me in my career, is helping people and being that voice to say, “This is not normal.” It is not normal that in many parts of eastern North America right now, it is 30 degrees. It is not supposed to be 30 degrees in September. It is not supposed to be 40 degrees. We had the hottest July on record for the globe.
John: Well, we have …
Anita: The hottest July.
John: Well, 2023 is the hottest year on record for the globe. This is not our opinion, this is just the facts and the science.
John: Because I know this would happen to me, I would be the goofball. If I were to Tru Earth or if I had the honor to be not only working at Tru Earth but a member of your congregation. If I was in your congregation, heard one of your wonderful sermons because you’re obviously a very compelling public speaker, I would come up after the sermon and maybe not ask about the sermon. I might say, “Where can I buy your products?” Did this happen to you?
John: Now, I also want to know if I was working at Tru Earth, how many people come to you not to talk about your sheeps, but to talk about a faith issue that they’re grappling with. I’m just fascinated that you’re a subject matter expert to very important topics. I just listened to a podcast the other day with Ryan Holiday, who’s been a guest on this show twice, and he had Rainn Wilson on talking about the need for a new spiritual awakening on this planet. For the right reasons, he was talking about it with great historical perspective. I was, like, “I need to talk to somebody, a person of faith.” How often does that happen? How often do people come to you at your different jobs with the opposite, with the cross-current, knowing the hats you wear?
Anita: Yeah. It happens pretty often because mostly I don’t ask how you are. I wouldn’t see you in the office and say, “Hey John, how are you?” I would say, “How’s your soul? What is happening in your heart?” I can read people pretty well and I want us to break the just habit of everyone saying, “Fine. I’m fine.” “How are you?” ” I’m fine. Are you fine?” “I’m fine.” I’m actually not fine. I’m struggling with an eye issue right now, but as you alluded to earlier, that might be signs of weakness in some other leaders.
John: That’s right.
Anita: I have been rocking the pirate patch here at Tru Earth for close to 30 days right now, and it’s been an interesting journey towards what is it mean to be an accessible organization. What does it mean for us to help folks that have a disability? A colleague of mine broke his arm at the same time, and we happen to be in a very large meeting, and it was very interesting to watch the response that people give to a broken arm versus the very scary sight issue. It’s been fascinating, but people do and they always have. I’m just always so honored when someone ask me a question about faith or church or the institution, because whatever you believe, spirituality is not dead. Belief in something greater than ourselves is more prevalent than ever, but people are finding new ways to connect with the Divine or whatever it is that you believe in.
Yes, church numbers are down, but that speaks to what’s happening in churches and not to what’s happening in people’s spiritual lives. People are longing for an awakening and a community of people where they can wrap, grapple with, “I’m worried.” “I’m scared.” “I don’t know.” “Oh, I’m a faithful believer. How is it that I suddenly have an eye issue. Where is God in that?” Those are questions we need to have open conversations and grapple about because we’re all broken, living in a broken world. We have to stop saying, “I’m fine.” I don’t think anybody’s fine. They certainly weren’t fine during a global pandemic and they’re not fine as everyone’s coming back to the office and trying to figure out new life and it’s back to school season. Parents aren’t fine. Homework season again.
John: Yeah, this is true.
John: Where are we now in this journey? Talk a little bit about sustainability, ESG, capitalism, faith, and the role of business and the role of good government. How does that come together? How do we truly collaborate and make the world a better and greener and more sustainable place?
Anita: Yeah, I don’t think any one of us can do it alone. I know to be true that this needs effort, this needs effort from from governments. This needs efforts from policies that will change the systems that are allowing large fossil fuel companies, large plastic companies, etc fill in the blank from continuing on as they always have and continuing to profit. Also, needs businesses. It needs businesses to look at everything they’re doing and that’s the hard work. What does it mean to look at our own emissions and set targets? I would say to businesses, “Don’t worry about what’s happening in 2050.” I’m not going to be working in 2050. You’re probably not going to be working in 2050. I’m not going to lay a bunch of policies and rules and targets on a workforce that really isn’t even here yet.
Anita: I would ask businesses, “What are you doing in 2023? What are you doing this decade? What are the things that you can do? What are the small steps that you can start right now? How can you just start tracking? We can’t change things if you’re not tracking.” I would say to businesses, “Just start by tracking.” Working with an organization who can track your missions, who can highlight, “Whoa, there’s a problem.” Like Tru Earth took everything from air to rail, it was one of our very first things, “We are not going to put things on a plane anymore. We’re going to put it on a rail car.” One of our most beautiful strategies that I’m most proud of is, a huge majority of our products comes through U.S. Postal and Canada Postal. Why does the envelope look like this? Because it’ll go through a postal slot.
John: That’s wonderful.
Anita: We don’t do package on package on package. We put the address label right on the package and we drop it into, it comes to your house on subscription.
John: So smart.
Anita: Right? Businesses have to start at looking at the ways in which they do things and how they can do better. Then, there’s the consumer piece which for me is the smallest piece. I want to stop blaming consumers and putting it on the hearts of consumers, that is their job to save the planet. Yes, they can buy the future they want if they can afford it, if they’re privileged enough at the till to be able to say, “I’m going to buy an environmental product because I can afford it,” but the people who are most affected by this climate emergency are having the least impact on it. Yes, consumers can take action absolutely. They have to I think, to be able to drive it, but I do think it is the three working collectively and together. Building partnerships and relationships so that we can all do it together. We really need to go green. We need to empower and inform our consumers on what they can and cannot do. We have to be careful with our greenwashing. Lots of folks say, “Well, aren’t you just greenwashing?” It’s, like, “No. We’re B Corp certified by a third party who came in and looked at our house from top to bottom and inside out.” We’re just doing the best we can to serve our customers and the communities and where we find ourselves. I don’t think one is mutually exclusive from the other, we all have to work together.
John: Anita, have you started… do you produce an ESG impact report every year yet or is that coming in the future?
Anita: Oh good question. I hadn’t even teed you off on that one. We are just literally putting the final touches on our very first impact report.
John: Awesome. When is it coming?
Anita: We’re hoping the end of September, early October, which is already ahead of the game. Many organizations take a year on the previous fiscal. Yeah, I’m very excited. I’m so lucky that our investors and our management team, I have a team of people who work on ESG. We have a team of 4 people and they have been working so hard and I love what they’ve done with it because it really is living into the Tru Clean by Tru Earth. We’re coming clean on our B Corp score, we’re coming clean on our missions, we’re coming clean on the fact that we haven’t set our scope three targets yet. We’re not there yet, but we’re not going to wait. We’re going to say, “Here’s our scope one and our scope two and scope three is in the works.”
John: That’s how it is. It’s a journey, sustainability, and you’re a young company. It’s not reasonable to expect you to have scope one, two, and three all. Coming up with a bow and put together.
Anita: Come on John. When was the last conference you are at and someone leaned over to you and said, “What are your scope three targets” It feels like some sort of new coffee talk thing that if you don’t have the answer to scope three, you somehow don’t have a voice at the table.
John: Correct. This environmental shaming is nuts and ridiculous and inappropriate on every level every time.
Anita: Not only are we going to release the report, but we’re going to put it on our tru.earth website. We’re going to have it there on our impact page and we’re going to be open for conversation. If you see something you don’t like or you love something that you can help with, because we want to be able to look back and say, “Here’s where we were.” When I look back on where we very first started, when we had a handful of people who were hand-stuffing strips into our envelopes and literally running around trying to buy postage. That’s how we started to now to have these three different warehouses, we have 3 PLs in the U.S., we have automation machines. We just bought a new machine that is stuffing and sealing and building the envelope. It’s an incredible journey to watch it. It’s so exciting to see where we’ve come from, but you can’t wait. It’s a journey, but you just do the best you can and partly, one of the things we say here, is that we are a “create and iterate organization.” We create something and we have a lot of, “You’d be very funny.” It’s our documents, they’re like version 1.1, version 1.2, .3, .4, .5 and it takes us a long time to get to version 2 because we move fast. We know that in this planet emergency, we got to go. We got to go faster. Everyone has to move faster. We have to up-list innovators. We have to get really good packaging programs out there. We got to go fast. That means we don’t get it perfect all the time.
John: Nobody does.
Anita: Perfection is the enemy of done. Do you want it to be perfect or do you want it to be done? I would just say to other organizations, “Don’t wait. Don’t have yet another meeting to talk about whether or not you should do something. Just go.” We fall on our faces all kinds of times where we had to say, “All that didn’t work.” [laughs]
John: That means you’re trying. You’re trying.
Anita: We have to take more risks. I somehow feel, I don’t know, Corporate America, Corporate Canada were risk-averse suddenly. We all have shareholders and stakeholders and staff, and yes, we do have to be careful, but we can’t be so risk-averse that we don’t try things that we know are going to work.
John: No, that comes with the comfort crisis. We all get comfortable taking this, creates danger, it creates difficulty. It’s difficult to feel out of your comfort zone and that therefore, prevents people from moving forward. But taking risk means getting uncomfortable, but moving forward.
Anita: That’s why change is so hard for all of us. I embrace change, I’m one of those people. I’m, “Change it up.” My husband will come home from work and I’ve changed all the furniture and he’s, “What is happening.” and I’m, “I just want to change it up. It might work better this way.” That’s who I am, but that’s not who the mass majority of consumers are.
John: True, but that’s why you’re in a start-up and you’re part of the innovation team, because change is part of innovation.
Anita: Totally, and it is the thing that gets people stuck. When the problem is so big, when you say “climate emergency” or “climate crisis.” Back in the day when it was climate change or the warming planet, remember all the things we used to call it, It can be scary for people and depressing. I’m worried about many of our young staff. I think, 57% of our staff are under the age of 40. I worry that they know too much. When you’re in this field and you are up against all this great but scary information and science, It’s, “Yeah, we got to worry about people’s hearts and their souls and how are they doing?” For us, we just stick to our plastic. We’re just battling plastic. That’s it. Can’t do anything else. There’s going to stay in our lane just going to paddle plastic. A lot of people are saying, “But aren’t you doing this and aren’t you doing that?” “Nope.” We’re going to battle plastic, we’re going to give away our product in need, we’re going to help organizations through our fundraising program, and that’s it. That’s all we can manage. We’ll move it up to somebody else.
John: That’s a lot.
Anita: It is a lot but it’s inspiring work.
John: Oh, it’s the best. The thing is, it’s awesome. I can’t wait to…
Anita: It’s inspiring to talk to other leaders. You’re so excited. I got to get excited because you’re excited.
John: I’m excited to go buy some of your product today, and I’m excited to have you back on because, listen to me, this is a sustainability journey that we’re all on together. Your first impact in ESG reports coming out, so, I can’t wait to see it. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be great no matter what. I know it and I want to continue to have you back on a regular basis because I want you to share. It’s very informative for all of our young aspiring eco-entrepreneurs out there to see that entrepreneurialism and ecopreneurilism is a journey. You guys are on your fifth year, but you’re already changing the world in 80 countries. Imagine where you’re going to be a year from now, imagine where you’re going to be 3 years from now, 5 years from now.
Anita: Yeah. We want to empower, we don’t want to shame people. We just want to empower people, we want to encourage people to take action and to give back and to invest and most importantly, “Just don’t get down on yourself if it doesn’t work.” If that strategy or thing or product or action doesn’t work, you have to keep trying. Our young people have… My mentors are my children who are doing incredible things that I think, “I could never have done that in my early 20s. I could never have done the things that they are doing.” They are revolutionizing the workforce. They are revolutionizing the way we communicate with each other and the power when they come together is incredible.
John: It’s true. I’m so glad we had this time together for our listeners and viewers to find Anita and her colleagues that are making the world a better place, a more sustainable place. Please go to www.tru.earth. You can buy their products there, subscribe to them there, or go on Amazon and buy them at Publix, Kroger’s, and other stores soon around the United States, North America and in Canada. Anita Spiller, thank you for coming on the Impact Podcast today. Thank you for the work you do, both on the faith-based side of your life and in the ESG side of your life at Tru Earth. Thank you for making the world a kinder and better and greener and more sustainable place.
Anita: Thank you, John, for giving me a safe space to just be all that I am and I couldn’t ask for anything more.
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