Sustainabilty, our way
Instead of issuing a traditional Sustainability Statement, we prefer to have a virtual Q&A session with you, our customers. We hope you enjoy it. Feel free to add more questions at the bottom, we’ll be glad to integrate the answers to this text.
1) The term eco-friendly is vague. What does that mean at Effetto Mariposa?
Talking about “eco-friendly”, “green”, “plant-based”... is like walking on thin ice… as “greenwashing” (green washing: a communication and marketing strategy adopted by companies or other organisations in order to forge an ecologically responsible image among the public) practices have become very common.
Many things are not what they seem.
Eco-friendly applied to a product means that a specific product doesn’t harm the planet. More precisely, that a product is quickly biodegradable, non-toxic.
First example of misleading claims: saying that a product is 100% biodegradable doesn’t mean much. What matters is how long it takes to degrade! If it’s decades, who cares if it’s 100% biodegradable: in the meantime it can enter the food chain and alter organisms. Quick (months) biodegradability is the true goal.
Being eco-friendly is only a part of the story. What most people are looking for (even without knowing) is Sustainability.
Achieving Sustainability means "meeting the needs of the present (for example buying a product for a specific purpose) without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".
So, Sustainability is a much broader concept than eco-friendly, because it includes production, lifecycle, and an ethical approach by the company selling the product.
Company-wide sustainability includes several aspects, not just the products a company sells and is very well described by the United Nations Global Compact (https://www.unglobalcompact.org/what-is-gc/mission/principles), ten principles that we as Effetto Mariposa use to guide all our decision.
If a product is eco-friendly but is produced using a tremendous amount of energy, or if toxic chemicals are used in the production process and discharged in the environment… then it’s not good.
To give you some examples of the sustainable choices here at Effetto Mariposa:
- we select and prioritise suppliers who comply with ecologic guidelines and proper waste disposal (several of our suppliers are ISO 14001:2015 certified);
- most of Effetto Mariposa products are made in Italy, by companies within a 250 km radius from Effetto Mariposa headquarter/warehouse in Lugano, Switzerland: this, to reduce transportation costs and remain as local as possible;
- we try to use as much easily recyclable materials as possible (cardboard, wood) for packing shipments, or we reuse packaging materials we receive;
- we try to make it easy for our employees to cycle to work or use an EV. Simply having showers and flexible working hours helps. We have a company charging point for EVs;
- saving resources like water or paper include, for example, avoiding to print a yearly paper catalogue and reducing printed documents as much as possible . We turned our catalogue into a poster, so that it serves two purposes, one of which long-term. The number of catalogues is based on what our distributors ask for;
- finally, developing eco-friendly products is certainly an important element to achieve sustainability.
Sustainability standards and certifications are voluntary guidelines used by producers, manufacturers, traders, retailers, and service providers to demonstrate their commitment to good environmental, social, ethical, and food safety practices. There are over 400 such standards across the world.
2) Is it more difficult to make eco-friendly lubes, sealants, and cleaners? Why have aggressive chemicals been used in those for decades?
Before consumers and markets became more sensitive to preserving the environment, the only drivers for product development were effectiveness and “minimum effort/cost”. Cheap, mass produced chemicals that were widely available for the industry represented the ideal go-to ingredients. Then people became aware that anything we throw in the environment has a direct effect on our health and on wildlife.
Especially plastics have proven to be long term polluting agents, entering the food chain.
There’re also the so called “forever chemicals” P-FAS, based on Fluorine, resistant to oil, water and heat… that can stay and accumulate in our body and create mutations and disfunctions.
The moment we decided to make (fast) biodegradability another important parameter for product development, we also had to look elsewhere and abandon some chemicals that had been used for years.
Sometimes you can make an eco-friendly product by replacing one chemical (that's the easy scenario), some other times you have to be very creative.
3) Does it cost your company more to produce eco-friendly products?
First of all, even if we always tried to behave responsibly in terms of re-using packing materials or minimising packaging for our products, we still have much room for improvement.
Some of the products we sell, like our Caffélatex sealant, even if they aren’t toxic, are not necessarily eco-friendly.
We started looking into eco-friendly products in 2018 and we are not trying to green-wash our past or pretend we’re immaculate. What we try to do is to progressively reduce the ecological footprint of our company as a whole.
Production of eco-friendly products is not necessarily more expensive, what was really expensive was the research that led to them, in terms of time and laboratory costs.
4) Talking specifically about some of the eco-friendly alternative ingredients you use in your products: what makes these ingredients appropriate for their jobs in your products?
As we were saying before, sometimes you just replace a nasty ingredient with a biodegradable equivalent, and you’re good to go. Some other times, you really have to start from scratch.
Case in point: a tyre sealant without latex is very difficult to make. Latex, be it natural or synthetic, is a liquid polymer that becomes solid. It’s “plastic” that goes into the environment, and it takes many years to degrade. Using “natural” latex (instead of synthetic) doesn’t change anything: some so-called “natural chemicals” can be highly toxic and take ages to degrade.
If someone claims their sealant contains latex and is eco-friendly… you should doubt anything else they say!
With Végétalex we took a completely different approach… instead of having the puncture repaired by the latex that becomes solid, we rely on mechanical clogging by a mix of vegetal particles (ground olive stones, recycled cellulose) using xanthan gum (a densifier used also for mayonnaise) to seal the hole for good. Results are very good and pressure loss is immediately stopped. In some cases the puncture continues oozing liquid for some days (even if there’s no pressure loss associated), because the gum doesn’t solidify in seconds like latex… but most users are happy. I’d say, it’s just a matter of adjusting expectations, the product really does what it has to.
As for cleaners: you can make very effective cleaners using natural ingredients that are as bad for the environment (or worse) that “traditional” cleaners. When we were developing Allpine Extra, our degreaser, we first started with d-limonene, an extract from citrus peel which, when very concentrated, is flammable, irritant and creates health and environmental hazards, all four Danger pictograms.
So we opted for pine oil and tensioactive of vegetal origin, in appropriate percentages. Making “effective” solvents quickly bio-degradable and with low toxicity is like walking on a narrow path.
Allpine Light is a quickly biodegradable cleaning product that you can leave on the bike, without rinsing. For this purpose, we had to create a formula that had the right cleaning ability without any damage – even in the long term – to chrome parts, carbon, paint… a very delicate balance.
It was easier with our lubricant, Flowerpower Wax. We took a super strict approach right from the start. We wanted the product to be technically edible, avoiding any toxic or even “questionable” friction modifier like graphene, teflon (PTFE) and P-FAS (poly fluoroalkyl substances) in general, even sulphides.
Graphene is perhaps an eco-friendly chemical… but it’s produced using toxic chemicals and high temperature. In doubt, we stay away.
We discovered almost by chance that Sunflower seed wax was really good for our purpose, after having tried bees wax and other natural waxes.
We had Flowerpower Wax tested by ZFC in Australia (https://zerofrictioncycling.com.au/lubetesting/) and it proved to be the best drip lubricant they ever tested, bested only by two hot-melt waxes. Quite an achievement, proving that eco-friendly products can beat traditional ones.
5) About your packaging. It seems hard to claim your product is eco-friendly when it's still packaged in plastic. Are there any viable alternatives to plastic packaging?
Packaging, that’s a very good question.
We’re following two different guidelines:
- avoid any unnecessary packaging;
- make packaging itself eco-friendly.
Reducing packaging as much as possible is always a compromise, because products have to “look good” for the customer to buy them… but simplifying packaging is normally a good approach.
One example: our Allpine Light cleaner is equipped with a vaporizer. We decided to attach it to the bottle using a simple rubber band instead of a transparent plastic sleeve (more common), that’s one less sheet of plastic in the environment.
As a side note, we also try to respect our customers’ intelligence by avoiding flash graphics and bold, impossible to prove (or un-prove) marketing claims on the products. We might be boring that way, but we focus on the product functionality instead of inducing impulse buying.
Another example. Instead of using throw away plastic blisters, we pack our Caffélatex and Végétalex tubeless kits in a tool-bottle, Portatutto: still plastic, but it can be used for a long time and provide added value to our customers.
In general, we also tend to offer bigger sizes of our most popular products, so that bottles can be refilled at bicycle shops.
As for bottles and transportation, it’s difficult to beat a plastic bottle in terms of weight and resistance. We comply with EU “Eco Label” requirements and specify on each bottle the exact material of each element, in order to facilitate recycling.
Recycled plastic bottles have not been widely available until now… and, since Covid-19 crysis, even getting hold of our normal plastic bottles became a challenge (the same happens with wood, paper, cardboard etc.), but we’ll adopt it as soon as it becomes a viable option.