From niche to mainstream: How an Indonesian e-commerce platform is making sustainable living the norm

We have recently joined forces with one-stop learning and shopping platform Sustaination. Sustaination provides educational tools for environmental awareness and offers sustainable replacements to single-use plastics, thus we are thrilled to be supporting their growth as a company and aiding their mission to overcome plastic pollution in Indonesia. To find out more about how the company came to be and what its future holds, we sat down with CEO and founder, Dwi Sasetyaningtyas, who recently got selected as Woman of the Year 2020 by Her World Indonesia.

Could you tell us more about your personal zero-waste journey and how it translated into what Sustaination is today?

The idea behind Sustaination actually came about in 2018 in the Netherlands, where I was studying my master’s degree. Initially, the concept took the form of an Instagram account and a blog where I was sharing my journey of reducing personal waste in my home. 

When I went back home to Indonesia, I found it very difficult to find alternative products to replace single-use plastics, especially when it came to reusable feminine hygiene products. With that in mind, I decided to work with a brand from Europe to make menstrual cups available here in Indonesia. 

Not long after, I started receiving requests for more zero-waste products, so I decided to curate more sustainable products on the Sustaination website, most of which were locally sourced. That’s how it started — I just wanted to help people find products more easily and be able to make a smooth transition towards sustainable living.

Why do you think a zero-waste store is the right approach to tackle plastic pollution? 

Like other initiatives aiming to nudge consumers behaviors in the right direction, a zero waste store has the power to influence the market and show consumers a more eco-conscious way of buying. And this is exactly what Sustaination does, it focuses on reducing the waste at the source.

We emphasize source reduction which we think is a much cheaper, easier, and feasible option to tackle our crisis right now. Of course, if you’re talking about the policies, they will make a greater impact, but it’s not like you can change that tomorrow. But if you want to influence one person, our friends or family, to change their habit from using a single-use plastic bag to using a reusable cloth bag, we can do it in one night, just give it to them and they will start to use it. It’s not that difficult. It’s doable and it’s cheaper. 

You mentioned reusable bags. What other products are you offering at Sustaination?

We have a very wide variety of products including personal feminine hygiene products, mom and baby products, home and living, personal care products, a composting kit, and a soon to be launched gardening kit. Any products that are related to sustainable living and can replace  single-use plastic or single-use items are available at Sustaination.

And what have been the main challenges you’ve faced in setting up Sustaination?

There is a lot of stigma or misunderstanding when it comes to sustainability. People tend to think that sustainability issues are exclusive, that sustainable products are expensive and, you know, just privileged people have access to it. This illusion of exclusivity and the lack of understanding from the public makes it very challenging to shift their perspectives. We are facing challenges in raising awareness of these issues and educating people about sustainability in Indonesia in general. Our market is still very niche.

Are you taking any steps to overcome this challenge? 

Yes, we’re actively engaged in creating more educational content across our social media channels to build awareness surrounding sustainability issues and let people know that Sustaination is here if they want to start making the transition towards sustainable living.

What makes Sustaination stand out from other zero waste initiatives in Indonesia?  

I started Sustaination as an educational hub. And through that experience, we gained credibility for our opinions, insights, suggestions, advice, all built on that foundation by promoting locally-made products. We also make sure that the whole process behind the product is sustainable, from the sourcing of raw materials and the production process to its distribution, use and eventual disposal. Essentially, we make sure that every part of our supply chain adheres to our values, which are local, sustainable, and impactful.

Also, as an e-commerce, we educate our customers not to buy more, because we understand that people tend to buy because it’s cute, it’s pretty, because they have a habit of impulsive buying. We came up with a campaign called #thinkbeforeyoubuy, which encourages our customers to always think before they buy. The aim is to invite our customers to have a mindful shopping experience when they visit our website or see our products on social media. So, the combination of these values and our campaign #thinkbeforeyoubuy definitely sets us apart from the other competitors.

Recently, you have partnered with the Zero Waste Living Lab. What was the main reason behind you reaching out to us? 

It is very simple. As a business owner, I have a very limited business background, because I was a scientist and an engineer, I was not a businesswoman. I realized that we had so much untapped potential to grow and make a bigger impact with Sustaination. But we couldn’t find a partner or mentor who could understand our business model well, since sustainability is still quite a niche market.  

So when I came across the Zero Waste Living Lab, I saw that we shared the same vision. We both want to raise awareness, encourage people to adopt zero-waste lifestyles, and reduce plastic waste at the source. So, we have the same goals. That is why I can see the Zero Waste Living Lab as the right partner to help us grow our sustainable business model and thus help us scale our impact and the zero-waste movement more broadly. 

What are some insights you’d like to share about managing a zero waste business model like yours?

What I can share is that sustainability issues are very unique. You cannot push people to buy your products directly or in one shot, it’s a very different approach. If we compare it with conventional products, we need education, we need a different approach, we need a different strategy. So education for me is key to enable the transition towards sustainable living. 

That is why at Sustaination, if you’re looking at our social media or website, it stands out compared to conventional e-commerce platforms. In addition to our products, you can find educational content across our channel, which is particularly aimed at raising awareness about the importance of eco-conscious consumer behaviours. It’s also important to enable knowledge sharing between the community so that they are interested and can eventually make the transition towards more sustainable ways of consumption.

As the reuse and reduce movement is steadily gaining momentum across the world, the Zero Waste Living Lab is thrilled to unite efforts with the dedicated team of Sustaination to foster the transition of sustainable consumption from a niche market to a new normal. Are you in?

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