The average cleaning spray is made up of 90% water and just 10% – or even 5 – of cleaning chemicals. This is according to research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity which campaigns for a circular economy and sustainable living.
It’s also the inspiration behind B Corp Homethings, the start-up determined to ‘clean up’ the cleaning industry.
“It’s actually totally bonkers,” says co-founder Matthew Aubrey. “When you look at the percentages of what actually goes into your average cleaning spray, you realise how ludicrous it is.”
Why sustainability matters
Matthew argues that as a process, it makes no sense for anyone. Cleaning spray bottles are relatively heavy so it’s not a great customer experience having to lug them back from the supermarket. It’s not great for business either – there’s a huge amount of waste produced and unnecessary cost. And of course, it’s not good for the environment.
“One new single-use plastic bottle is produced every time a bottle of cleaning spray sells.”
“CO2 emissions are also a lot higher because you’re transporting heavy products all the way around the country and across continents – all this even before you even start to look at the types of chemicals used.”
Homethings answer was to produce a tablet made up entirely of eco-friendly cleaning chemicals and sell it to consumers in a concentrated, dehydrated form. The customer then puts the tablet in a bottle, either one of their own or one from Homethings, and adds water.
“There’s also a lovely bit of theatre involved when a tablet fizzes in the water,” says Matthew. “People like to see it fizzing, it’s not something we expected!”
Matthew, whose background is in supporting start-ups with fundraising and investments, is passionate about the products he’s created and developed alongside co-founder Tim Keaveny, who came up with the original idea.
“We compared the C02 emissions of one of our cleaning spray tablets with a 500ml everyday cleaning spray and found that our carbon emissions were actually 93% less. At the end of the last quarter, we saved a total of over 500,000 plastic bottles from ever being produced and 27 tonnes of plastic across our range of products.”
Customers seem to love the concept, too. A question Matthew says he’s constantly asked is ‘why has this not been done before?’
“If you think that a small company like us has been able to do this, it’s just ridiculous that larger companies in the sector haven’t.”
“It could have been done a long time ago. But I do think that in the not-so-distant future, we’ll start to see things changing.”
Alongside the cleaning spray tablets, Homethings also sell dishwasher tablets and laundry pods, both of which are ‘best in class’ eco products, wrapped in 100 per cent biodegradable material. Homethings also sell refillable 100% recycled plastic bottles for the tablets which only need to be purchased once.
For a start-up which launched right in the middle of the pandemic (September 2020) and have recently partnered with Waitrose and now have thousands of customers, this is all quite a feat.
Homethings are ‘quite obsessive’ with finance
So what about the finance side of things – how is Matthew managing the start-up from a cashflow, budgeting and going concern perspective?
“You have to be all over finance because we’re a working-capital intensive business. It costs us a decent amount of money each time we need to purchase a new load of dishwasher tablets or laundry pods and so on.”
“You need to have a really good understanding of the implications on cash flow when you purchase stock.”
According to Matthew, both he and Tim are ‘quite obsessive’ when it comes to cashflow modelling – they need to have a clear picture of the business ‘at all times’. Budgets and models are updated on a weekly basis, enabling the team to predict what’s going to happen over the next month in terms of sales and stock required.
But as Matthew points out, there also needs to be awareness of whether those predictions are accurate or not. “There’s nothing worse for us than investing in a load of stock which then sits in our warehouse for six or twelve months. That’s then money which could be used for other things.”
There are also difficulties with the supply chain around lead times and prices, not to mention the constantly-changing macroeconomic climate including the impact of the pandemic, rising cost of living and rising inflation. All this inevitably is having an impact on peoples’ consumption habits as well as the supply chain. All the more reason, says Matthew, to be on top of ‘everything financial’.
While the team currently work with an external accountant, most of the analysis, forecasting and modelling is done in-house. Eventually though, they will bring in a financial director and additional external support, as the company grows – and there’s every possibility it will.
Sustainability and transparency
In the meantime, Matthew and the team are keen to ensure they are as transparent as possible about their products: where they come from, ingredients, carbon emissions, transportation information as well as end-of-life processes.
With greenwashing practices seemingly going into overdrive since the pandemic, transparency for genuine environmentally-friendly brands is more important than ever.
But as Matthew explains, even with the most sustainable processes and practices in place, there will still be ‘unintended consequences’ in every purchase made.
“Everyone has to remember that every single thing you ever buy impacts the environment negatively.”
“Homethings is not going to change the world. But we are already having a big impact on the cleaning industry through our ground-breaking products. And I really, really like that.”
Matthew’s power profile
Which books have had the most influence on his life?
“Anything by Haruki Murakami.”
Which music empowers him?
“I have quite an eclectic music taste. I actually feel that Spotify knows my music taste better than anyone else. I often use the ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist Spotify generates for me based on my previous music choices – anything from electronica to indie.”