“Right now is a great time to push for innovation and an increased focus on the bioeconomy sector.”
A recent article from Rolling Stone described how every human on Earth is ingesting nearly 2,000 particles of plastic a week. This is focusing people’s attention on alternatives to plastic. Alternatives to plastic straws are thriving in this current environment. One startup is making inroads in this sector – EQUO. Derived from the words ‘ECO’, meaning not harmful to the environment, and ‘STATUS QUO’, meaning existing state or condition, EQUO stands for the ideal of creating products with minimal impact to the environment. EQUO products are designed to harness the raw power of mother nature to replace single-use plastics. The company maintains that its uncompromising in its mission and it claims that all of its products are 100% natural, plastic-free, non-toxic, chemical-free, biodegradable and compostable. EQUO’s first product lines are drinking straws made of coconut, rice, grass and sugarcane.
Here, Bio Market Insights deputy editor Liz Gyekye catches up with EQUO International Co-Founder and Managing Director Marina Tran-VU.
Liz Gyekye (LG): Welcome to 5 Minutes With. Please summarise your role and what you specialise in?
Marina Tran-Vu (MTV): I’m currently the Co-Founder and Managing Director for EQUO. With our business just starting out, I oversee pretty much everything including working with suppliers, financials, marketing, logistics, and packaging. I have a great team that I work with to help me with the mountains of work!
LG: Before going into your current role, what did you used to do?
MTV: Before EQUO, I worked for years in brand management and marketing for companies such as Unilever, Bacardi and LG in Canada, and most recently was the Head of Marketing for a fitness company in Vietnam.
LG: What advice would you give to somebody starting out?
MTV: Biggest advice I would give is don’t let failing or the fear of failing stop you from taking chances and persevering. If you don’t try, you’ll never know, and half of trying is believing that you can succeed. Because if you don’t believe you can, no one else will either.
LG: What opportunities are there for the bioeconomy sector in the current climate?
MTV: There’s a massive amount of opportunity, especially when looking at switching to sustainable materials and maximising sustainable resources. Today, we still haven’t really found feasible solutions either in cost, mass production/usage or product quality that can completely replace everyday items that still use conventional plastic and other less eco-friendly materials. However, right now is a great time to push for innovation and an increased focus on the bioeconomy sector. Given how important economic globalisation is today and for the foreseeable future, my personal experience with starting EQUO is due to discovering some great ideas and inventions from some unexpected corners of the world.
LG: How do you see your organisation post-Covid?
MTV: EQUO launched right in the midst of the Covid crisis. I don’t think anyone, including ourselves, had adequately prepared for the impact it had on the world. I’m not too sure we’re thinking about a “post-Covid world”, as some of the adaptations we’ve made to how we run our organisation will likely become the new norm. However, what we were fortunate to experience a significant drop in pollution for a short while (as a bit of light in the darkness of the pandemic). That really gave us hope and reassurance that our focus and mission should stay the same; try to provide a better environment and earth for future generations — and do our best to navigate all the difficulties, especially around logistics, as best as we can.
LG: The consumer has slightly shifted back to fossil fuel-based plastic during this pandemic. Do you think that they will switch back to alternatives again after this crisis?
MTV: I think the switch had to do with the circumstances and a lack of timely options given how quickly everything escalated with the pandemic. I don’t fault anyone for prioritising other matters over selection of eco-friendly materials, and that’s true as one of the pillars for EQUO. We don’t want to call-out or shame anyone for using plastic or what other type of material they can get their hands on during this time or in other situations. What we want to do is say ‘look, we want to introduce to you and show you that there are more sustainable options out there’. When you’re ready or able, we can provide those options to you and it’ll be an easy switch. People will make the switch, we just have to be patient and do our part to make sure we keep driving awareness and education.
LG: What’s one thing you would like the bio-based industry to do better and why?
MTV: Sometimes, making the switch to sustainable alternatives can be a bit intimidating. People are unfamiliar with materials, they’re getting bombarded with information that can be contradictory of what is eco-friendly and what isn’t, the cost of some products are higher than they are used to, and sometimes they’re lambasted for not doing enough. What we can all do better everywhere, not just in the bio-based industry, is support one another, turn criticism into opportunities for ideation and collaboration, and understand that what we’re working towards is the same goal; it isn’t just about one person, it’s about helping the only Earth we have and everyone who lives on it. Support one another and we remove a lot of the barriers we face in our business and our products.
LG: What’s your favourite sustainability product?
MTV: It might seem pretty mundane, but reusable canvas bags are my favourite: cotton, hemp, jute, you name it! They’re so useful and versatile. I carry my laptop, electronics, notebook in them, and they are so strong and sturdy. They’re easy to clean when dirty. It’s an item I use absolutely every day.