Susie Hewson, founder & CEO of Natracare, who produce ethical & organic sanitary products, tells us the story and inspiration behind her amazing career and business.
Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?
I was drawn to a career in sustainability because living in balance with the earth is who I am. My love for nature started very young. As a child, I adored my dad’s allotment. I always had my hands in the dirt and I was fascinated by plant and animal life. This early experience led me to really deeply care for the environment.
When I started thinking about the positive impact I could have as a business owner, it all started to click into place for me – about the benefits of organic and natural ingredients, starting with the raw materials, all the way down the line to the end product.
What was your first environment/sustainability job and how did you get it?
I’ve been a graphic designer, a teacher, and a fitness instructor– all wildly different roles to the one I’m in now!
I’d never worked in the sustainability sector before creating Natracare 30 years ago, but I’ve been an active environmentalist all of my life. Working with nature, not against it, has always made sense to me – Mother Nature often knows best!
How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?
I saw a documentary about the toxic dioxins produced during the chlorine bleaching used extensively by the pulping industries. Enraged, I started looking closely into the menstrual product industry and soon realised that the big companies, who were dominating at the time, and still do today, were seemingly unconcerned by toxins and chemical residuals found in their products.
After unsuccessfully lobbying for change, I decided to take matters into my own hands, driven to provide women with an option which would neither burden the earth with toxic pollutants nor their bodies. This is perhaps one of my proudest achievements.
What does a day in your current role involve?
I start the day out in the wildlife garden here at our HQ. It helps me to energise myself for the day ahead. It’s a beautiful environment, with trees, wild flower meadow, a pond, vegetable patch and even a Hobbit house for bugs!
Once I’m at my desk, my day is filled with all sorts of actions and commitments – from radio and podcast interview recordings, to auditing the supply chain and the quality of the products, to having meetings with the team about marketing or new product innovations. Oh, and of course, some serious disrupting! No two days are the same, even after 30 years of Natracare!
What’s the best part of your work?
Seeing our campaigning objectives being progressed, and in some instances successfully reached, whilst seeing our brand influence spread out in the marketplace. Working with a brilliant team of people, fully engaged with their roles and living and breathing our ethical mindset is empowering for us all: it’s not just about the one but the whole.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome these?
It’s been challenging to learn that not everybody cares as much about the environment as they ought to, even when presented with the facts – but times are changing very quickly and people are paying attention. Especially the younger generation, who are amazingly switched on!
What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?
Tenacity; big picture thinking; patience
It takes tenacity to make change in an industry which is used to doing things a certain way and is dominated by big players who will do whatever they need to do, to keep their market share.
It takes big picture thinking to recognise the huge global environmental impact that can be made by selling boxes of tampons and pads.
And it takes patience to chug away at the small day to day tasks so that your positive impact can be scaled up and expanded over time. Natracare started life in my spare room. Now, we sell products in 80 countries!
What inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Citizens have a powerful voice in the opening of their purses. Generally, people want to do better as consumers, so often choosing climate positive options makes us all feel that little bit more empowered.
Half of the global population has periods – that’s a massive opportunity to create positive change and move away from brands that choose to pollute rather than protect.
What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to work in sustainability?
Small changes can turn into massive movements – and small changes can start with simple questions. Stay inquisitive and believe in the power of the individual! You have so much more power than you think.
Susie Hewson @susie_hewson is founder and CEO of Natracare – valued Strategic Partners of our Catalyst Summit & Mentoring programme.