Closing the first investor in a round of fundraising is always the hardest. Once an investor commits, there’s a domino effect. Most people don’t want to be the first in on a potentially risky idea or investment. We learned this from experience and it would have been nice to know when we were struggling to get our first investors onboard.
As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Eichner, Co-Founder and CSO of Sana Packaging.
James earned his BA at Colorado College and his MBA at CU-Boulder. James is a founding member of the WeedWeek Council and sits on California Cannabis Coalition’s Environmental Committee. James has won several pitch competitions on behalf of Sana Packaging and is a frequent speaker at cannabis events and conferences. Prior to cannabis, James worked in the social and environmental justice sectors.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ron Basak-Smith, Co-Founder and CEO of Sana Packaging, and I first met at the University of Colorado Boulder during our MBA program. We first bonded over a mutual love for the outdoors and in particular, skiing. After a year of hallway run-ins and small talk about snow conditions, Ron asked me if I wanted to work on Sana Packaging for a class project. After winning a university pitch competition where the legendary Hunter Lovins was a judge, Ron and I decided to pursue Sana Packaging outside of the classroom. We applied to Canopy Boulder and Sana Packaging was accepted to the accelerator’s 2017 Spring Cohort
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
Sana Packaging missions is to change the way the cannabis industry thinks about sustainability, disposable products, and waste recovery. Creating a robust set of sustainability standards for cannabis packaging and implementing circular cannabis packaging systems is imperative to the long-term success of the cannabis industry and the health of our planet, which includes not just the natural environment but people as well — i.e. patients, consumers, and workers.
What we’re ultimately trying to do is move cannabis packaging away from a linear “take-make-dispose” economic model and design and develop cannabis packaging for a circular economic model. A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design and adheres to three guiding principles: (1) designing out waste and pollution, (2) keeping products and materials in use, and (3) regenerating natural systems.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
The materials we work with include 100% plant-based hemp plastic, 100% reclaimed ocean plastic, and other innovative materials. That said, materials are just one piece of the puzzle. The other — more complicated — piece of the puzzle is our waste management infrastructure. So from a strategic standpoint, we’re also trying to address the greater systemic issues that have led to the degradation of our waste management infrastructure.
With the help of our incredible customers, we have already removed more than 58 (116,000 lbs) tons of plastic waste from our oceans and used more than 55 tons (110,000 lbs) of plant-based hemp plastic.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or examples?
There will always be an inherent premium associated with sustainable packaging because truly sustainable packaging needs to account for the cost of negative externalities. Our first products were 2x-3x more expensive than the cheapest unsustainable alternatives but we’ve become more price-competitive as we’ve scaled. For instance, we were able to provide our customers with 30% cost-savings with our most recent product launch.
Without a healthy environment, there is no such thing as a healthy business, so sustainability is a must. Looking specifically at packaging, consumers are demanding change, and packaging is becoming viewed as part of the product. It’s no longer just a commodity. And businesses that use sustainable packaging can make that part of their brand story and weave it into their marketing efforts. It’s a win-win for businesses and the environment.
The youth-led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
- If you have the means to, traveling and spending time in the outdoors is important to gaining perspective on our natural environment. Sustainability means different things to different people in different places.
- Teach kids to think critically and talk to them about the positive or negative impact their actions can have on the environment.
- Teach kids how to garden and grow food.
- Lead by example.
- Read The Lorax.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Everything costs twice as much and takes twice as long you initially project.
- Someone once told us to fund Sana Packaging by racking up personal credit card debt. That’s terrible advice. I wish someone didn’t tell us that because we considered doing it for a moment. I’m glad we didn’t.
- Closing the first investor in a round of fundraising is always the hardest. Once an investor commits, there’s a domino effect. Most people don’t want to be the first in on a potentially risky idea or investment. We learned this from experience and it would have been nice to know when we were struggling to get our first investors onboard.
- Don’t get too attached to an idea, a pitch, a prototype, etc. Everything changes constantly and you need to be able to take feedback and iterate quickly.
- The decisions that seem the simplest are often the hardest to make.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I want to give a shoutout to my parents. My parents are both educators and have been working at the same school for over 35 years. When I was little, my mom would let me sneak into my dad’s classroom near the end of class to watch him teach. I loved watching my dad teach. One of the biggest gifts my parents gave me is a love of learning.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire any movement it would be the funding of and reinvestment in public education in the United States. When I find myself wondering how we got here with issues like climate change, crumbling healthcare infrastructure, rampant conspiracy theories, and political divisiveness, every road seems to lead back to education.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“Everything’s right, so just hold tight.” These are lyrics from a Phish song called Everything’s Right. Ron and I love Phish and whenever we were struggling, especially in the early days of Sana Packaging, we would blast that song and say “everything’s right, so just hold tight.”
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Instagram — @sanapackaging
Twitter — @sanapackaging
Facebook — @SanaPackaging