Riding the Passion of Conservation to Build Business

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Riding the Passion of Conservation to Build Business


In 2018, Nelly Gesare Oteki, then 26, was thinking deeply with just 8,000 shillings in savings. In front of her, her environmental conservation YouTube videos played, as she racked her brains trying to find a way to start a TV show.

Her baby was playing next to her, unaware that her mother was worried about him.

“The toxins were everywhere, and my child shouldn’t have to breathe them in and eat them,” Ms Gesare thought, as she wondered what she needed to change about her home and surroundings to make it safer. .

Six years ago, when she gave birth to her first child, she produced a television show, but she had electronic dust in her laptop for some time. The organizations said that this type of content does not generate revenue. Because she had no capital, she temporarily dropped out.

The following year, she tried again. This time, working for German television ZDF, she visited the Dandora landfill in Nairobi and filmed artists generating ornaments from electronic waste. She then produced another show, which did not work. This time, she decided to put the whole project on hold, until she took it up again in 2018.

“I was watching the episodes I posted on my YouTube channel, trying to revive an idea that would help me bring my TV show back. I started researching what I can do and what was done internationally. I wanted to make people realize that we can work for environmental conservation on our small scale. That’s how I started Green Thing Kenya,” she recalls

With 8,000 shillings, she bought metal straws to fight against the use of plastic straws.

“If you go to dumps near restaurants, you will find mountains of straws, each of which has probably been used for a maximum of about 15 minutes, but will take forever to decompose. Eventually, they break down into microplastics and pollute the soil,” she explains.

“The ground is powerful. We get our food from there, and polluting it with something we could easily replace is wrong and we need to change our attitude. Plastic isn’t necessarily bad, but we have to deal with it,” she says.

“It has done so much, but we have to find a way to use our resources properly and dispose of them well.”

Now, four years later, she’s dedicated to using eco-friendly, toxin-free products to start conversations about climate change, climate adaptation, sustainable living, and overall well-being. .

In addition to metal straws, it makes toothpaste from arrowroot powder, reusable bags made from biodegradable and organic cotton, sisal dish brushes to replace plastic, and dish bars to reduce plastic-packaged soap. .

It also manufactures and sells concentrated organic liquid dish soap, bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo and cotton swabs, and cotton plate and bowl covers to replace cling film.

Others include reusable cotton bags, reusable makeup removers, and cotton paper towels to reduce one-time use of paper towels and napkins, thereby reducing tree felling. Loofas, natural scrubbers from the pumpkin family, can be used to shower and scrub pots. They are fully biodegradable,” she says.

These raw materials, she says, are sometimes sourced and, due to limited capital, products are produced in small batches.

With five employees, they often overlap their roles between administration and accounting, marketing, photography and store management, to help run the business efficiently.

“We sew our products using solar energy. The processes we use to produce things also don’t produce unnecessary emissions and plastics. We ensure that the carbon footprint is as low as possible. All products made are meant to be conversation starters. They are supposed to evoke a change of attitude,” she stresses.

“For example, reusable face wipes. Imagine how many cotton balls you have to use if you wear makeup every day. We needed a product that could replace 10 kilograms of beauty-related waste in a home, so we made these. They are made of cotton, grown and processed in Kenya. We buy it and then bring it to Kiambu, ask our audience for designs and when they approve or like it, we go ahead and produce it,” adds Gesare.

“Yes, we can plant trees to capture carbon, but if you are taught about the effects of plastic then it is easier to make the switch because then people can see the value of going green,” she says .

At school, she recalls being passionate about the environment, but understanding then that wildlife conservation was only about generating income and that environmentalism was synonymous with planting trees. .

“No one ever told us that we could save the environment and save costs by using reusable bags. We were only told to plant trees and pick up plastic waste, but when you go to the market with your reusable bag, that translates to one less plastic bag in our landfills. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to save the planet or to demand climate justice,” she explains.

She observes that Africans have always been into sustainability, perhaps out of necessity and poverty, but it is etched in their cultures nonetheless. In her business, she employed coastal women, who have been handling leso material for years, to make leso wipes and baskets.

“This is how we can use indigenous knowledge to solve climate change. Every community, no matter how diverse, can collectively bring their minds together to be part of the circular economy,” she says.

She also notes that going green has a positive impact on her pocket, as reusable and multi-use products eliminate the need for frequent shopping.

“I think it’s important when going green to look at the numbers. If you’ve stopped buying reusable wipes and cotton balls, write down how much they cost you, then buy the reusable pads, do likewise, then compare how much money you’ve saved. In the long run, you might find that you’ve spent quite a bit,” she says.

She explains that although there is a narrative that green products can be expensive, it is because they are made by young Kenyans who fund the business with their pocket money.

Her future plans include creating a podcast to lead more conversations about climate change. This includes holding politicians to account and ensuring they put climate change issues on their agenda.

“If we are not prioritizing conversations about climate change that is killing animals, causing prolonged droughts, erratic weather, hunger, starvation and dwindling wildlife numbers, then what are we doing? We must find it necessary to consider people’s well-being as a priority,” she concluded.

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