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Ekohunters is a marketplace that presents eco designed products as well as accurate information on sustainability for each of them based on a real circular and sustainable economy. Their self-developed EKO label captures the knowledge you need to make more conscious purchases – without the need of understanding all the different labels. Here, all their products are selected for their commitment to a production model that emphasises the circular economy, sustainability and respect for the environment. They prove that sustainability and innovation should not be at odds with a beautiful design.
We interview Ibon Landa and Kepa Hierro, co-founders of Ekohunters, who help us to gain knowledge on sustainability with their EKO label and what it exactly takes into account. Also, in here they mention some of the most sustainable materials and different cutting-edge techniques some brands are using for their eco-designed products as well as how their creative process looks like. We hope you learn as much as we did! Enjoy!
What does Ekohunters stand for in the world of sustainability?
At Ekohunters we promote knowledge. Through our Eko label, we give our customers unbiased and accurate information about the eco-effectiveness of each of the products sold on Ekohunters.com, helping them choose which products best suit their environmental expectations so they can make a conscious and well-informed purchase.
What was the tipping point to decide to start an online marketplace on eco-friendly brands that were well & sustainably designed?
We have always been aware of the subtle actions and reactions that keep our planet alive and healthy, as we are aware of the critical social and environmental period we are currently going through. This situation calls for a more proactive behaviour, promoting a change towards a more human and environment-oriented society.
From our previous professional experience, we knew of a large number of eco designers out there, producing really beautifully and sustainably designed products, but upon doing some market research we discovered their work did not get enough exposure, making it hard to find and therefore buy.
That is when we decided to develop a business plan based on the idea of becoming a world reference catalogue for sustainable and eco-designed products.
When taking on board new brands, what parameters will you usually look at to make sure it goes under the standards of eco-design?
Whenever we take on board new brands we use our self-developed EKO label. This label allows us to examine and assess the level of eco-effectiveness of any product and therefore its level of environmental commitment.
The EKO label takes into account the entire life cycle of the product, from the raw material selection and sourcing stage through its manufacture to its distribution and end of life, including different aspects such as recyclability, reusability, production, biodegradability and compostability, material renewal rate, and absence of toxins and petroleum-based plastics.
Additionally, we look for attractive and above all practical design, trying to prove that sustainability and innovation should not be at odds with beautiful design. As we like to say, “we love design – we are sustainable”.The EKO label takes into account the entire life cycle of the product, from the raw material selection & sourcing stage through its manufacture to its distribution & end of life #Sustainability #circulareconomy @Ekohunters Click To Tweet
We find sometimes design is the start point for products to be sustainable. In what stage do we decide what materials we will use to create a certain product to be sustainable – before or after the design is made? Or should we already take into account the materials we plan to use when designing?
Any of our designers would most likely be much better qualified to answer this question and share their first-hand experience. However, after a few years of working with very different designers (and therefore very different design and production processes), we have noticed the selection of materials to be a key factor of the whole design experience.
Design understood as the actual shape and function of the final product, and material are usually dependent on each other and therefore need to be considered as one. For example, you could not design a curved shape without thinking of a flexible material, or design a piece that will hold a big weight without finding a sturdy material to build it from.
It is essential for the designer to understand the materials they are working with in order for the finished product to be successful, that’s why we developed a collaboration agreement with Material Connexion, a company which offers its clients access to the world’s largest library of innovative sustainable raw and building materials.The selection of materials is a key factor of the whole design experience: #Design, understood as the actual shape & function of the final product & materials are usually dependent on each other, so they need to be considered… Click To Tweet
What would you say are the most sustainable materials, and also the ones most commonly used between those products that are designed to last?
This is a very complex question as the obsolescence of a product depends on a number of factors on top of the material and its degree of sustainability (think trends, use, etc.).
Wood (bamboo and hemp above all) appear to be the most commonly used raw materials, although metal and concrete both contribute to a better lasting of the product if well maintained. For accessories natural and organic materials such a cork, cotton, jute and other fibres are most common.
Most recently 3D printed products, using recyclable and biodegradable PLA, have also been very popular and also a good example or durability and sustainability.
Could you share with us some ideas of what the creative process looks like for the eco-designed products?
The creation process tends to be exactly the same for sustainable products and not sustainable ones, the difference lies in the approach: you might say eco designers have a “sustainable approach”, missing by those who do not eco-design.
This sustainable approach would mean that after designing what we might call the “basics” – what is this product going to do, how is it going to do it, how is it going to look, what is it going to have that other products lack, and even how much is this product going to cost – eco designers go one step further by ensuring all these questions are going to be answered following sustainable criteria, bearing environmental and social aspects in mind all along the design, production and distribution processes.
For example, when selecting the raw materials, if not recycled or upcycled from another industrial process, they will choose materials that fulfil all the necessary technical requirements but are also as close as possible to their production facilities, highly renewable and biodegradable. They avoid petroleum-based plastics substituting them with bioplastics or other sustainable materials from those available on the market. They also avoid all and any kind of toxics during the production process making them safer for both the planet and the users. In some cases, designers even develop and produce their own sustainable materials, opening new doors for the designers and products of the future.
When it comes to the production process, many eco designers work with renewable energy. Small-scale and handcrafted productions mean a smaller energy consumption and some designers and brands even compensate for their energy usage through different environmental and social projects around the world.
Once they have developed their first model or prototype of the product, they will study how to reduce wastage as much as possible (use less energy, less material, less water, make it lighter for deliveries), in order to make sure the final piece is as efficient and environmental-friendly as it could possibly be.
As for inspiration, and this again is a very personal statement that would best be defined by the designers themselves, nature seems to be eco designers most preferred theme, organic and natural forms being the protagonist of most of their designs and collections.
What would be the most important boxes to tick for brands to designed sustainably? Is there any particular brand that is a good example of this?
Any brand that intends to design sustainably should primarily consider the type of materials to be used in the production of their products, bearing in mind all the aspects we have previously talked about (distance to the production centre, recyclability, reusability, biodegradability and compostability etc.) as well as the sustainability of their manufacturing centres and production process.
In order to highlight the eco designers within our community that best exemplify the eco-designing process, we introduced an AMBASSADORS section. These ambassadors have very positively affected the world of eco-design through their work, introducing innovative processes, materials and ideas; and work every day to inspire others to produce and live more sustainably.Any brand that intends to #design sustainably should consider the type of materials to be used, bearing in mind distance to the production centre, recyclability, reusability, biodegradability, compostability & #sustainability of… Click To Tweet
Digging into the several brands you have available at your marketplace, what do they have in common?
All the products distributed at Ekohunters are selected for their commitment to a production model that emphasizes circular economy, sustainability and respect for the environment.
The sustainability of all the products available in our marketplace has been assessed with the help of our self-developed EKO label, meaning that all the products we offer have been produced with an efficient use of resources and reducing the waste and energy consumption through all stages of the production process.
The results are shown in the form of a percentage, with the highest numbers being the best or “most sustainable” results, and on top of that offer additional information on other parameters such as logistics, use and aesthetic life cycles, and end of life.
What is the range of products we can find in your online shop? Any bestsellers?
We aim to be the reference marketplace for eco-designed products and therefore offer a wide and exclusive selection of products across six main categories: architecture, furniture, lighting, decor, lifestyle and kids.
In terms of architecture, we offer an exclusive selection of modular sustainable homes.
For inside the home, we offer all the necessary items to create a sustainable and harmonic space, from furniture and lighting – chairs, sofas, tables, shelving units, and lamps – to all the necessary decor items that complement it such as wallpaper, mirrors, rugs and space organisers.
Because living a sustainable life does not finish at the home, we offer a wide range of lifestyle products, from leisure and sports products – we cover ski, surf, skateboards and bicycles – to tech and fashion accessories such as speakers, backpacks and sunglasses.
Whenever possible, we promote local purchase in order to avoid high logistics carbon emissions and so we work with a wide range of products from a growing number of countries. We are always open to new products we might still not offer on the site but which could be of interest to our customers.
Regarding bestsellers, Debosc products are a must in the world of tech accessories, and in the kitchen category dishes by Sampere have sold very well too. German-based Schneid company produces some of our best selling lighting products, (Eikon series is one of the most successful pendant lamps) along with Decafe which is made from recycled coffee grounds, Orikomi’s paper lamps and DYI lamps by Iumi. For kids, Wodibow toys are worldwide loved; while Akonite skis and skates make action sports lover feel in heaven.
Some strong new arrivals which we are sure are going to win people over are sustainable rugs from Rug Solid, upcycling champs Tolhuijs and More Circular, Movecho’s and Cork Modular’s cork creations, and beautiful wooden toys by Stories in Structures.
Do you import products from worldwide or do you focus on a specific market?
Ekohunters was born with the aim of working for sustainability and environmental protection globally. Wherever there is an eco-designer or a person interested in buying sustainable and environmentally responsible products, Ekohunters will be there.
We work under dropshipping conditions which implies that we do not keep any stock, instead, the product is sent directly from the production centre (the designer) to the final consumer (the buyer), thus reducing the carbon footprint generated by our logistics.
Has there been any evolution worth mentioning from when you started to what Ekohunters is now?
Nowadays any company, or at least any that wants to be successful and relevant in the long term, needs to be on constant development and evolution. Ekohunters has been no exception.
At this moment we are celebrating the first one hundred international eco designers in our community. It has been a long road since we contacted our very first designer – Raul Laurí from Decafé – and we invited him to join us before the website was even activated. 99 wonderful designers and companies later, we are now working on opening a subsidiary in the United States during the first half of 2019.
The opening of a delegation in the USA will allow us to cover the American continent, north and south, which means that we will shortly be selling beautifully eco-designed American products.
This is, of course, a very important step for us and a rather challenging one too, but we take it as a necessary and welcomed challenge in our aim to work for sustainability, and for the responsibility and commitment we have with consumers and the planet.
You are based in Europe, how does a social entrepreneurial venture look like there? Do you feel there’s a change happening on the continent?
We guess is pretty much like anywhere else. Plenty of positive energy, lots of hard work and effort and a little bit of luck to keep doing what we love to do.
For a global project like ours, in need of a great communication strategy we are finding it difficult to attract investors so we can take the company to the next level, but once again we guess this challenge is no stranger to other entrepreneurs.
Any countries that you have especially felt a big increase of communities moving towards sustainability?
Society and especially the new generations are more and more aware of the critic situation we are currently living. They are very much aware of the need to transform our lifestyle if we want to preserve (or even save) our environment, our living space. Much remains to be done, but change is certainly already taking place. It is up to each individual to decide how far they want to take it, each one of us is the real protagonists.
Northern European countries have historically had a stronger sustainable conscience, both individuals and companies. However, in the last few years, we have seen many other countries join the sustainable movement, with a growing awareness of the need to develop systems based on sustainable principles. We work with quite a few brands from Baltic and Eastern European countries that are a very good example of the European shift toward a more circular and sustainable economy, and slowly but surely centre and south European countries are also coming up with some very interesting projects to give back to the planet. The Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium and of course Spain and Portugal, among many others, are some of the examples of countries present in our community that are the leading examples European of eco-design.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?
Yes, keep doing so!!!! The ocean is nothing but millions of individual drops working together. If each of us works and live to make a difference for good, there will be nothing able to stop us.
And is there any advice for consumers to be able to recognise products that are designed sustainably?
This is the main reason why we created both Ekohunters and the Eko label.
We found there was no company offering accurate information on the sustainability of the products sold and it was almost impossible to make a purchase based not only on a beautiful design and competitive price but also in the eco-efficiency and sustainable commitment of the product.
The most commonly seen sustainability markers on the market up to this point were different labels, icons or logos that identified aspect associated with sustainability such as handcrafted production, natural/organic materials or certified wood, as well as a number of official certifications and awards. Whilst this is indeed useful and a very good way of legitimising your process and having your work valued, in some cases are hard to understand by people who are not within the design industry and will require an interested buyer to do research about that specific award, for example.
Trying to make the already available information more clear and easy to understand, so every buyer could make an informed purchase, we organised the information provided by the designers into five categories:
- type of energy used
- raw materials
- logistics (carbon emissions)
- end of lifecycle
These we believe are the key factors to recognise whether a product has been sustainably produced or not, and consequently whether it is collaborating to promote a more sustainable industry.The EKO label gives accurate information on the sustainability of each of the products based on type of energy used, raw materials, logistics (carbon emissions), use and end of life cycle #Sustainability #circulareconomy @Ekohunters Click To Tweet
If you could write a message on a wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree” Martin Luther King.
Finally, how can people take part in the platform?
There are three main groups within our community. Eco-designers that want to participate in this worldwide community and sell their products worldwide through Ekohunters, individuals that want to discover and buy from the world’s leading independent eco-designers and global brands and companies (architects, interior designers and private or public companies) interested in eco-designed products to carry out their projects.
Anyone who fits in any of these categories can conveniently register for free on our website from anywhere in the world as 99% of our products (the only exception being some ecohouses) ship worldwide. Additionally, all three groups get exclusive advantages for being part of our community, from discounts and special offers, to access to expertise and knowledge about the worlds of sustainability, design and architecture among many other things.
Is there any other similar brand you know or are curious about? Comment below, and we will make it happen!