Spotlight Series

Hearterra

Hearterra is a zero-waste refillery working to provide a more environmentally responsible way of distributing household and personal care products. They have researched all products to ensure they are eco-friendly and work well for you.

Interview with Angela de Geus, Co-founder of Hearterra
By Elizabeth MacMillan, Outreach and Engagement at NORDIK Institute

Let’s start with a brief overview of your social enterprise idea, including where you are located.
At Hearterra, located in the downtown core of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, we provide a more environmentally responsible way of distributing products we all need while reducing waste. We aim to create a community that supports our health and our environment and have hand-selected household and personal care products that are safe for people, pets, and the planet. Many products are created locally, thereby supporting place-based makers and our small business community. We also have a local maker and small business program    to help entrepreneurs and support our community to become more sustainable.

We are a refillery! A place where customers can refill their bottles or purchase new ones from us. The Hearterra container deposit program enables customers to take their products home to refill their own containers. Once they are done with the container they can return it for the full deposit fee.  We provide various sizes from 1 ounce up to 32 ounces, and we can sell small amounts for customers who wish to test products before fully committing to a larger purchase.

What is the legal structure, (governance structure) (e.g. sole proprietorship; non-profit; cooperative; ad hoc)?
We are a social enterprise governed as a corporation. We invest profits back into our business and/or to support environmental community efforts. We aim to become a B Corp.

What question provided the inspirational spark? What is the social, cultural or environmental pressure point that is activating action?
We saw a need in the community and wanted to share this new way of shopping and living by reducing the non-recyclable plastics in our households, changing the way we shop.  We learned about zero-waste living and wanted to work together to support the community in fulfilling a need that we all had —  to live with the land and water in mind. We hope to build a community of knowledge and support responsible consumption.  We want to support and strengthen our local maker entrepreneurial market as well, and continue to purchase products from them.

How long have you been working to develop and launch this idea?
For about 2 years and enthusiastically launched our online store on July 10, 2021, and since October 16, 2021, we have offered in-store shopping!

What are 1-3 key actions that will advance the social enterprise?
Establish a learning community to develop collaborative solutions. We want to educate residents and businesses in the Algoma District on how they can adapt their lifestyles to live more sustainably. We hope to celebrate, learn and grow together.

Expand the variety of products we carry to make it easier for consumers to find more sustainable and environmentally-friendly options locally.

Build more partnerships and relationships with local makers to continue offering unique sustainably-made local products to strengthen our local economy.

Do champions play a role in the establishment and/or ongoing success?
Yes, champions are a huge part of our work and movement.  We need champions to engage others in the facts we are facing with our environment and our consumerism, and engage more people in conscientious shopping and sustainable living.

What are 1-3 key start-up supports (if any) that have assisted?

  1. SEE’s Start Program, delivered in collaboration with the Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN), especially the mentoring component
  2. Millworks Center for Entrepreneurship Grant Program
  3. LAMBAC Northern Ontario Women Program

What are 1-3 things that are critical to its ongoing success?
Offering quality products that our customers need in a way that is sustainably produced and distributed and disposed of is critical.  In addition, support from our customers is important too. We are also grateful to have the support of community organizations like Clean North and local suppliers. Suppliers (including local), who are willing to sell us products in minimal packaging and be responsible for the disposal of the packaging that they do use, are very critical.  In addition, local makers have been responsive to changing the materials/ingredients they use, to make more environmentally friendly options to support our mission and offer quality products.

How has COVID-19 impacted the idea or business/organization?
The COVID-19 pandemic created an increased use of plastics at the beginning of 2020, since personal use items could no longer be used (e.g., grocery bags, refillable coffee mugs, etc.).  This motivated us to open our business during COVID-19. It was a challenge adapting the refillery model to keep everyone safe during the pandemic. At first, we opened as an online store offering curbside pickup. We developed a container deposit program where customers could order products in a jar for a deposit fee and return the jar for a refund. However, it was clear that our customers wanted to be able to come into the store to see, smell and experience what we had to offer. Customers also wanted to bring in their own containers. We decided to follow Sudbury’s  Nickel Refillery example and have a sanitation station at the entrance to the store where customers can sanitize the outside of their containers before we refill them. We have also minimized risk by doing the filling containers for our customers and ensuring health protocols are in place to protect all who enter our store.

What is the scope of the impact you are looking to make, and how do you measure it?
We are looking to reduce the amount of garbage generated by residents in Sault Ste. Marie. We measure the impact by estimating how many containers the bulk products we have sold would have been thrown away. For example, an average tube of toothpaste contains 170 grams. So far we have sold 5115 g and saved 30 toothpaste tubes from the landfill.

What are Hearterra’s next steps? What are 1-3 things that would support this?

  1.  Sustaining customer relationships and building business relationships to ensure our offerings support their zero-waste needs.
  2.  Creating more convenient systems for our customers, including expanding our hours to ensure customer satisfaction.
  3.  Offer new and high-quality product lines (increasing local maker offerings) and training events to engage customers in DIY with products that are environmentally, pet and human friendly (and in many cases hypoallergenic).

Is there anything else you would like to share with me today?
Thank you for featuring us.  Buying Local is something that many people support, but many others do not recognize its value.  Many local consumers do not realize how their choices can truly support their community partners, like purchasing from local businesses like us who invest in our communities. We have friends and family who suggest they do their best to live towards zero-waste, purchasing products from Norwex, Metro, Costco or from other larger suppliers. A little change to support Hearterra could make a big change for the store, to help us to grow this movement to clean living, while supporting our community.

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