Our Interview with Young Entrepreneur & H2Osqd Founder Francesca | Novel Student
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Our Interview with Young Entrepreneur & H2Osqd Founder Francesca

21 October 2020

At Novel Student we are enthusiastic about supporting both environmentally friendly business’ and entrepreneurial graduates. So when we found H₂O²® and the carbon-neutral bottles created by founder Francesca Kennedy Wallbank we were delighted!

Born out of Francesca’s drive to create an environmentally sustainable product (and in the midst of a global pandemic!) H₂O²® offers flat, reusable, BPA-free, vegan water bottles. Francesca’s commitment to creating a green product has led her to push the boundaries of environmental sustainability, with the ultimate goal to create not just carbon neutral products, but bottles which are carbon negative.

Francesca shared with us the story behind both her passion for the environment and for growing her own business. She also provided some fantastic tips for living a more sustainable lifestyle and advice for any future fellow entrepreneurs.

What inspired you to start your own company?

I come from a family of entrepreneurs so I guess it’s in my blood! My grandad started a care home in Sussex, which is still run by my family and my dad set-up a Graduation photography company called Success Photography which he sold a few years ago – so look out for it when you graduate! However, after Uni I worked at a large corporate for over 3 years and during my sabbatical, where I had planned to travel the world, my plans were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So I guess you could say lockdown gave me the push to go for it.

“Learn it, plan it, go for it. Believe in yourself otherwise no one will believe in you”

What’s the story behind H₂O²®?

In a nutshell, H₂O²® is a COVID-19 lockdown start-up. During the height of lockdown, when we were only allowed outside for one hour a day, I started to go on long walks in the countryside and only wanted to carry the bare minimum: my phone, earphones and some water. However, I found my bulky cylindrical water bottles didn’t fit into my small bags or coat pockets meaning I had to compromise: either not carry water (which was never an option) or swap to a much larger bag. That’s when the idea came to me, so I started my business H₂O²®.

H₂O²® is a sustainable brand offering flat, reusable and BPA-free water bottles, designed to fit where others can’t. Whether it’s a briefcase; a cross-over bag for a day with the girls, a rucksack to slide next to children’s books for school or even a large pocket for those dog walks – our bottles fit. Keeping you hydrated whilst on the go, H₂O² ® is operated by myself from my converted home-office in Surrey, UK completely carbon-freely.

You can also have your bottle personalised which makes a perfect gift for a loved ones birthday or special occasion. We also offer logo customisation for businesses.

What did you study at university and have used this within your new business venture?

I studied Mathematics at Loughborough University and to be honest it couldn’t be further from what I’m doing now. However, having a mathematical way of thinking means I’m quite logical and can learn new skills quickly. It’s definitely helped when I needed to update the code on my website which I built myself. I also have used it to carbon footprint my products, that required a lot of equations and large excel sheets with different formulas.

Who or what inspires you to act sustainably?

It might sound cliche but I watched a documentary on Netflix called Cowspriacy and overnight I literally changed my life. Now it’s ingrained in me so everything I do, I think about what the more sustainable option is. Growing up my mum had a big influence on me. We had her special “rules”:  grab a jumper before putting the heating on, only use the oven if more than 3 people are using it and switch the lights off!

I wanted to bring my ethos into H₂O²® and show my customers the full environmental impact of my products. After all, a product can say it’s sustainable but there’s only one way to really compare and prove that and that is through carbon footprinting and offsetting projects.

As well as in your business life, what changes have you made in your personal life to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle?

There are 3 main sources which largely impact your environmental footprint; energy, food and travel. So for me it’s quite simple, all the energy in my house is run from renewable resources via a company called Bulb; I eat a vegan lifestyle and have done for over 3 years and I don’t own a car – I actually sold it over a year ago and cycle everywhere or take public transport if I need to get a little further away. Some more drastic changes I’ve made are starting my own vegetable patch where I grow kale, tomatoes, rocket spinach and onions. The best thing is the fresh mint for mojitos or Pimms though! Buying second-hand where possible, I rarely buy new furniture or clothes and go for quality items over fashion trends.

Can you talk us through the materials you use for your bottles including the plantable tags/logos?

H₂O² ® bottles are made of premium BPA & BPS free Tritan™ with a TPU protective sleeve that comes in black, white or pink which is scratch resistant, oil and grease resistant and biodegradable after 3-5 years. The lid is made with shiny Polypropylene with a silicon ring to ensure it is leak proof. The wrist strap is made of vegan leather and stainless steel. All our packaging is recycled, recyclable and biodegradable. You can even plant our tag into wild flowers as it’s made from seeded paper – just pop straight into compost and add some water and you’re away!

Can you explain how you learnt how to offset your carbon footprint?

There are 6 main categories:

  • Production of Raw materials
  • Distribution of Raw materials
  • The Organisation
  • Distribution of finished goods
  • Use
  • Recycle/ Disposal

 

I started with studying the GHG Protocol for about 3 days straight which is the bible for footprinting products. Once I gathered all the raw data then added it to the equations it was pretty simple – I guess that’s when my Maths degree came in useful! I reached out to a carbon footprinting charity to help me verify my workings. After some fine tuning it came out at 0.94kg carbon emissions equivalent per bottle.

This takes into account everything from delivering the product to the customer, them using the dishwasher to clean it and recycling the packaging and bottle.

I’ve also looked at reducing our footprint in all ways possible such as using companies that already offset their emissions such as DPD and Etsy.

Do you think there is a trend towards people shopping less and caring more about how products have been created?

1 million percent. There’s been a large trend in consumers wanting more local, quality products with sustainable brands and products seeing huge growth. Consumers are more interested in knowing the story and history behind brands too. This has been heightened especially during the pandemic as consumers are actively seeking brands they can trust.

At the same time people’s needs in terms of reduced delivery times, increased value and digital platform requirements ( with the likes of Amazon) have increased dramatically so it’s a fine balance.

Could some of your practices be undertaken by larger companies to reduce their carbon footprint?

I actually used to work for Unilever – one of the largest FMCGs in the world and everything is on a completely different level, it’s not that it can’t be done but it’s a costly and time consuming process. There’s already companies that manage carbon offsetting projects so there’s really no excuse.

“There are 3 main sources which largely impact your environmental footprint; energy, food and travel”

You currently work from home, what motivates you and how do you balance your life/work with such a small team helping you?

I love learning, I remember one of my teachers in school always saying you should learn 5 new skills a day so as everything is new still, that gives me the enthusiasm to get up and do it again daily.

I’m also part of The Prince’s Trust and have a mentor meeting every week. Having some sort of structure really keeps me on track and means I have someone else holding me accountable.

Although I am a sole business owner ( I pretty much do everything myself with my twin sister helping with some marketing and my mum helping with packaging large orders ) I feel like I have work colleagues who work for other brands. On our Instagram and Facebook pages (@h2osqd) we run monthly giveaway competitions with brands that have the same ethos as us so I’m in constant contact with them. Working with other entrepreneurs continues to inspire me and they always teach me something.

However nothing beats when I get lovely comments from customers or a 5* review, that reminds me I’m doing the right thing and that motivates me to do more.

For me, my work life balance has been hard to adjust to as it’s very hard to switch off as I would when I had an employer. I make sure I take weekends off from emails but am still active to reply to customers on social media given this is our most busy time. Every day at 5.45pm I do an exercise class and that’s  non-negotiable so that makes me stop and then I can relax.

Where would you like to see yourself/ H₂O²® in the next 10 years?

If someone says flat water bottle, I want them to think of H₂O²®. I would love the brand to be known as the first carbon negative company too I.e. going a step further and taking more carbon out of the environment than we produce.

I also hope in the future, there is the opportunity to have each material made from completely recycled materials, as we move into a circular economy I see this becoming possible.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?

Learn it, plan it, go for it. Believe in yourself otherwise no one will believe in you.

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