DofE talks to Lifemarque director Richard White about sustainability
Who are Lifemarque?
Lifemarque create high-quality products for the outdoor, travel and nursery industries. Their founder, Mark Cobham, cut his foot badly when he was travelling in Tanzania in 1983. Luckily, his travelling companion was a qualified doctor who treated his wound swiftly using a medical kit she carried in her rucksack. Mark was lucky to have his travel companion to help, but he wondered what he would have done if she were not with him, and so Lifesystems was born from this thought.
Today, Lifesystems is joined by Lifeventure, LittleLife and Mountain Paws to form a family of brands which make up Lifemarque. Sustainability is more important than ever in the outdoor industry, so we caught up with Director Richard White to hear how his team are implementing greener policies into their work.
Q. Hello and thank you for taking some time to talk about Lifeventure’s sustainability plans. Please feel free to introduce yourself!
A. I am Richard White, Director at Lifemarque Ltd. We have been a partner of the DofE for over 10 years now.
Q. Tell me a bit about Lifeventure and what you do.
A. Lifeventure was created to design products that adventure travellers and outdoor enthusiasts would be able to use to make their trip more comfortable and enjoyable. We are a UK company and have a large selection of products that have been designed here and, in some cases, made in the UK. Our difference is that we design products to last so, although there may be alternatives, we do believe that we would offer the best value as our product will be more durable or perform better when exploring. This, in our opinion, is one of the most sustainable things anyone can do. If you buy one of our DofE recommended Ellipse Mugs, for example, it is made in the UK so there is little transportation impact, it is made from food-grade materials which are totally recyclable and, although they are plastic, they are tough little mugs that will last you a lifetime so will be able to provide thousands of cups of tea over the years. My one at work is the first one ever made, and I still use it seven years later.
Q. What made you want to work for Lifeventure?
A. I used to be a retail customer of Lifeventure and came to see them on several occasions to look at ranges. I liked the ethos, I liked the products and I felt that I could make a difference. I wrote to the owner telling him this and he agreed. I’m still here many years later and we still have a relaxed environment, we have dogs coming into the office to sit under the desks (mostly!), we still have a great team who are always out adventuring/running/cycling/kayaking to some serious levels, and it is still exciting coming up with new ideas for products!
Q. Do you think it’s important to care about sustainability?
A. Absolutely, we are doing what we can to reduce our impact wherever possible. Some areas are easy to change, and some are a lot more difficult. The biggest challenge is actually trying to work out what the best route is. Sustainability is also an area which can be used in marketing to “greenwash” people. Some brands are really sustainably conscious and shout about it, that is great. Others make very questionable claims of sustainability. We tend to do what we can to make things a little better but not shout about it too much. All our wallets are now made from recycled nylon (including the lining and the plastic bag it goes in). But we know we have work to do, and we will continue to improve before we claim we’re perfect.
Q. Do Lifeventure currently have any policies in place for cultivating a greener planet?
A. We do. We call it our ‘Lifecycle’ programme. It is essentially looking at how a product is conceived, how it is made and then how our operations get it to the customer. Finally, it is about how the customer uses it and can then dispose of it if necessary. Hence, the Lifecycle name.
Product – All products we design go through a checklist to ensure we are doing what we can to make them greener. This includes the packaging, the materials and components used and how we dye, treat, or waterproof the fabric. However, that doesn’t mean we always use the greenest approach. This might price the product too high or make the product less durable, so it is a calculation to work out what is the best balance. For example, our DofE recommended SoftFibre Travel Towels for 2023 are now 100% recycled with 100% recycled plastic bags but we still have work to do on some accessory materials, the elastic band to wrap the towel in doesn’t last as long if using recycled materials so we use new material.
Production – We visit all our factories and monitor them with 3rd party audit teams. This is to build relationships but also to ensure they are ethically sound. Part of the discussions are increasingly about working towards greener production. This might be solar panel installation, water management, but our main way of improving our footprint is to produce more in the UK. 66% of the products, by volume, on the DofE Kit List made by Lifemarque are made right here in the UK. That gives a huge benefit when monitoring your carbon footprint in the first place.
Procedures – This revolves around our systems to get products into the company and then to the customer. We are using greener materials for postage, moving to green energy, use electric cars as company vehicles, use less water, recycling wherever possible and all the obvious methods we are all trying to do at home. Again, we have more to do here, particularly with distribution, but we are working towards this.
PX (Purchaser Experience) – This is the last part of the Lifecycle programme. Hopefully, the customer is delighted with the product and how it is efficiently sent to them. We hope they use it for a long time, if we can keep this ‘Lifecycle’ as long as possible by our due diligence in the product stage, then we are doing well. After that time, most of our products can be recycled, reused, or repurposed (Lifeventure towels are great for cleaning cars). We hope to make the products last longer and have a greater recycling ability in the future.
These are all part of our CSR document that we share with all our suppliers to ensure they are doing what they can to help.
Q. How are you measuring the success of these initiatives?
A. Some areas are easy to measure, we will be out of any plastic packaging in Lifeventure by the end of 2025. In fact, we are there already apart from zip ties. When it comes to reduction in energy and the quantity recycled, we monitor these as well and they are easy to compare. Other areas are much harder, recycling rates of plastic bags, recycling of electronic components etc. are all hard to ascertain.
Q. Does Lifeventure have any plans for continuing their sustainability strategy into the future?
A. Yes, this is a continuing programme that will increase over time. More of our customers (retailers) are asking for no plastic or recycled fabrics and this will continue to evolve in our range, as long as the product still holds true to our values of durability and reliability.
Q. Thank you again for your time. It’s been fantastic to understand a bit more about yourself and the work going on at Lifeventure to keep our planet healthy.
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