A leader in the sector shares her thoughts on how we can adopt the use of more products that are sustainable
We recently talked to Marina Tran-Vu, founder and CEO of EQUO. Started in 2020, the company is on a mission to replace single-use plastics. So far, Vu and her team have achieved this goal by harnessing the raw power of nature, resulting in a host of products that are 100% plastic free, biodegradable, and compostable. In the following conversation, we’ll outline everything from how Vu got her start in sustainability, the successes she’s had so far, and also a little on what she feels about being a female leader in Vietnam’s sustainability sector.
Are You a Sustainability Professional? Become a Member of the World’s Only Digital Platform That Brings Impact Driven Individuals Together
While some claim to have sustainability as a part of their lives from an early age, with Vu it wasn’t until later on that she fully committed to pushing for a more sustainable world. She admits that for a while, she didn’t know much about sustainability besides the odd bit of recycling, which then begs the question: how did the transition begin?
Vu cites three different reasons. The first stems from a career that up until that point had been in marketing and consumer branding. Recognizing an opportunity to start working with products that are sustainable, one issue she felt most compelled to answer was why, if people generally wanted to do good for the planet, didn’t they already use sustainable products? What she realized was that most people are simply unaware of the various sustainable, plastic-free products on the market. Recognizing this knowledge gap offered her an opportunity to fill it with EQUO. The second reason Vu got into sustainability came after the birth of her nephew. When he first visited Vietnam, she was struck with how trash-ridden the place was and knew she wanted to make a change before the environment worsened into the future which could inevitably have a detrimental effect on her nephew’s future. This tied in with her desire to represent Vietnam on the world stage. The reality is, Vietnam generates an estimated 3.7 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, of which only 10 – 15% is collected for recycling. Promoting plastic-free products with EQUO allows Vu to start changing the narrative in the country toward one of more environmental consciousness.
Some of EQUO’s Achievements
- Distributed through nearly 200 wholesale or B2B customers both in Vietnam and abroad.
- Partners with NGO’s such as Skip the Plastic Straw, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Hannah4Change and Techstars.
- $1.3 million raised in 2022 during seed round of investments.
- Replaced over 25 million pieces of plastic in the environment.
1. How Do You Market Products That Are Sustainable?
One thing Vu understands as the CEO of a business in Vietnam’s sustainability sector is the need to build bridges so more people can start having a conversation about what needs fixing. One of the largest roadblocks in the way of this is marketing. In the past, Vu believes the majority of messaging within the sustainability industry was a kind of all-or-nothing dogma based around fear. Think of the spread of fearful information such as: we have less than 8 years till we do irreversible damage to our planet. While in some ways it’s impossible to argue against the truth of such statements, being beaten over the head with them won’t actually induce any real change. Instead, what Vu and the team at EQUO believe needs to happen is a rewording of the message.
This has resulted in an ethos not based on fear tactics, but understanding and positivity. Now, the message has shifted to every small action is a step towards a better future. In line with this, the branding of EQUO is unlike most in the sustainability industry. Prioritizing the use of bright colors in their products and even in their communications, they hope to attract a wider range of customers.
2. Representing Vietnam On The Global Stage
Besides taking a more empathetic approach to sustainability, Vu and the team at EQUO understand how important it is to represent Vietnam on the global stage. As mentioned, Vietnam generates an obscene amount of plastic that largely ends up polluting the land and ocean. In order to change the status quo into one of a more ecological mindset (hence the name, EQUO), Vu has actively sought out Vietnamese sources and manufacturers to aid in the making of their plastic-free products. By keeping everything in-house and exporting said products to 15 different countries, EQUO is able to support the Vietnamese economy as well.
RELATED: 4 Reasons This Sustainable Business Is Changing the Sustainability Landscape in Vietnam
If all that wasn’t enough, EQUO also boasts a fully-Vietnamese team, all of whom are based in the country. For other Vietnamese witnessing the success of a local startup, this can serve as inspiration for more change, all the while providing belief in the possibility of a future, environmentally conscious Vietnam.
3. A Variety Of Products That Are Sustainable
All of EQUO’s efforts at inciting any change would be for nothing if they didn’t have any worthwhile products to back it up with.
- Plant based biodegradable straws were their first line of products, with each straw type a little different from the other. For example, their Coffee Drinking Straws, smell like your favorite home brew and can be eaten after you’ve finished your drink!
- 100% plastic free, biodegradable, and compostable utensils.
- Stylish and cute eco-friendly tote bags are also one of EQUO’s bestsellers. These are large enough to fit daily appliances such as laptops, books, or groceries.
4. A True Understanding Of Gender-Equality in Vietnam
Being a CEO is never easy. Being a female CEO of a company based in Vietnam, a country often considered conservative and patriarchal is also not so simple. However, rather than letting circumstances define her, Vu maintains a measured view of gender equality which focuses on equality of opportunity.
For her, the stress should be less on whether a person is male or female, and more on whether they can get the job done. With EQUO, 70% of the team is female. That’s not because Vu wanted more females in EQUO, but it just so happened that the individuals she believed were best qualified for the job were women. This rationality in the face of a conversation as divisive as gender equality ensures that EQUO is always focused on what’s most important: that of producing products that are sustainable for the betterment of Vietnam and the world.