European Business: Mr. Stausholm, at first glance, pencils and seeds are not the most obvious combination. What was the inspiration for Sprout pencils?
Michael Stausholm: Actually, the idea of the Sprout pencil comes from a group of robot engineer students on MIT, Boston. They got the task of designing a sustainable office product of the future and came up with the plantable pencil with seeds.
I saw the Sprout pencil on Kickstarter and founded Sprout Europe back in 2013. Today the students are bought out, and I am the main shareholder of Sprout. We own the rights, trade mark and patents of the Sprout pencil and all other plantable writing instruments.
The head office is placed near Copenhagen, Denmark but we sell the pencils to over 60 countries. The idea is to plant the pencil when it’s too short to use. This way you give new life to waste; a new life that turn into herbs, vegetables or flowers.
It is a good way of illustrating recycling and it’s a green alternative to the 135 million plastic ball pens that are produced every day! Especially companies have embraced our pencil; they get their logo and message on and use it as a green giveaway to clients, employees and partners.
In my opinion, running a sustainable business means that it is sustainable all the way round; the product itself has to be sustainable, the work conditions and also the economy. Michael Stausholm
European Business: Your passion for environmental conservation is very transparent. How easy is it to balance this with the challenges of running a successful business? Are there any conflicts between the two?
Michael Stausholm: In my opinion, running a sustainable business means that it is sustainable all the way round; the product itself has to be sustainable, the work conditions and also the economy.
I see a lot of green businesses that are very ambitious when it comes to sustainability within the first to parameters, but they seem to forget the last one. In other words, they don’t make any money. I prefer to see sustainability as a journey instead of a black and white approach. You cannot be 100% sustainable from the beginning. You have to work on it gradually, so your production costs are not an obstacle to making a profit.
As an example, Sprout makes 100% biodegradable pencils, our packaging is sustainable, but we would like the card board to be recycled too. It’s one of the things we are working on and that is perfectly okay because we improve step by step to ensure a healthy economy.
Our newest product is the world’s first plantable makeup pencil. Michael Stausholm
European Business: Planting a Sprout pencil encourages others to think about sustainability; what measures do you take to incorporate sustainability into your own business?
Michael Stausholm: I would like to refer to the answer above. We constantly work to improve our production and products. We produce our pencils in both Europe and the US so that we can ship locally to both markets. We also develop new products that can help new industries communicating their eco-friendly improvements. Our newest product is the world’s first plantable makeup pencil. We already experience a huge demand from global cosmetic firms that are looking for green alternatives.
We need to understand that buying five shirts from a Chinese webshop for four EUR is not a good deal. It’s a disaster for the environment. Michael Stausholm
European Business: One of the aims of your seed pencil is to make sustainability visible and encourage people to make small changes in their daily life. What do you think are the most important actions that individuals can take?
Michael Stausholm: That’s correct. Our mission is to inspire people and businesses to take small steps toward more eco-friendly actions. We want them to think; okay I can plant a pencil, but what else can I do? When all comes to all, consumers need to be conscious about the way they consume. We need to understand that buying five shirts from a Chinese webshop for four EUR is not a good deal. It’s a disaster for the environment. It’s better to buy one of higher quality that will last longer.
European Business: How many pencils have you used and planted yourself, and which is your favourite ‘sprout’?
Michael Stausholm: I am not very good at growing plants. So, my favorite pencil is basil. Because it grows quickly and easily and because it goes so well with Italian food which I love. I might have planted around 100 pencils I think. Everytime we get a new variant, I am the test person in the company. If I can make it grow, everyone can. [laughs]