Meet Jen Wilks, eXXpedition Virtual Voyage: Australia crew member. As part of our Ambassador Spotlight Series we wanted to share Jen’s Superpower Story.
CAN YOU TELL ME A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF?
I live in the Redlands, Brisbane in Queensland, Australia and I’m an avid sailor, scuba-diver and kayaker. I studied Commerce at the University of Queensland, undertook postgraduate studies at QUT and worked as a Chartered Accountant. About 4 years ago, I joined Our Eco Clean as an Investor when I decided that my finance career wasn’t fulfilling me. I was looking for something where I could combine my passion and my purpose with my career. Our Eco Clean were working hard to help reduce the harsh, toxic chemicals being pumped into our seas and waterways and I wanted to apply my skills to the company’s circular economy journey and global expansion. Working both upstream and downstream in Our Eco Cleans supply chain, I enjoy finding ways to make a difference for customers, suppliers, communities and our planet.
HOW DID YOU END UP SAILING WITH EXXPEDITION?
I found it really difficult to find the information I needed to make sustainable packaging decisions in our business and to navigate the greenwashing maze. When I came across eXXpedition I signed up because I thought it would be a great way to learn more. I was also interested to see how plastic pollution in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef compared to other areas eXXpedition sailed through.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN THAT SURPRISED YOU MOST DURING THE VOYAGE?
When I got accepted onto Virtual Voyage: Australia, it was an anxious moment for me because I noticed that I was the only manufacturer among a crew of marine scientists, policy makers, communication experts and creatives. I thought, what are they going to think of me? Will they see me as part of the problem? Hearing about everyone’s journeys, all their trials and tribulations and sacrifices, really bonded us and made me feel very comfortable being there. By the end of the voyage, everyone could see that I was there to learn and explore what we could do differently as an industry.
“Breaking down the barriers between academia, industry and government is key.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SUPERPOWER?
Prior to the voyage, I saw my superpower as my corporate background and how I could use the skills gained in my job to tackle the problem of plastic pollution. However, when we were on the virtual voyage it was really eye-opening for me to hear how other people described me and my superpower. The adjectives I got were fearless, tenacious, resilient and influential. I don’t see myself that way. It was good to go through that process and learn more about myself through other people’s eyes. Certainly, I hope to influence people and create change.
CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT OUR ECO CLEAN?
Our Eco Clean creates cleaning products that keep your family safe from harmful chemicals, and create a cleaner, more fragrant and natural home that uplifts everyone in it. We source natural ingredients from local suppliers and create effective cleaning products that really work. Using food grade, plant-based ingredients in all of our cleaning products, together we can avoid pumping harmful chemicals into our waterways. Our business is driven by our core beliefs of being a responsible business with an important role to play in the future of our planet and its people.
HOW HAS THE VOYAGE INFLUENCED YOUR WORK SINCE YOU RETURNED HOME?
I wanted to apply my skills and learnings to Our Eco Clean’s circular economy journey. As a company, we’ve launched blends to promote awareness and discussion about conservation. Ocean Voyage, inspired by eXXpedition, was designed to capture the essence of the sea. We’ve also developed a Koala Mojito air freshener to support Koala Rescue Queensland. Fifty cents from every air freshener sold goes directly to Koala Rescue Queensland to support the important and amazing work they do.
We’ve also been working upstream and downstream through our supply chain. All of our bottles are recyclable but this comes with the challenge of making sure we have enough supply to fulfil our orders and keeping the price point competitive so our products don’t outprice others in the market. We’re working with a great carbon neutral plastics manufacturer in Australia to achieve this. The manufacturer has also innovated one of our three bottle closures to be a second use plastic which will cover about a third of our product range. We’re testing the prototype as we speak which is very exciting as nothing like it currently exists in the market. Going forwards, we would also like to improve the sustainability of our spray bottles. They contain glass and metal so can’t be recycled which presents us with a big design challenge. I’ve been in touch with fellow eXXpedition Virtual Voyage: Australia crew member Nicole Garofano who has introduced me to a company in the UK doing something similar and we’re working together to bring those products to market.
“Plastic is a very good resource. We just have to get better at using it.”
I also had the opportunity to go to SelectUSA, a government program led by the US Department of Commerce that focuses on facilitating job-creating business investment into the United States and raising awareness of the critical role that economic development plays in the US economy. I was there to try and make investors think about sustainability as part of their investment criteria and decision-making. I wanted to use my skill set to make people think differently and create change. I’ve also spoken at sustainability events about what I’m finding and learning to try and change the way our industry operates. It’s been an interesting journey.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD TO HAVE ACHIEVED?
Probably the bottle closures and the gains we’re making in the development of our recyclable bottles towards a fully circular recycled and recyclable future.. At the end of the day, consumers and retailers don’t want to pay more for recycled packaging, and convenience is still a key driver for consumers. All we can do is continue to innovate upstream and downstream to make sure the price point is on par with virgin plastic. That’s been a really challenging part of the exercise, but more and more retailers are looking for these sorts of solutions.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE FOLLOWING IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS?
It’s overwhelming to start. You think there’s no way I can create any change, it’s such a big problem. But I’ve learnt that once you scratch the surface and start digging, you really can make a difference. I would encourage anyone to pick one small thing they can do to create change and see where it takes you.
“I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to make a difference.”
WHAT KEEPS YOU HOPEFUL ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE OCEAN?
The innovation that our company is doing. We have only just scratched the surface on how our native plants can improve our health. We’re not big by any stretch of the imagination, but we are driven and inspired by our customers’ stories, and we keep innovating to be better and do better in the areas of people, planet and purpose.