We took some time to get to know Trent Pike co-founder of Mielie Mailer, a humble shipping mailer with one sole purpose – to help humans make better choices for themselves and for the planet. Read on to learn more about Trent and his views on sustainability and how to adapt your lifestyle.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Trent. I grew up in Cape Town and have lived most of my life here. In 2014, I dropped out of UCT and co-founded, instaLens, which I ran for a year and a half. It was my first taste of real entrepreneurial success and came after about a dozen or so attempted ventures. The business was a wild success – a combination of exceptionally hard work and very good timing. I moved to Australia and spent almost 3-years overseas travelling. A large part of these travels was spent in the outdoors, the highlight being 6-months living in a van in the USA. During that time, I visited over 30 National Parks and hiked in nature almost every day. It was during this period where my love for the environment and a sense of responsibility towards it grew. I came back to South Africa at the end of 2017 – and re-enrolled at UCT (Business Science Economics and Statistics) – with the intention to finally finish my degree.
Then Greta Thunberg happened. I realised I was learning the very economics which has ultimately got us into this environmental mess. So, I dropped out for the second time, went on a 10-day silent vipassana meditation, and co-founded Mielie Mailer with the intention to make a difference.
What does a day in your life look like?
There’s a Buddhist saying, that goes something like this; “routine is the scaffolding that props up our lives”. I’ve always been one to shun routine, I don’t like the idea of being so rigid or monotomous in what I do. That being said, philosophers throughout history have hailed routine as a key driver of efficiency and productivity. Bearing that long introduction in mind, I do have a routine, but it ebbs and flows, and I rarely stick to it. My perfect day is one which includes a period of high-productivity, a period of exercise, a period of education, a period of spiritual growth and a period in nature. Obviously, with the state of the world as it is, nature has been out of the question for a while (and it’s driving me mad). This is my ideal coronavirus schedule.
730am – wake-up, meditate for 30minutes. 8am – make some coffee and breakfast, enjoy it with my family in the garden. 9am – work starts, until about 5 pm. The first order of business is going through the schedule I made the night before. 5pm – yoga. 6 pm – another hour of work incl. scheduling tomorrow. 7pm – dinner with family. 830pm – education; articles, books, videos, etc. 930pm – meditate for an hour. 1030pm – read. 1130pm – bed.
What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
Every day, we are faced with another news article about deforestation, soil depletion, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, record-breaking heatwaves, etc., etc. The common thread which links all these horror-stories together is economic-growth driven by consumption – which is destroying the Earth’s biosphere. Consumption or rather over-consumption is the keyword here. But where does consumption end and over-consumption begin? It’s not the solid line most people think it is. Rather, it’s a moving goalpost which is vastly different for each individual. What’s beautiful about thinking about consumption in this way is that we have the power to move our own goalpost to one that is sustainable. As such, sustainability to me is defined as two words; less and slow.
We’re a generation of consumers, but that consumption comes at a cost. Sure, it’s possible to consume with companies who produce sustainable equivalents to products we want or need, but ultimately consuming nothing at all is a far more authentic way to be more sustainable. Obviously, we need to consume to live, but as a person begins to consume less, they realise how little they actually need not only to survive but thrive.
To live slowly is to live sustainability. Slow, intentional production leads to the creation of goods which last life-times. To slow down is to think with intention, instead of reacting impulsively to whims and desires. Take, for example, the question of sustainable delivery:
1. Sustainable delivery avoids traffic as much as possible by delivering during the time of day when traffic is minimal.
2. Instead of delivering one parcel at a time, sustainable delivery makes use of parcel aggregation where parcels destined for the same suburb or area are sorted and then delivered by one vehicle, in one trip.
3. In line with this, routes are pre-planned to ensure no unnecessary kilometres are travelled. But, when consumers demand instant gratification and respond to fleeting desires, this translates to overnight or same-day delivery. These delivery choices are not and can not be fulfilled in sustainable ways.
How can people support your brand during the pandemic?
People can support us by shopping at the businesses who have taken the bold decision, in this really uncertain time and tough economic climate, to make the move to sustainable packaging and delivery. They have truly chosen the planet over profit. We have a list of brands that use Mielie Mailers to ship their products, so that’s a great place for people to start. The page also, by coincidence, acts as a mini-directory for local & ethical brands in South Africa.
What do you find most challenging about living sustainably?
The majority of our food and consumer products come wrapped in plastics that aren’t recyclable. Food that is organic or pesticide-free is more expensive. We’re working longer hours, giving us little time to cook a meal or mend a possession. Most of the items we buy have been designed to become obsolete after a year or two. If you want to buy something of higher quality, you have to be wealthy enough to pay a pretty stiff premium. Our local clothing industry has given way outsourced production in developing countries, where human rights conditions are routinely violated.
Over half of food items in supermarkets contain palm oil – an ingredient that is the leading cause of deforestation in tropical areas, and which goes by dozens of different names. These are a few select examples of how government and businesses collude to nudge each of us into blindly destroying the planet, on a daily basis.
What advice would you give to someone looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
Start small but scale quickly. AND most importantly vote with ‘more than your wallet’ Instead of just rewarding businesses and brands for being sustainable through purchases and praise, begin punishing businesses who are actively choosing not to be sustainable – because they are making a conscious choice. There is NO excuse to not be sustainable in 2020. When brands can’t reduce, they can offset. Further, while conscious consumption does make a profound difference to your individual impact, it is not feasible for the majority of people (mostly due to price as a barrier to entry). So, you can choose to live in a bubble of sustainability or you help make real change through lobbying companies and governments (local and national) to implement green policy, best-practices, and laws.
Name some of your favourite sustainable brands.
I love and respect YOCO a lot. They’re probably an answer you weren’t expecting. Their decision to begin using Mielie Mailers to ship their products was an entirely intrinsic one, with no outside consumer pressure. They’re also involved in developing the local business economy and contribute to a whole bunch of fantastic initiatives.
I really like 4WKS who create compostable coffee pods, compatible with your Nespresso machine.
I’m also a big fan of Juni the Label. They advocate slow, locally produced fashion. Lastly, Summah (https://summah.co/) sell, sustainably sourced home leisurewear and have a zero-waste policy which I find admirable.
What is your advice for someone wanting to start a sustainable brand?
I think it’s easy to try and do too much and be too good. You cannot have a black and white view about sustainability when starting a business. Compromise has to happen. As touched on earlier, capitalism essentially forces us, at the extreme, ‘to be evil’ – whether you are an individual or a business. When we started Mielie Mailer, we wanted more than anything to produce locally. Given financial, regulatory, and technological constraints it wasn’t possible. Instead of delaying launch to a date that may have never materialised, we compromised. Our products are produced in China, at a production facility which has been vetted for fair working conditions. They are internationally recognized and certified as home-compostable and we plant-trees to offset where we can’t reduce. Our intention remains: we want to produce Mielie Mailers locally, but if we had been black and white about it, we would still not have launched and all the good we have already done, would never have materialised.
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