By Eric Peterson | Oct 11, 2021
Making sustainable packaging is more than a business for Doshi. "This is an area I'm very passionate about, probably to a fault," she says. "I have a feeling I prevent some of our sales from happening because I'm so committed to sustainability."
To codify that vision, EcoEnclose developed the Sustainable Packaging Framework about two years ago. "That really guides our every decision when it comes to making our products better and better," says Doshi. "We really focus on circularity. How do you build an economy where materials don't have a linear life cycle anymore, but they're recycled back into themselves over and over again."
That translates to using recycled materials "wherever humanly possible," she notes, as well as recycling the packaging themselves in order "to fuel a circular economy." Her goal is to push the vision beyond EcoEnclose and into national norms.
Erin Kimmett founded the company in 2010 largely to supply her own cloth diaper manufacturer, Thirsties, with sustainable packaging materials. When Doshi and Kyle Wente acquired EcoEnclose from Kimmett in 2015, the company had four employees and a small line of products. Now it is nearing 70 employees and a broad catalog of about 200 different sustainable packaging products.
"Every product that we sell, we have documentation that supports every claim," says Doshi. "For example, our corrugate boxes, we've got documentation from the manufacturer of our corrugate from their mill what goes into the paper that they're selling to us. Because we've really prioritized a domestic supply chain, we've audited and visited the vast majority of our plants, and we do that pretty regularly."
EcoEnclose makes boxes in-house but also works with a national network of contract manufacturers to produce other products. "Boxes make up a third of our business, and we manufacture the vast majority of those ourselves across three different types of box machines," says Doshi. "We also sell a lot of paper and poly shipping mailers, void fill, and tape. For those, we work with plants around the country to produce those on our spec and we largely distribute those ourselves. We also have an in-house print shop that's got a lot of Flexographic print machines where we can do short-run printing."
While the pre-2015 focus was "very small brands," says Doshi, current customers now include much larger businesses. "Even though we were always selling to businesses, a lot of the businesses we were selling to were one-person Etsy shops, so it felt like a B2C environment. Now we've got a lot of large brands."
Typically, EcoEnclose typically manufactures orders of up to 10,000 units before moving production on to its higher-capacity partners. "We've expanded the number of plants that we work with to produce to make sure we can serve some of the largest brands in the country and provide them with sustainable packaging," says Doshi. "We've made a super strong commitment to making sure we're the leading provider of sustainable packaging for e-commerce."
About two-thirds of employees work in production and the warehouse. "We've really designed our in-house capabilities to serve that small or medium brand," says Doshi. "As somebody says they want 50,000 printed mailers or 100,000 boxes, we'll work with our plant to get that run on a much larger line."
The company's in-house print shop uses algae-based ink from Living Ink Technologies wherever possible. While it's more expensive, Doshi provides algae-based ink to EcoEnclose customers with no upcharge.
The capability to print on mailers is "very rare," notes Doshi. "Nobody makes these printers anymore, because that's like 'old technology' to do postproduction printing, but the world still needs it."
With a background in management consulting and nonprofit work, Doshi became interested in "the intersection of profit and impact" with social enterprises before buying EcoEnclose with Wente, the company's president (and Doshi's husband).
Following 70 percent growth in 2019, EcoEnclose experienced 120 percent growth in 2020, and the 2021 forecast is about 40 percent "It's sort of leveling off now -- the COVID spike is behind us," says Doshi.
To accommodate the growth, EcoEnclose moved to a 40,000-square-foot facility in summer 2021. "We're already feeling a little tight in our new building," says Doshi.
Challenges: Hiring. "It's been a bear," says Doshi. In September, EcoEnclose was able to hire about 10 employees, leading to a hope that the company "has turned the corner," she adds.
"Freight is a big deal, but it's hurting us less than a lot of competitors because we don't source anything from China," notes Doshi. "Our costs are skyrocketing. We are always so reticent to raise prices before the holidays, because our customers are relying on us for their packaging for their holiday shipments."
Maintaining innovation with sustainable packaging is another challenge. "Making sure we can keep up with it and drive it and move it forward," says Doshi. "With the threat of climate change, I think people this year saw how urgent it is that we need to figure this out."
Opportunities: "The world of paper is on the rise -- nobody wants plastic anymore, they all want paper," says Doshi. That includes corrugated bubble made from the waste from box production. "That's basically our corrugate scrap, and we have a special shredder that will shred it into really good void fill," says Doshi. "That product's taking off."
"We're starting to explore what they call 'next-gen fibers,' which are papers coming from agricultural waste products," she adds, citing hemp and wheat straw.
"We're really hesitant and skeptical about the bioplastics that are on the market today, because they're really detrimental to the environment in terms of how they're produced. But we have our finger on the pulse of the world of bioplastics and we're really hopeful at some point a technology will emerge for a bioplastic that actually has a good source material. It's not made from corn, which is one of the worst crops that we've ever seen for the environment."
Needs: "Bringing on so many people so quickly, there's a need around systematizing our training and onboarding," says Doshi. "There are also needs around expanding our capabilities and machinery and things like that."
Decentralization is another need, she adds. "I would be shocked if in a year that we don't have either a partner we're working with on the East Coast or being able to expand our capacity of where we can house inventory and ship inventory from."