Meet Zen D’Amato Gautam, founder of Eco Market Malta
We are honoured to introduce Ms. Zen D’Amato Gautam to the Green Deal Malta platform! In our exclusive interview with Zen, she introduces ‘Eco Market Malta’, a Maltese social enterprise aimed at building a more sustainable world. Zen explains that Eco Market Malta’s vision is to ‘be the change’ by focusing on the consumer industry in order to promote a more sustainable way of life. Zen strongly believes that we must have a collective voice and choose to leave the ‘damaging’ products on the shelf, and choose eco-alternative ones instead. Eco Market Malta is a platform that enables you to do just that! Have a look at our interview with Zen to find out more!
Origin, identity & network
When was Eco Market Malta founded and by whom? Moreover, why was Eco Market Malta set up? What is your vision as a social enterprise?
In 2019, a small group of friends and I decided to launch a crowd-funding campaign to promote the idea of sustainable living in Malta and to make eco-friendly products more accessible. The crowd-funding campaign was successful and provided us with the seed money necessary to kick-start the project, but what really impressed us was the positive feedback we received from the general public explaining how the project helped them find direction in switching to a sustainable lifestyle. It provided us with not only market validation, but also the motivation to move forward as we were indeed helping others to make a positive impact. Eco Market Malta’s mission is to inspire and facilitate people towards a more sustainable way of living, and at the same time provide a platform for green businesses to grow and thrive. Our vision is to make sustainable living so easy and pleasant that everybody does it.
How did the work of Eco Market Malta develop over the years?
Eco Market started with organizing regular events across the island; we had several events booked for 2020, which sadly had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. It is a real pity as the events were becoming very popular and in demand. We were invited to participate at The Valletta Green Festival, organised by the Valletta Cultural Agency; the Great Farsons Beer Fest; and the International Food Festival, amongst others. The main attraction of the events was the market area that featured stalls and their environmentally-friendly products and services. However, Eco Market Malta is also a place where people come to learn, share and discuss new ideas. There were several talks, workshops, panel discussions, educational activities for children, repair stations, swapping corners, art exhibitions and music; all aimed towards raising awareness about environmental sustainability. When it was clear that we could not organize any more physical events, we started working on an online platform.
What is your opinion on responsible consumption in Malta?
Since sustainable consumption is a key enabler to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, I think we need to implement strong and bold strategies and do so quickly and without further delay. In order to achieve this, it would be very helpful to consult with international field experts and gain a better insight about circular economy and the doughnut economy model, for instance. We cannot afford to make mistakes and not meet the deadlines; therefore, it makes sense to learn from those who have the necessary experience and expertise to guide us accordingly.
“There is a misconception around eco-friendly products being more expensive.”
What are Eco Market Malta’s values, in three words?
Be the change
What inspired you to set up Eco Market Malta?
As I was expecting my first child, I guess my female nurturing aspect became more pronounced, and I went through a personal transformation whereby I felt the need to protect the planet and my kids’ future. I started to become more aware and careful of what I buy and what I throw away. The more I learned, the more I wanted to share with others, and as I started to discover these amazing and responsibly-made products, the idea to create a marketplace for them came quite naturally.
Do you think that Eco Market Malta will inspire other actors in Malta or elsewhere, to get on board and join in the shift towards greener consumption options?
It already has. We continuously receive messages from individuals asking us from where they can find a particular eco-friendly item or service, and we also receive several messages from business owners, who want to embrace sustainability in their operations and ask us for advice or collaboration.
Products and sales
What kind of products does Eco Market Malta sell? How are these products delivered to clients? Are the prices of such products higher when compared to ‘standard’ non-environmentally friendly products?
Eco Market Malta is a platform for green business to shine; a marketplace for eco-friendly products and services, where we connect the responsible producer with the conscious consumer. Thanks to our platform, small and medium business owners can market themselves more effectively and reach their clients easily without resorting to huge advertising budgets. The platform works much like ‘Ebay’ where every business has its own online store and can sell and deliver directly to customers. The difference is that every product on Eco Market Malta’s platform is genuinely eco-friendly. Every vendor goes through a sustainability background check in order to become eligible to sell on the platform. Each product’s eco-features are then highlighted and can be understood at a glance.
There is a misconception around eco-friendly products being more expensive. In some cases, it is true, however it is generally not the case. Many eco-friendly products have a longer life-cycle, or can be easily repaired, therefore they will last longer than commercially-produced alternatives, making them more affordable. Zero-waste products eliminate the expense of having to pay for additional useless packaging. There are also many eco-friendly products that are reusable, such as diapers and menstrual products for instance, and these kinds of products will actually save the customer a lot of money in the long term.
“Zero-waste products eliminate the expense of having to pay for additional useless packaging.”
Some of the products sold by Eco Market Malta are labelled as “local”, “GMO-free”, “organic”, “cruelty free” etc. Do your customers belong to committed segments of the population, or do you manage to reach the population at large?
As things stand at the moment, the eco-conscious community can be categorized as a small niche. This refers to the people who consciously choose to buy products that do not harm the environment. However, there is this beautiful coincidence, that what is good for the planet is also good for the people. Therefore, we can market eco-friendly, organic, natural and chemical-free products to the health-conscious community. There is also a fast-growing community of people standing up for veganism; not only when it concerns food, but also fashion items and beauty products. Plant-based and cruelty-free products are classified as eco-friendly products too.
Do you have a specific target audience?
Our target audience is primarily females, between the ages of 21 and 49, independent women with one or more children, and a strong sense of awareness and purpose.
What kind of feedback/responses do you receive from your customers? Are individuals generally interested in your products?
In less than 2 years, we have seen the rise of an eco-conscious community of over 7,000 individuals. Our customers are now accustomed to using certain eco-alternatives in their everyday lives. However, sustainability is a huge subject and people who are new to it tend to get overwhelmed as there are so many things that one can do in a more sustainable way. We always suggest to people to take it one step at a time, and start by taking on one positive action, repeat it until it becomes ingrained in your lifestyle, and then move on to something else.
What do you think are the main challenges to the uptake and use of such products in one’s daily life?
The main challenge is that people get discouraged easily. There are so many people that are not even aware of the consequences that their shopping habits have on the environment and on the planet at large, that it is easy to get discouraged and wonder whether what you are doing is really making a difference. That is the reason why we need to raise more awareness and implement bold strategies quickly.
Vision and future
What motivated you to focus on the sector of consumption to promote the ecological transition (rather than any other sector)?
Consumption plays a huge role in the global climate crisis. Industry is the 3rd largest contributor to greenhouse emissions, after Electricity and Agriculture. If you think about it, before the Industrial Revolution at the start of the 1900s, the planet was much healthier. Mass consumerism plays a huge role in deforestation, loss of biodiversity, depletion of natural resources, endangered species, land and sea pollution, soil degradation, poor air quality, and overfilled landfills. Therefore, it seems that focusing on the consumer industry to promote the ecological transition makes a lot of sense.
In your opinion, how can we engage citizens in the shift towards more responsible consumption options? Are you optimistic about this?
Education and awareness are definitely the way forward. They are the best tools to change people’s behaviours and mindset. People also want convenience, so by making it as easy as possible for people to discover and buy eco-friendly products, also helps the shift. Having said that, there are target sectors of the population that are easier to reach; I’m referring to the youth and children. It seems that many children are being born already possessing certain awareness and sensitivity when it comes to environmental problems. There’s also a rise in environmental activism led by young adults. It does makes sense that the youth take a bold step in these matters, because they are the ones to be impacted the most in the future. When today’s children will become adults, they will face a completely different world than that which we know today. I am optimistic that the number of youth and kids advocating and ‘fighting’ for the environment will continue to grow and they will collectively manage to secure a brighter future.
Is the phrase “consume better” just a trend? From your point of view, what does this expression mean exactly?
Sustainability is not just a trend. It is here to stay. If you think of the opposite, ‘unsustainability’, it is clear that it defines something that cannot go on for a long time. We live in a world where the majority of people feel that they need to follow a trend, and if that’s what it takes to make sustainable living more popular, I don’t think that is a problem. Once the mind is stretched to a new idea, it does not shrink to its original size anyway.
Do you have any concluding remarks and messages which you would like to share with the Green Deal Malta community?
We are all consumers, and as such we vote with our money. Every time we buy something, we are either supporting a company who is destroying the environment, or protecting the environment. It is therefore very important that we have a collective voice and leave the ‘damaging’ products on the shelf and choose the eco-alternative ones instead. When enough people do this, the companies will have no choice but to listen and act accordingly. At the same time, it is essential that business owners have the necessary guidance and help to embrace sustainability in their operations. Those companies who take the initiative to go green before others will benefit immensely. As Forbes wrote in 2019, ‘What is good for the planet is also good for business’.