How to achieve sustainability in business and in life according to Wunder Workshop’s CEO Zoë Lind van’t Hof

By Harriet Piercy

Published Mar 11, 2021 at 12:16 PM

Reading time: 7 minutes

One company in particular is doing sustainability in a way that all of us can (and should) learn from, especially in today’s political, social and ecological climate. We spoke to Wunder Workshop’s CEO and co-founder Zoë Lind van’t Hof, who started the company with Tom Smale in 2014, and since then has seen her brand’s products fly off the shelves of notorious stores such as Planet Organic, Selfridges and more. Here’s what a sustainable business in 2021 needs to look like.

Fundamentally, sustainability means being able to continue implementing a balance without a depletion of resources (or behaviour). Achieving sustainability in 2021 most certainly has its compromises—living as close to nature as you can, which can mean physically surrounded by earth as soil, but also through the food you eat and have available is no easy task. But again, even simple small choices can have a ripple effect that lead to important and sometimes drastic changes over time. Sustainability tightropes over a negative and a positive result, according to a goal. How can not only businesses, but we ourselves tightrope walk positively with small steps, until we can balance sustainably?

Inspired by intuitive herbalism and Ayurveda, which is an alternative medicine system with ancient roots that has been used for centuries, Wunder Workshop’s products are aimed specifically towards optimising our mental and physical health. But what truly makes the company’s initiative so important to learn from is its promotion of a transparent relationship between the growers and the consumers, which arguably is something that isn’t talked about enough by other brands claiming to be sustainable.

Everything we consume carries a story, and Wunder Workshop believes that stories are the most valuable part of a company’s process. Here is its story, one that I hope will inspire budding entrepreneurs to value the fundamentals of what it really means for a brand to come ‘full-circle’, transparently.

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How did Wunder Workshop come about?

My biggest inspiration to start Wunder Workshop was my late mother who had been deeply passionate about health and wellbeing since her early twenties. So, by the time I was born she had nearly 20 years of experience and knowledge to share. I was surrounded by interesting books about traditional medicine, the power of plants and how to create all kinds of natural remedies from an early age. I was fortunate to grow up eating organic and locally-sourced vegetarian food, we also grew many of our own vegetables and herbs, and we used to go to very down-to-earth Ayurvedic health retreats in Sri Lanka.

After dabbling in different career paths (from politics to interior design), I realised that my true purpose lay in what was around me all my life: health and plants. This coincided with a trip to Sri Lanka, so I made the decision to find an organic farm that uses sustainable and ethical farming techniques with whom I could work to bring some of their incredible plant knowledge, in the form of herbs and spices, back to London and started Wunder Workshop—focusing on turmeric and consumption with purpose.

Had you ever been inspired to start a business of your own, before you eventually did?

Since I was little, I wanted to create things that I could share with people. As a child I would offer face painting to other kids at the playground, although I’m not sure how high customer satisfaction levels were. I would also sell my foraged walnuts and apples. Or organise cake sales with other kids to raise money. I think it mainly comes from seeing everyone in my family being self-employed, so when I got older I tried to think of ways to do that for myself. From designing lamps, rugs, to chia-puddings, I eventually settled for my favourite topic of all—creating potions and products with ethically sourced ingredients.

How to achieve sustainability in business and in life according to Wunder Workshop's CEO Zoë Lind van’t Hof

At what point did you decide to become a conscious consumer, and what does that really mean to you?

I was very lucky to be raised in a conscious and environmentally friendly way. My mother was vegetarian, practiced yoga, grew vegetables, refused to own a car and protected me from TV, sugar and plastic toys for as long as she could. The reality of going to school and making friends obviously let me be exposed to those things, but I never really rebelled against my upbringing. I enjoyed going foraging, learning about plants and mushrooms and going to Greenpeace children activities.

I am so grateful to have had this awareness instilled in me from a very young age, it came alongside the importance of being curious about everything. It is really this curiosity that inspired Wunder Workshop too, to create items for wellbeing with a full understanding and transparency on how they are grown, produced and packaged.

For me, being a conscious citizen means having compassion for all things and mother nature. Being fully aware of the impact that we have on this planet with every decision that we make, and thus to live life in the least harmful way possible.

What does it mean to keep sustainable initiatives alive today, and what do you hope to see more of in the future?

I sometimes struggle with the term ‘sustainability’, as it’s become so diluted and has lost connection to its true essence. It has become a marketing tool, and since it’s unmeasurable, it can be hard as a consumer to fully understand what it means. I believe we are beyond sustainability, and need to actually regenerate, as the current world situation is not something we would want to sustain. We must repair, unlearn and regenerate.

Consume less, question everything, and unlearn our materialistic buying patterns. Listen to indigenous communities, ancient wisdom and Mother Nature. As a business, we have a responsibility to set an example for consumers, so we try to create products that promote biodiversity and soil health, and also to share the voice and passion of the farmers. Wunder Workshop products are packaged in infinitely reusable materials (paper/glass/metal), or give back to the soil through home-compostable packaging.

In the future, I hope to see more small businesses that are not striving to become massive, but instead are successful decentralised and self-efficient ecosystems.

In terms of starting a company within the health industry, which is already arguably flawed in many facets—if anything, what would you want to change within it?

Yes you are so right, there are many aspects in this industry that are counterintuitive and have opposing ideals. For me, this is especially true when it comes to creating health foods at a high price, and yet not using organic or biodiversity supporting ingredients. We can’t continue sourcing from mono-cultures and farms that use pesticides that harm our environment and the farmers.

Also, the focus on ‘trends’ is something I struggle with. Plants, herbal medicine, spices and cultures are not a trend. Yet, when we launched our turmeric products in 2014, people said we were ahead of the trend, and now they say we are behind the trend. Sadly, the fact that these herbs and spices have been celebrated in Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and western herbalism for centuries was largely ignored by much of the press. I believe these herbal helpers are beautiful additions to our daily routines, a preventative and long term investment into our health. I totally understand it though, as a consumer we get bombarded with the next big thing. I wish we would be more mindful and just explore what sits right with us and feels good for our bodies and stick with that.

Do you have any specific health trends that you would disagree with?

Not specifically disagree with, but more frustration at the deceptive nature of some of them. Such as “sugar-free,” I think it’s highly misleading and dangerous when you have products and recipes that are coined as such, yet are full of agave, date, rice or coconut syrups. They are all still sugars and have a similar effect on our bodies. So I think it makes things very difficult for consumers to understand this kind of marketing that creates the misconception of being able to replace that to make it ‘healthy’.

What products of your own, or natural ingredients from anywhere, would you pack for an unplanned year long travel trip, and why?

Our Turmeric CBD oil and Superior Chaga. I take those every single day, for overall wellbeing, lowering anxiety and immune support. Other than that, I would also take Chlorella, as it’s a perfect mineral rich supplement and helped me balance my body when I wasn’t able to eat balanced and healthily. Other than that I just hope wherever I travelled that there would be fresh vegetables.

What was your introduction and approach towards CBD products?

When my late mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2014, she was taking cannabis oil that helped her tremendously for pain and gave her a much needed appetite. After she passed away in 2016, I was still so impressed with the benefits from the Cannabis plant that we decided to combine it with the effects of Turmeric, and so launched the first Turmeric CBD oil in 2016. I have been taking it since then for my menstrual pain, and it’s been such an incredible little helper.

What advice would you give to people who live in cities and are looking to live more sustainably and consciously?

I think little steps are important, rather than freaking out that everything we consume or do is bad, we must accept that we as consumers aren’t always at fault. As mentioned earlier, it’s up to businesses and governments to provide better solutions. However, I would definitely start with the following few things: use a renewable energy provider such as Octopus Energy, walk and cycle wherever you can. Get a food-waste/compost bin (I hassled my council long enough until they delivered one, which they now collect weekly).

Buy bulk food from zero-waste stores, where you can refill your shampoos, cleaning products and skincare products too. Visit weekly farmers markets, they are incredible and are mostly organic and biodynamic. Eat seasonal food, ordering in boxes such as Riverford’s vegetable box are a great way to do that. Buy second-hand or vintage clothing, and bring your old clothing to a charity shop. Take short showers, don’t take so many baths, buy less. There are so many things. I could probably go on forever, but just adapting to a few of this already will make a difference.

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Why does sustainable farming matter, in your own words?

Farming with the environment at the forefront is hugely important for combating climate change, creating soil health, biodiversity and future food-security. Sanskrit scripts from 4,000 years ago already said that if our soil is dead, we will also not survive. Farming in the most environmentally possible way is essential to sequester carbon and create nutritious food for all living beings.

What is self love and care to you?

Going inwards and observing what needs attention, learning to create space for our emotions and be able to say no to things that don’t serve us well. This also means thinking of ourselves as part of a bigger community, and thus seeing how we can create a better place by first starting to be kind to ourselves.

Finally, do you have any advice for people wanting to start a sustainable business in this day and age?

I believe that if it really is your passion, and even your purpose, then you must go for it. Overthinking and overplanning are a detriment to starting a business. Observe whether you are doing it for the right reasons—to live your passion, to create a product/service that gives back to people and the planet, and is based on a holistic concept. Have a clear ethos, and don’t compromise on your values. It feels so rewarding if you are creating something that is good for the people and the planet.

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