Sukhi & Ravinder Sindhu of Drinks Cubed

Season 3, Episode 086: Sukhi & Ravinder Sindhu

Drinks Cubed | Reusable bottled water | April 27th 2020 | 32:51

Sukhi & Ravinder Sindhu

The Story


Ravinder and Sukhi are cofounders of Drinks Cubed, an inspiring company that produces reusable carton-bottled water. They’ve made it their aim to help shape consumer behaviour through the growing market for water and become the lowest carbon emissions drink brand by 2022



Highlights of Sukhi & Ravinder Sindhu


  • Considering every element of what they do and the entire lifecycle of the product to make the lowest impact possible.
  • The importance of recognising consumer behavior and designing a product to suit, in order to lower their carbon footprint.
  • Maintaining the belief that it is best to use tap water when possible.
  • The negative affect low pricing can have on the lifespan of a product due to lack of accountability.
  • Recycling as a single unit to increase convenience for the consumer.
  • Ensuring ethical and sustainable standards are met when sourcing materials.
  • The importance of making the product affordable and accessible to the masses.
  • Things to consider when taking the expanding to a global scale.
  • The benefits of working with family and the importance of having similar outlooks.
  • The financial advantages of becoming more sustainable.

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Transcript

Intro  0:08  

Welcome back to the green element podcast where we feature business leaders and innovators transforming their operations to be more environmentally and socially sustainable. I’m your host, Will Richardson, and I can’t wait to meet our guest today and help you on your journey of sustainability. 

 

Will  0:20  

Today, we’ve got two guys from Drinks Cubed. I found out they’re cousins on the podcast, and I was gonna say, we’ve got two cousins um but you can tell that this is actually recorded after the podcast. It’s actually really refreshing to talk to people who are running a drinks company that are really thinking about absolutely everything from start to finish. I.e. what the product’s made of how they’re transporting it and everything with an aim to be the lowest carbon footprint drinks brand by 2022. What a future. I hope you enjoy the podcast. Rav, Sukhi, thank you so much for joining the Green Elements podcast. You guys run, manage, have founded drinkscubed.com a novel way of novel? Is that a really bad way to describe it? It’s that- I actually have said novel, isn’t it? Considering? All I’m thinking of is plastic. Yeah, it’s different. It’s different. It’s different. I think you should probably explain.

 

Rav  1:41  

Yeah, yeah. Well, first of all, thank you very much Will for landing us on your website and your podcast and give me the opportunity to speak a little bit more about what we’re trying to do, what Drinks Cube’s trying to do and where all this kind of stems from. So yeah, so Sukhi and I founded this business, as all things do it kind of ruminated over a couple of G and T’s and the second I got into a conversation of pollution, about politics about actually, Brexit was getting over about a year into Brexit, the whole canvassing thing, why? What’s happening? Where we should be and so I came from a banking background and then Suk’s from a drinks and industry background. So one of the things that really grated me was pollution from basically packaging. So that’s where the whole concept and conversation really started from and I was trying to explain to Sukhi about the need for everyone to line themselves to the UNSDG goals. I get [inaudible] lecture Sukhi, any any opportunity. So I mean, that’s basically where everything started. And the idea of it’s very easy just to ask questions, and then pick holes at the problems, but Sukhi, basically lay down a gauntlet and said, well, you’ve got lots of questions, what about solutions? The world doesn’t have solutions. And then I think that’s where the premise of our research began. Whereby it was actually really, really intriguing, interesting conversations. And we were both kind of in a unique point in time where we were kind of venturing out to do things, and we’re just kind of in a reflection point in life, etc. And we both went away and we searched the actual industry of packaging. That slimmed out to drinks, we looked at kind of what the impact was, we looked at a plethora of current packaging, which is glass, recycle plastic, and cans, cartons. We looked at the pros and cons of everything, and tried to approach this with a unbiased view. But one thing that we looked at was our measure was trying to be consistent and saying, What’s the carbon footprint? And more importantly, just ask a macro question now is what is this all any of this kinder to the planet than what we have right now? That’s so we, I mean, I took everything back from literally that question, is it better or not, and better measures in carbon footprint in environmental impact in building society? Before we even looked at any of the other business aspects of it.

 

Will  4:43  

And what made you finally finish upon bottled water and using using the products for water?

 

Sukhi  4:57  

So when we looked at the drinks industry, the biggest issue is water. So if we’re going to start somewhere, you know, to start with the biggest problem. So what we eventually got to was, we realized that there was more than just a package a problem with the packaging. And there’s, problems with the whole supply chain. There’s everything’s moved around by diesel trucks, you know, the, a lot of the, you know, there’s not very much traceability in the materials that are used. So, we kind of, we kind of got to a point where we thought, Well, actually, this needs to be a much bigger project, and it probably needs to be quite a bit longer. So it’s not a solution of, Oh, well that that packaging is a little bit better. Let’s just move to that and problem solved. And so, what we decided to do was, okay, well, what does the end business look like and that that’s every year from the production facility to how the products get transported to, to the packaging, as well. So we looked at that from a point of view of these two metrics. One was what are the co2 emissions used within that process? And the second was, is there an opportunity to move from non renewable sources to renewable resources. So whether that be energy, whether that be materials and so looking at it from that level, we got to a point where we were we decided, well, there’s pros and cons to everything. None of you know, none of the solute current solutions in the world are perfect. But we felt that our biggest metric was reducing carbon. And our current carton bottle that we use is, you know, has been proven to reduce the- have used 41% less co2 in its whole lifecycle. So that’s, you know, including its production, including its recycling.

 

Will  7:11  

And how did you come? How did you get to that conclusion?

 

Sukhi  7:14  

So there is, and we have reports done and created studies on VLCA’s of comparing, you know, conventional plastic bottles comparing glass, glass is an interesting one, because it’s, you know, it’s great if it’s used, you know, a number of times, that if it’s a bit like a beer bottle, then it’s it’s quite, you know, energy intensive, because it takes a lot of energy to make that bottle and it takes a lot of energy to recycle it.

 

Rav  7:49  

So [inaudible] really came off is, looking at I mean, this is where we had an overlap or looking at behavior, and you have to is- what we had to really do this isolate one, the recycling infrastructure overlaid by the consumer patterns. And since we’re moving as a society to single use almost everything, it, this is where the massive impacts as like glass, a certainly touched on class is great if we had the 1980s or 70s, no bottle philosophy of reusing that same bottle over and over and over again. But we just don’t have that infrastructure and the way we consume the way it’s collected the way we our behaviors, is actually we may come away from that.

 

Sukhi  8:41  

But essentially, the biggest problem with packaging is the people using it. Yeah. So that’s the, it got to a point where it’s kind of you know, the amount of litter that you see on the street sometimes is, it’s abuse, really.

 

Will  8:58  

So um, I mean, I know we talked about this when we first started talking about water but and bottled water. Almost in the UK, you don’t really need bottled water, do you? And you’re of that same opinion aren’t you?

 

Sukhi  9:21  

Yeah, we agree. We agree that if you have the opportunity, and you have a tap or you have a reusable bottle, use it. But whereas, however, at the same time, the usage of uh, of convenience, you know, when you do a consumer survey, convenience is the number one factor in in decision making. So, we can’t ignore that and say, Well, people should be doing things differently. They’re not so, you know, let’s give people a slightly better solution than there’s out there at the moment.

 

Will  9:56  

And I guess what I’m trying to draw out of you is that infrastructure problem that you’re trying to address. And it’s not just the UK. It’s an infrastructure problem that you’re trying to solve.

 

Sukhi  10:13  

Yeah. So I think Rav can talk a bit more about the, the effectively ecosystem we’re trying to build.

 

Rav  10:21  

Yeah, exactly. So, I mean, again, I’m [inaudible] Essentially when we look at the lifecycle analysis that we’ve done, we identified that there’s actually just more than one and just the packaging being the solution, because that alone isn’t the solution. So what we’ve really tried to do is, first of all, it’s an educational piece of, we’ve just got to consume responsibly. And when I mean we can all use common sense of is what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate. Unfortunately, when you can buy plastic bottles by bulk the cost 4p a bottle, your your behavior is dictated of lack of respect for you because of the availability and cheapness of it. And it almost if you ask someone in isolation, it doesn’t have an impact. It doesn’t. More importantly, it’s not. You don’t think about it as much you don’t leverage all the any thought about what you’re doing. And that’s that’s going to be one massive piece to our mission, which is re educational. And what’s more importantly, is that products like that have never had the environment priced in. So that that’s a huge component. But that said, We’ve also looked at owning the problems. And one thing that we looked at was the recycling rates, how they get and they end up in landfills in China, Philippines, Indonesia. So we were really keen about going, okay, let’s keep let’s, let’s keep our own housing in order, let’s control our issues and let’s have ownership. And that’s what society’s kind of just lacking at the moment, ownership problems, we’re wanting solutions, but we’re wanting quick solutions as well. And I think I think we need to move into a society where accountability and ownership is paramount. And so this is where we looked at the whole macro lifecycle of our bottles and said, right, we need to try to produce distribute, and and and packages and then also bring in the recycling change. So we can build our own chain and make other chains of communities and partnerships and stakeholders into this. Because once you have that movement, it’s easier to do, you can’t just keep on getting everyone on to polish it because right now, you, Sukhi and I basically came about we we kind of conclude we had to be the change right now. It was easier. And that’s what we’re really trying to build a circular economy and a sustainable circular economy now.

 

Will  13:23  

Touching upon your, there’s so many parts that I want to talk about but um, I guess I’m just going to quickly go on to the recycling and there is there a recycling stream currently available for the products that you are producing?

 

Sukhi  13:41  

Yes. So currently-

 

Will  13:43  

Because I got the impression that there wasn’t from what you just said and I wanted to verify that.

 

Sukhi  13:48  

No, so at the moment, the numbers are 96.7% of councils can recycle the product. However, the common trade is if we moved everything from plastic to the specific part and there wouldn’t be enough infrastructure to that. What we’re saying is as the demand increases, but it’s you know, it’s a supply and demand scenario, you can’t build three four recycling centers if nobody’s using that particular format. So what we’re saying is as the demand increases, where we’re going to be supported with developing our own recycling center that can recycle the you know, an area that can we’re going to be responsible for the recycling of that product and that has to come from the manufacturer. Okay, now at the moment where, you know, a lot of people trying to pass this on to the consumer. And as a, it needs to come from the people that are benefiting most from the sale of that product.

 

Rav  14:49  

But Will, I mean what what do you think is that, going back to the content why we’ve chosen this, in terms of cartons [inaudible] cartons made from 90 what 95% plant based materials. So we don’t use any PT. It’s the only carton that you can recycle as a single unit, which makes it easier for the consumer to recycle. So you would I mean, each borough is different but but generally you would put this in along with cardboard, and the waste stream it will be integrated waste [inaudible] and gets recycled as a single unit. So, there’s so there’s less, there’s less hands been touched in terms of separation degrees of separation, which obviously has financial impacts and-

 

Will  15:39  

That’s really important, actually, really important to highlight. And, and what about the lid.

 

Rav  15:46  

And so the lid is made from um something called tung oil, which is a byproduct of milling paper, timber, timber industry. Basically, it’s a plant base from trees.

 

Will  15:59  

So it’s the same product as the whole thing is the same

 

Rav  16:03  

Yeah, so essentially, you’d have a carton that’s made from paper essentially and with the lining of aluminium. And what was really important was that we made sure that the deforestation, the density, all the secondary situation and secondary issues that come up come with paper is that we made sure that it was responsibly sourced. So hundred percent of our material was used is hundred is responsibly sourced. So we adhere to strict audit trails of our products. And we’re the first drinks brand in the world that uses ASI certified alluminium. So we’ve hone to the detail of even though we’re only using 5% of alluminium we wanted to make sure that there’s ethical standards as well as sustainable standards. And the same goes for our forestry, we’re FSC certified but that’s also EU forestry to make sure that these trees are grown purposely for this exact products rather than new forests being cut down and biodiversity’s been disturbed and deforestation.

 

Will  17:22  

I see that you’re able to buy- oh sorry.

 

Sukhi  17:25  

I just want to say on top of that the plant based plastic that we use in the cap that you mentioned, is all derived from EU sources. In an effort to cut down miles-

 

Rav  17:39  

So it’s essentially a byproduct.

 

Will  17:44  

And I noticed on your website that you are currently you’re selling the water and can you buy at trade? You’ve got to trade parts of the website.

 

Sukhi  17:56  

So yes, we’ve got retail where we’re soon to be launching in Whole Foods markets. Which will be nice around London for those in London and know Whole Foods. And yeah, please have a look in there. But if you don’t need to buy it, don’t buy it. But, you know, be responsible basically. But yeah, we’re in Whole Food’s markets, but in terms of trade yes we got trade customers usually email us via the website and we set them up by a designated wholesaler. And that’s usually the best route.

 

Rav  18:37  

I mean one of the, one of the key things was actually as much as we said. So we’ve tried to create a sustainable and ethically packaged water, which is going to be priced slightly higher than plastic, but we need to be very cognitive of it being affordable for the masses. So we’ve been really, really strict in our pricing and really launched [inaudible] price points that’s affordable for general retailers and customers. 500ml retails at 99p and the liter is at £1.49 and we have a 750ml that’s going to be launched soon.

 

Will  19:19  

Okay, and you’re expanding out of the UK as well?

 

Rav  19:25  

And so at the moment we are in conversation with European markets. And we will look at global expansion, but right now we will very cognitive of carbon models. So we’re really evaluating that situation, but then our plans will be really EU only purely to keep our footprint down.

 

Will  19:53  

Right, yeah, because it’s, um, your model is built on scale, as well?

 

Rav  19:59  

Absolutely, so, so that would be phase two. And we would absolutely take this globally, but it would be replicated on our current model. But so right now we’re setting up the UK model that will serve us UK and within a range European model market that will then be replicated on the continent. Okay, across the continent. Sorry.

 

Will  20:26  

Brilliant. And how do you guys know each other? Are you friends-

 

Sukhi  20:31  

We’re family, so we’re we’re cousins.

 

Will  20:35  

Okay. Right. Gotcha. And, okay, so you, I’m just trying to work out how the banker and the, the drinks, the drinks person that you’ve just ended up using got on really well and just ended up kind of going-

 

Sukhi  20:51  

Yeah, we got to we were we were just in in, we both quite busy we hadn’t met for years. Right. It was really literally family functions and stuff. Then there was a time when we just had a both had a bit of a career break and yeah, we just kind of went for a drink and it started from there.

 

Will  21:10  

I love it. I bet your parents, whoever the siblings are either your mum and dad, you know are really pleased, they’re probably like ah brilliant

 

Sukhi  21:19  

Well we’ll see [laughs] [inaudible]

 

Will  21:32  

I can only relate it to my family and I know that it would be brilliant work with a number of my cousins which is why I guess I’m relating to it.

 

Sukhi  21:41  

Yeah, it is quite fun. It is. It is fun. And I think we can I can relate to that. But then I can also see that some of my cousins it just wouldn’t work.

 

Rav  21:55  

It’s it’s kind of irony is that we’re quite different with but but but similar outlooks. And that’s probably why, so far we’ve had some certain degree of success because we keep on kind of questioning and double checking and making sure our motives are aligned. And really kind of sense checking all our thoughts before we put any action, so

 

Sukhi  22:28  

Yeah, because like Rav said, it’s, it can get very easy if you’re, if one person is very, like fun, financially motivated and the others just looking at the, the sustainability aspect, you have to both be on the same, know that there is a commercial element to the business, but it doesn’t work if you don’t have the, you know, there’s no point in doing it if you don’t have the emphasis on the sustainability because you’re not making the difference.

 

Rav  22:55  

I mean essentially, yeah, I mean, coming back from from coming back from a capitalist banking background, which I think bankers have slight bad kind of tarnished unjust reputations

 

Sukhi  23:10  

Just below politicians {inaudible]

 

Will  23:15  

Would we say unjust? [laughs] I’m not sure if many of us or a lot of our listeners would agree with you. I also don’t think that all bankers have that-

 

Rav  23:28  

But but so I’m very much in the belief that if you really want to make change and or at least lasting change, there has to be some motivation and reward in terms of that. So what I mean by that is actually, I believe that businesses are much more, more in a powerful position and politicians to influence change. And I think that’s that’s that’s where we really came come from right? We’ve got to make business work because it makes it commercially viable, it almost knocks down a huge hurdle. For example, everyone wants a product that does x y, z and whatever it is without even knowing but if the cost is too high, the it’s not adopted. And that was that was the key thing, especially when pollution is such at a huge rate, you’ve really got to cut it down and the only way to cut it down is is giving something viable and making model works and incentivizes the wholesaler, retailers, the outlets and getting more [inaudible] stakeholders involved.

 

Will  24:48  

I’d imagine it’s probably really helped with your background Rav, being talking to because you go through investments at all. Yes, yes. And I would imagine because having an going through investment myself with no financial background or whatsoever. I walk into some meetings I’m like, I don’t speak this language. And I know I say I load of the wrong stuff. But at least you’ll know who and what to say. Not who to say. But you know, what to say.

 

Rav  25:16  

I mean, it’s kind of a unique because right now, and there’s a lot of funds, lot of people are looking at sustainability investing. So it’s not purely ROI, which is return on investment. There’s also an element of ROSI, which are not saleable investments. But it has to be a return and what makes sense is to have a robust business and what this is really made us double check and really be thorough in is looking at every aspect that we have as part of the business to make sure it is achieving what we want it to achieve. It’s it’s also driving the right benefits. It’s really also strategically aligned and the business makes sense. And both for us and for potential investors plus stakeholder because that’s the only way longevity will be maintained. It’s a business [inaudible] Otherwise we’d be registered as charity.

 

Will  26:24  

Yeah. And I actually think that businesses there’s a lot of wastage in charities. But let’s not go there.

 

Rav  26:38  

I mean, it’s going back to this getting back to our core philosophy, which is an optimization and will like consumption of how we consume anything in business. [inaudible] finite resources of time, effort, money, commodities. Everything. So we just need to apply that for what they need to be applied for and be as intelligent as we can.

 

Sukhi  27:06  

Well, it kind of goes back to the point that Rav made earlier of the price point. Because if you don’t do the volume, you can’t get the following. Therefore, you can’t grow the business. Therefore, you can’t employ people. You don’t have a movement. Unless it’s accessible from day one. It’s easy to say in any business to say, Oh, well, I’m gonna make it really expensive at the beginning. And then as I’m able to drive the prices for my suppliers down, I will make it cheaper. But that rarely works. I’m not saying it’s never worked. I’m saying that it rarely works because people expect a certain thing for a certain price.

 

Will  27:49  

And what um, looking at your actual business, we’ve talked a lot about the product and the carbon footprint of the products. Do you is that environmental management’s brought into your business as well in the way that you run your business.

 

Sukhi  28:10  

We try to we try to look at the purpose of the business. So kind of our kind of thing that we go back to every time as we aim by the end of 2022 to be the lowest carbon footprint, the lowest carbon emissions drinks brand in the UK. So, so we tend to, we try to look at every level from the transport lightness of the transportation where we’re looking at ways of cutting co2 in that we’re looking at different ways of producing it and running the energy for all our production as well as the packaging and then everything we do so when we do marketing material, we try to make sure it’s printed on recycled paper. We try to, when we’re looking at – this is like little bit geeky, but when you look at things like pallet wrap, you can get different microns of pallet wrap that you say well actually, can we get away with using less? Because it’s, you know, there’s no way the products are going to get transported without it. But, so so yes, we’re trying to look at every element of what we do to make the lowest impact we can.

 

Will  29:26  

[inaudible] it all. I think it’s, I think it’s actually really good business sense. And I think you, you know, you are practicing what you preach. You are looking at absolutely everything. I think, if you weren’t looking at that pallet wrap, someone would say to you, why haven’t you [inaudible] you’re going to be held up in a much higher regard.

 

Sukhi  29:50  

That’s that’s what we kind of tried to encourage, trying to encourage we’re like us because we’ve taken on this enormous project and there’s you know, something as simple as that, if that’s where we fall down. That’s really silly.


Rav  30:04  

Yeah, but but but and when we kind of do micro life analysis is on all our decisions. The beautiful thing that’s transpiring is that the more sustainable we become in the future, the more economical advantages we gain by it. Yeah. And it’s simple like, like Suk said, nine wrappings around a pallet, as opposed to five suddenly cuts your costs down and running on renewable energy in the future will be cheaper than running on normal [inaudible]. And so there’s a cost advantage to be had on all of this, and that’s so we’re really playing the long game on this as well.

 

Will  30:49  

Brilliant. Brilliant. Well, it’s been fascinating talking to you guys, and listening to what you’re doing, I think, I think it’s brilliant. I think changing the drinks industry needs to happen. Let’s face it, some of the bigger companies recently what they said that they-

 

Sukhi  31:11  

Everyone loves plastic apparently.

 

Will  31:13  

Exactly. An interesting an interesting philosophy and maybe something that most people wouldn’t agree with.

 

Sukhi  31:23  

I don’t think if they polled David Attenborough on that, but yeah, so I think the uh look, I think a lot of the things we’re doing could have, and I’m not pointing fingers, but it could have been done by others. But there’s no need to until someone raises the bar, there isn’t gonna be change.

 

Will  31:47  

Well, thank you for raising the bar. And thank you very much for being on the podcast today.

 

Rav  31:52  

Thank you very much and yeah, it’s been a pleasure talking to you,

 

Will  31:55  

Actually, well, we should say that all of your social media handles and all of that stuff will be on the websites, so you can link to them etc.

 

Sukhi  32:05  

Thanks Will.

 

Rav  32:07  

Have a lovely evening.

 

Will  32:11  

Thank you so much for listening to the end of this episode of the Green Elements podcast. Do take a moment and share this with your friends and colleagues and rate and review the podcast. Wherever you get your podcasts. I’d love to know what has been your biggest takeaway from this conversation? What are you going to do differently? Please share your thoughts across social media and tag us so we can see them too at g_podcast for links and show notes for this episode, visit our website greenelement.co.uk/podcast. Thank you again. I hope you will join me on the next episode and together we can help create a better world.


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