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More Than Just Food

Q & A with Sun & Swell Co-Founder Kate Flynn on pioneering the road to a sustainable food system.

Written by Morgan Allen, Health Coach


A company born in the heart of Santa Barbara with the mission of reimagining our current food system, Sun & Swell has begun a revolution to bring healthy packaged foods and pantry staples to consumers in an eco-conscious way. Based on the value of sustainability, the company has grown and flourished, becoming the first ever food brand to deliver all organic, high-quality, and whole ingredient foods, free from preservatives, added sugars, and heavy processing, in entirely compostable packaging.

The local health food brand is fighting the single-use plastic crisis through their innovative compostable packaging, creating a brand that stands for more than just healthy food. They are creating a movement much larger than themselves–enacting real environmental change, one product at a time. The food industry plays a large role in the destruction of our earth, yet Sun & Swell recognizes that building sustainable alternatives and sourcing from local family-owned farms will fix our broken system. We asked Sun & Swell co-founder, Kate Flynn, to give some insight on all things sustainability, the environment, and ways to adapt an eco-conscious mindset as a consumer.

What makes a truly sustainable brand?

Having environmental and social tenants as part of the underlying business model, not just as an add on or where it's convenient.

Why is sustainably important to you and in what ways does Sun & Swell practice sustainability?

Sustainability is important to me because the Earth is in trouble and I view innovation through for-profit businesses as a major and necessary part of the solution. It’s also about the future for my children and the legacy I want to leave behind–I want to leave the world in a better place than it is today.

While sustainability permeates everything we do as an organization, the two major ways we are making a difference in the food industry when it comes to sustainability are as follows:

1) Sustainable ingredients: we use 100% organic, plant-based ingredients, which promotes better farming practices. 2) Sustainable packaging: we use 100% compostable, plastic-free packaging that turns back into soil, creating a truly circular food system.

How does the current food system impact our earth’s environment and how can it be changed?

Our food system is deeply connected to both human and environmental health. Our current agriculture system depletes the soil (and our food) of nutrients and makes the land infertile. It also uses heavy chemical fertilizers and pesticides which pollute waterways and marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Additionally, plastic food packaging causes an additional number of problems. Plastic food wrappers are made of petroleum and typically aren't even recyclable. Even in instances where plastic packaging can technically be recycled, only 9% of plastics ever created have been recycled; 12% has been incinerated and the rest (79%) ends up in landfill or in many cases, the natural environment.

However, we see a new way forward! It starts with organic foods that regenerate the land and use the intuitive ways of nature to fight pests and fertilize the soil. These organic foods are better for the farmers who grow them, the people who eat them, and the earth as a whole. From there, we use plastic-free, compostable packing to package our food in. Compostable packaging, when disposed of correctly, can turn into nutrient rich soil that helps regenerate the land, fully closing the loop and creating a circular food system. Not only does this reduce the demand for plastic production and reduce the amount of plastic in the world, it also has immense benefits on human health. When food is wrapped in plastic packaging it is coming in contact with BPA and Pthlatates; both substances are found to be endocrine disruptors and can have negative health impacts.

You broke away from the mold and refused to settle for non-sustainable practices. How did you build a sustainable business and what challenges have you faced along the way?

I imagined the food system in a new way and could not stomach doing things business-as-usual. There are many challenges as we were the pioneers in this space and there is no one else doing this, hence no one to look to for guidance. There are many challenges with compostable packaging that we had to learn the hard way over time. But in hindsight it made us stronger because we have a full understanding of this new way forward and what works and what doesn’t.

What advice do you have for other food brands looking to turn sustainable?

Figure out what is aligned with your mission. It's hard to do everything. Figure out what's authentic, what you care about, and what can have a positive impact for humans and the environment and go from there.

How can consumers make sustainable choices with the food they buy?

It's so hard to understand what foods are good for you and good for the earth with so much messaging and certifications nowadays. My biggest advice would be to stick to real, whole foods when you can. Also if a company is not transparent about their sourcing, ingredients, or sustainability that could be a red flag. Hold companies accountable for what they are putting into the world and support the ones who are thinking about the people and the planet in addition to profit.

In what other ways can people make small changes in their daily lives to be more eco-conscious?

Start training yourself to think about the life cycle of whatever you're eating, wearing, consuming. If we train our brains at this it can reconnect us to the origin of whatever we're purchasing and understanding where something came from and where it will go (landfill, environment, compost), it can be an amazing mindset to have.

What does the future look like for Sun & Swell?

Our focus right now is continuing to grow our brand, so we can make an even greater impact in transitioning the world away from single-use plastics. We're also thinking about how we can help other packaged food brands make the shift away from plastic. While as a society we've made big strides in moving away from plastic in some categories (e.g., straws, bags, bottles), the movement is in its infancy when it comes to packaged foods. We're eager to continue to lead the way and make an even greater impact.

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