If we can’t sell and send our watches, we wouldn’t exist as a company. It’s a very difficult tightrope to walk, but we are taking wobbly baby steps in the right direction. And I have wondered if it makes me a hypocrite, to work in an industry which contributes, in part, to the global issues which I try to fight on a daily basis.
The watchmaking industry is, fundamentally, rather un-green. It is impossible to write about it without the use of dirty words like mining, steel, and emissions. So it perhaps seems strange to write about how we are working to make Marloe Watch Company a more sustainable brand; how can we take something which starts with an eco-unfriendly process and make it the opposite? We can’t, quite frankly. We can’t bring our watches to life without essential components, and there’s only one way to get some of those components. But, lest we are overcome by a thick fug of despair, there are aspects which we are working towards to counteract those less desirable processes, and we would like to shed a little light on them.
It can be difficult for a business to talk about its environmental aspirations and actions without sounding like it’s ‘green-washing’; a phrase which only becomes more and more prevalent in today’s media, with our government and huge corporations making token gestures while contributing to huge percentages of emissions on a global scale. It’s almost impossible not to be aggravated by such noise; I certainly am not immune to it, as a passionate vegan and someone who tries to live as sustainably as possible. It’s easy to feel like all of us normal people are doing our parts, and yet any tiny positive effect that we might have is being immediately countered by the elite who reap the financial and power-holding rewards of the very industries that are doing the bulk of damage in the first place.
‘Offsetting’ is another tricky term. Many airlines, for example, will plant trees for every flight taken, to ‘offset’ the carbon released during these flights. While it’s a nice way to appease the conscience, and it’s better than not planting trees, it doesn’t actually do much at all for the environment. We need to stop carbon from getting released into the atmosphere in the first place. The key lies in protecting the natural ecosystems, forests, rainforests and oceans that we have, rather than plundering them then trying to create more. A newly-planted tree can take as many as 20 years to capture the amount of carbon dioxide that a carbon-offset scheme promises. We would have to plant and protect a massive number of trees for decades to offset even a fraction of the global emissions which industries like air travel are accountable for. Even then, there is the very real risk that these efforts will be fruitless as trees can be wiped out by droughts, wildfires and deforestation; all of which then cause the release of the carbon that the trees had captured, back into the atmosphere, where it continues to ravage our precarious planet and climate system. Carbon ‘stored’ in trees and other ecosystems is not the same as fossil carbon left underground.
I say all that to say this; Marloe doesn’t have a magic answer, but we are trying to focus our efforts on the most productive areas that we can, and to give financial backing to those who have a far better idea of how to help than we do. We are all learning as we go, trying to unpick and uncover what really makes a difference and what is, indeed, ‘green-washing’, to find where we can really make an impact while still delivering what our customers want. It’s a very difficult tightrope to walk, but we are taking wobbly baby steps in the right direction. And I have wondered if it makes me a hypocrite, to work in an industry which contributes, in part, to the global issues which I try to fight on a daily basis. But having delved deep into the world of watchmaking, and being a part of a relatively young company who are trying their very best to do things right, I’ve learned that a little tolerance and keeping an open mind - suppressing that knee-jerk “this isn’t good enough!” reaction - can go a long way. And, as a result, I’ve seen that things maybe aren’t as bad as they seem. Certainly, here at Marloe Watch Company, they’re actually pretty good.
Steel is used in watchmaking for a reason; as are the vast factories which have excelled in manufacturing for hundreds of years, as are the many tiny, intricate components within; they’re all used because together, they create an object which will last for generations, independent of chargers, batteries and constantly evolving technology.
As a starting point, it’s necessary to contemplate the lifespan of the products we are creating. There is no such thing as a fully sustainable watch. Yes, there probably exists a digital watch which is solar powered and made of ocean plastic waste and which will do the job; but, as with even the most sophisticated of technology, it will have a finite lifespan. A digital quartz watch contains a battery, which involves harmful substances during its production. A solar watch is more eco-friendly than a quartz, but still requires a battery. An automatic watch, powered by human movement, is the most sustainable choice. Steel is used in watchmaking for a reason; as are the vast factories which have excelled in manufacturing for hundreds of years, as are the many tiny, intricate components within; they’re all used because together, they create an object which will last for generations, independent of chargers, batteries and constantly evolving technology. There exists a sweet spot between the environmental toll of creating an object, and the lifespan of that object, where one balances out the other; and I think our products sit quite close to that sweet spot. Marloe watches are bought as future heirlooms; indeed, I have a couple which will be for our daughter or her future partner or children or whoever she sees fit, as well as the watches which my partner and I wear on a daily basis. I believe in good, old fashioned skill and engineering, and I believe in Marloe products as a result. I feel comfortable purchasing and wearing these watches, as someone who can be a bit of an environmental policewoman - I’ll admit it - because I know that they will last, and that, as a company, we are doing what we can to counteract the effects that the manufacturing industry has on our planet.
We started with the basics, with our first port of call being to look at good old recycling - a tried and tested method of reducing our impact on the world’s resources. Our shipping boxes and the pulp-formed structures which hold the watch box itself in place within the shipper are all created from 70% recycled materials, and they are fully recyclable themselves. It was a simple fix, nothing groundbreaking, but it means that no trees are being cut down on our behalf. We ship watches all over the world, so there’s an impact there, but again it boils down to doing what we can in the space between purpose and profit; if we can’t sell and send our watches, we wouldn’t exist as a company.
Our new HQ is a major step forwards for us. As the home of the business and the hub from which all our watches take flight, it was essential to us that Orwell Farm was not just somewhere that felt and looked nice; it had to be somewhere which was doing no harm to the natural world, a place that took nothing from Mother Nature, where we could continue to grow in the right ways from the roots up. As I arrived at work this morning, parking in one of the electric car-charging bays outside, and looking at the beautiful building which we are now fortunate enough to call home, the dream has become a reality; underfloor heating from the geothermal source, a bright airy space to create and imagine and plan, room for the company’s ambitious plans and team to grow. It’s long been an ambition of Marloe to become a B-Corp business; a business which balances profit with purpose, is publicly transparent, and which holds social, environmental and legal accountability at the heart of everything it does. B-corp businesses are part of a major global culture shift to build a more sustainable economy in a realistic way. The building itself is in line with this, but achieving B-Corp certification takes more than a slick eco-build; it’s a work in progress which permeates throughout everything we do, and we are excited to share more of what that looks like once we have made further strides into the B-Corp world.
There exists a sweet spot between the environmental toll of creating an object, and the lifespan of that object, where one balances out the other; and I think our products sit quite close to that sweet spot. Marloe watches are bought as future heirlooms; indeed, I have a couple which will be for our daughter or her future partner or children or whoever she sees fit, as well as the watches which my partner and I wear on a daily basis.
Next, we turned our attention to straps. We have spoken before about how two thirds of the human element of Marloe Watch Company is vegan, and how we have undergone a somewhat brutal ‘unplugging from the Matrix’ as we have investigated and explored the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, as well as the ethics of the matter. It seemed hugely hypocritical of us to be using real leather straps on our products, so we sought out vegan leather alternatives; a range of straps made from dried apple skin, which is ground into a powder and combined with an ecological resin to form a supple substrate which we form into our watch straps. They’re small, cruelty-free miracles, and we are proud to be slowly introducing them to our range of straps. We still sell leather straps; partly because we have a large stock of them which we don’t want to waste, and partly because we believe in choices, and we know that many people would prefer a more traditional option. Just because we made the choice to go vegan pretty much overnight doesn’t mean that it’s what everyone wants to do. Again, it’s about balance; we are making moves towards becoming as sustainable a company as possible, but we aren’t going to become environmentally perfect overnight if it means wastage.
Having gone through these processes, we realised that making meaningful but small changes within Marloe Watch Company wasn’t going to cut it; and so we sought out some expert help. We dedicated 10% of profit from sales of the Haskell Global to sustainability causes, an ongoing commitment which we hope to build upon in the future. We are chatting with Seawilding, a charity who are reintroducing native oysters and seagrass to British shores. Seagrass sequesters carbon even faster than the rainforest, but due to pollution and disturbance of habitat, over 95% of Britain’s seagrass meadows have disappeared. One oyster is capable of filtering 200 litres of water per day, meaning that the reintroduction of thousands of oysters to key areas will drastically improve water quality and biodiversity as a result. Together, these unassuming molluscs and grasses could have a crucial regenerative effect on our oceans, and we are excited to follow Seawilding’s lead in doing what we can to support this.
Outside of work, we all do what we can, and we encourage others to do the same. If it’s of interest, you can read a little more about our plant-based voyage of delicious discovery here and some more about our new HQ and community here. A phrase which pops up time and time again among our ranks is “progress, not perfection” and it’s especially relevant when introducing changes into your lifestyle and business. Changes need to be sustainable, practical, affordable, doable within the many constraints that our individual lives and circumstances throw at us. I think there are very few people who truly don’t care about the environment; they do exist, but they’re few and far between, because most of us have a sense of responsibility, mortality and duty whether that’s to ourselves, our businesses, our children, the animals, or the planet itself. COP26 concludes as I write this, and we await with baited breath the verdict of the leaders; is there a plan in place, which all agencies and leaders and industries will agree and adhere to, to slow climate change and therefore avoid the mass extinction event that humanity, and all life on earth, is facing? It’s a tall order, considering that the people in charge of such a movement are the ones who have the most to lose in terms of wealth and power. So we figure that it’s a good idea to crack on, regardless- to continue to do what we can, where we can, when we can, with whoever and whatever resources we can, and to stand firm in the knowledge that we are doing our best.