Not everything has to go!
The Cologne company innatura collects and stores the discarded goods of large companies and distributes them to non-profit organizations. This puts an end to the compulsion to throw away.
Juliane Kronen walks briskly through the warehouse. It is bursting at the seams and needs to be expanded soon. On more than 400 square meters, boxes are stacked to the brim with shower gel, shampoo, shaving foam, diapers, cuddly toys, toys, slippers, backpacks and much more. Everything brand new and still waste. In fact.
200,000 bottles of shampoo. This is how it all started seven years ago. A manufacturer wants to get rid of them because they are mislabeled. It would be a shame to throw it away, but he doesn’t want to block his camp with it. Juliane Kronen, then still a management consultant for a large corporation, is called to help. Did she know of a buyer? The goods should be gone from the yard in two days. She calls her fingers sore. Since she also advises aid organizations, she is well networked. But nobody wants the branded shampoo. “200 bottles might work, but not 200,000,” she keeps hearing. The shampoo is discarded.
Kronen doesn’t let that rest. A patent and resolute woman who immediately begins to familiarize herself with the subject. She is outraged to learn that German companies throw away goods worth seven billion euros every year. Among them are many high-quality and new things: cosmetics, detergents, office supplies, household goods, socks, T-shirts, sunglasses, even prams and countless more. They end up in the trash because they have tiny flaws, are mislabelled, aren’t filled in the right amount, or have too much of it made. “Absolutely absurd!” says Kronen. That same evening, she meets two colleagues for a Kölsch beer and discusses what can be done about it. Many companies would like to donate the goods, but they lack the logistics and the network.
The idea for innaturais born: a company that collects the surplus products, stores them and gives them to non-profit organizations – for a small commission. With this, innatura finances its transport, storage and personnel costs. “Our customers still save enormously,” explains Kronen. “A bottle of branded shampoo usually costs around two euros. Here you pay 20 to 30 cents for it.” innatura creates a win-win situation for both sides – and for society: the companies generate less waste, the social institutions have lower costs. Nothing ends up on the black market, which often happens with overproduction.
Juliane Kronen is familiar with goods and numbers. She has a doctorate in business administration and a heart for social projects. So why not create one yourself? “I thought to myself, I can pull completely different levers than just trying to increase the dividend of a DAX company by a further 0.03 percent.”
But that won’t work part-time, she quickly realizes that. So she takes a deep breath, quits her job and just gets going. She develops a business model, searches for potential donors, has a website set up, and is looking for a warehouse and an investor. “Phew, it was a feat of strength to handle the start-up financing,” she recalls. The 53-year-old was once a competitive rower. That’s where she learned to fight. The money eventually comes as a shareholder loan from a company that specializes in social enterprises. In 2013 innatura is ready to go.
Kronen has since learned that a similar organization has existed in the UK for years: In Kind Direct, built by Prince Charles 20 years ago. She manages to win him over as patron for her company and meets him in person in 2014. The prince has been committed to sustainable projects for decades. He is impressed by innatura and says: “It is an honor for me to support you.”
In the first year and a half, innatura was able to arrange donations of goods worth 2.7 million euros to over 300 non-profit organizations. Not only in Germany, but also in Syria and Cambodia. “For example, we procured a whole truck with children’s clothing for the Malteser, who delivered it to 150 refugee facilities,” says Juliane Kronen. There is a minimum order quantity at innaturanot. 100 band-aids have already been sent to a doctor’s office that treats the homeless for free.
The Berliner Bahnhofsmission is also one of innatura’s customers.Hairdresser Franziska Winter is standing next to a pile of hair in the anteroom of the men’s toilet. She’s wearing brightly colored leggings and a yellow coat that says, “I’ll help you.” She’s here every Wednesday. Unsalaried. “But it was worth it!” exclaims her customer, 66-year-old Jörg*. He had been looking forward to this for days. “So, just a bit of short wellness,” says the hairdresser and massages his face with ice water and cream. Shampoo and shaving cream were constantly in use today. For most people who are homeless or in financial difficulty, these are luxuries they cannot afford. The station mission orders them in large quantities – that’s where innatura’s discounts pay off.
Juliane Kronen’s customers also love sleeping bags, insulating mats and underwear. “Once we even got billiard tables,” she reports, “do you think how happy the youth facilities were about that?” Your customers are happy when they can save on product costs in order to have more leeway elsewhere. For example, there is a therapy facility that can afford a music therapist since they ordered from innatura . Or the homeless shelter, which can offer more sleeping places or install two new showers. innatura
does not make a profit . The aim of Juliane Kronen’s team of twelve is to break even. She herself is currently living off the rental and leasing of buildings that she inherited.
The boss has to move on. There is much to do. A web shop will soon be set up on the innatura homepage. She wants to make her company better known, so she gives lots of interviews and goes to charity meetings. But she still has something to say. It annoys her beyond measure that throwing away is cheaper than donations in Germany. “You have to pay sales tax on donations in kind. That deters a lot of companies,” she says. Kronen has therefore been putting pressure on politicians for years. It is now agreed across party lines that this regulation is nonsense – and that is why she hopes that it will fall soon.
Juliane Kronen is a power woman who seems to succeed in everything she touches. She is impressed by people who – like her – simply take matters into their own hands if something bothers them. As a member of the jury for the award of the Alternative Nobel Prize, she gets to know such doers. And it would be no wonder if one day she herself was among the nominees.
*The guest of the station mission only wants to be mentioned by their first name.