Many garden and indoor plants are grown using pesticides, chemicals that are not only bad for our soil, but also for the insects and wildlife that depend on them. Dutch Triodos customer Suzanne van Straaten set out to tackle this problem, launching Sprinklr - an online shop that sells organic garden plants and sustainable houseplants.
Green is not always good
Suzanne’s journey started in 2015, when she was in Ghent, speaking to a resident about his desire for a greener city. He painted an inspiring picture of a place where grey had given way to green, a city where people you could eat herbs and edible flowers from the front gardens of homes and businesses. "That image stayed with me.” Suzanne explains, “Living in a green city, how great would that be? I realised I needed to do something.”
Suzanne decided to start small and do something fun: greening the balcony of her own home. Whilst searching for growers and garden centres, she came across surprising research by Greenpeace. “They had bought 84 plants and tested them” she explains, “the results showed that 81 of these plants contained poisons, pesticides or harmful substances.” Investigating further she discovered that the bulb industry also used a lot of chemicals and that soil used for growing stock was often over-worked.
“For me, that was an eye-opening moment,” Suzanne continues. “The use of pesticides is not only harmful to human health, but also impacts bees and other insects that rely on plants. Pesticides are a major driver behind the decline of our biodiversity."
Selling native plants online
Sprinklr launched a year later, in 2016. The business has grown steadily since then and now employs a team of 16 people in its office and warehouse. Its mission is to offer a green environment for everyone. Alongside running the online shop, the team provides plants for offices and shared workspaces, also offering green advice to anyone who asks.
Asked about the sustainability of selling plants online, Suzanne responds: "We wanted to make organic plants accessible to everyone in the Netherlands. An online shop is the fastest, most economical way to do this." Sales may take place online, but Sprinklr works to keep the business’ footprint small. They are transparent in explaining their costs and make the process of packing and shipping plants as sustainable as possible.
The business offers a unique service in the Netherlands, working with organic and sustainable nurseries throughout the country. These growers use no pesticides or fertilisers, cultivating plants outdoors, helping them acclimatise.
Seasonality and weather are important factors in this. Orders cannot always be delivered immediately, for example, because something can be out of season or if a sudden snowfall in March causes delays, but this is all part of growing more naturally. "We explain these challenges clearly to our customers,” says Suzanne, “and almost everyone understands."
All Sprinklr's garden plants have the SKAL quality mark. This independent organisation works to monitor and support the growth of reliable organic plants. "It isn’t easy for smaller nurseries to be certified” Suzanne explains. “There is a lot involved in terms of organisation, but because of it we are 100% sure that we are buying and selling plants grown with love."
The team are also keen to encourage gardeners to grow native plants. “If you make space for indigenous plants in your garden or on your balcony, you are doing something really special for nature,” Suzanne continues, “and it works both ways, because as well as creating invaluable habitats for insects like bees and butterflies you can enjoy beautifully coloured, sometimes even edible, flowers."
This is how organic growing works and why it is important
Helping customers understand the difference between organic, sustainable plants and conventionally grown ones is important to Sprinklr’s success and the team are passionate about helping people make more informed choices in what they buy. "Our plants may be small when you get them” says Suzanne, “but they are healthy and once with you they will grow and flourish”. Sprinklr want to inspire people to create a heathier, more pleasant environment, having fun and gaining new skills along the way. Customers are automatically offered a free online care tutorial with every order and the business’ website is packed with useful tips for nurturing healthy plants.
Shaking up conventional growing
Although Sprinklr focuses on the consumer market, Suzanne hopes to make lasting change in the wider plant sector. "It surprises me is that more growers haven’t switched to organic, though I understand that changing your business set-up can be complex,” she says. “We want to raise consumer awareness. Our belief is that if more people ask for organic at garden centres growers will see the demand and respond accordingly."
"Pioneering in this sector is incredibly fun, but not always easy. Thanks to Triodos’ financing, we are not dependent on investors who ask us to make less sustainable choices in favour of faster growth. We are free to pursue our sustainable and organic path, without compromise."
Biodiversity is booming
Sprinklr is growing fast, says Suzanne. "And that is of course fantastic, but also overwhelming. Our focus now is on coping with that growth." And what about in the future? "Then we would like to be more active year-round", reflects Suzanne. “Our peak now is in spring, but you can also put down new plants in autumn. We also want to work with local government, helping them to understand what is needed for a healthy and green living environment and suggesting how residents can take action to contribute to it."