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Celebrating a Decade of Sustainability

2023 marks Root's 10th anniversary, and the company is celebrating its busiest year ever. Tracy Sutton, the driving force behind Root, embarked on a journey fuelled by a passion for the environment, leading to the establishment of a leading sustainability and packaging design consultancy.

An Interview with Tracy Sutton, the founder of Root, about how it all started. Serving global brands like Diageo, Innocent, and Pukka, Root exemplifies how profit and sustainability can harmoniously coexist.

Mum brought me up to be attentive to nature. We went on woodland and coastal walks and would often come across the aftermath of oil spills that plagued the region in the 80s

An early passion for the environment

Tracy’s journey began in the rural landscapes of Cornwall. Raised by an environmentally conscious mother, Tracy developed a connection with nature and a sense of social responsibility early on. She explains, “Mum brought me up to be attentive to nature. We went on woodland and coastal walks and would often come across the aftermath of oil spills that plagued the region in the 80s.”  As a result of these encounters, Tracy joined the RSPCA and became an impassioned activist for the environment at a very young age.
 
Despite living in such a beautiful county, Tracy grew up in a relatively deprived area of the country and witnessed social and financial challenges close to home. “I believe this instilled in me a deep-rooted sense of responsibility and desire toward helping people. I’ve always wanted to make the world a better place for us all.”
 
This profound connection between nature and people set Tracy on the path to attaining a degree in Sustainable Product Design, laying the foundation for her mission to design responsibly for the planet.
Tracy's early days as a young RSPCA campaigner

The initial spark

Tracy’s dissertation on sustainable packaging regulation and labelling across Europe, showcased her growing fascination with the subject. After completing her degree, she joined Pearlfisher, a global brand and packaging design agency. Here, she led a technical team, taking design concepts from sketch, and engineering them into reality for global roll outs for quick service restaurants, spirits, skincare, fragrance and store design.
 
Tracy says, “I was constantly looking for ways to infuse sustainable design principles into every project. So much so that I subsequently took on the role of raising awareness of the need for sustainable packaging design through internal and external workshops for designers.”
 
Tracy continues, “The designers at Pearlfisher were so passionate about doing the right thing, but at the time few design briefs had sustainability at their core. After seven years, I felt it was time to move on to greater things where I could see and feel impact.”
 
Tracy handed in her notice, took some time out travelling for nine months across South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America. The trip ended in Peru where Tracy took the role of Sustainability Professora for Seeds of Hope, a charity that supports children living in extreme poverty.  In Huaráz, she taught children about how to protect their health by learning about the environment and waste.
 
“I visited parts of the world where there was very little or no waste management and saw first-hand the devastating effects this was having on people’s health and the environment. It drove home to me the fact that this was a global crisis, affecting every part of the world – I knew from that moment I wanted to try to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Teaching children in Peru about the environment and waste

The early days of Root

Tracy always knew she wanted to run her own business, and in 2013, she launched Root. “I was initially unsure what a sustainable packaging design consultancy looked like,” she says. “The concept of sustainable packaging was relatively novel – people were only talking about recyclability. In the early days, it was an uphill struggle simply explaining to companies why it was something they needed to incorporate into their business.”
 
Once Tracy recognised the gap in the market, she didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity to start influencing producers and brands about the need to protect their business and reputation. She believed passionately that companies needed to protect the world’s finite and renewable resources to safeguard the environment and future-proof their business. Her mission was clear: to prove that profitability and sustainability could coexist.
 
Her first major project involved supporting a leading FMCG business, helping them to develop a more strategic approach to packaging. At the time, most changes to packaging were reactive and had limited longevity. Tracy recognised the need to think longer term to reduce cost, resource and time spent on continual packaging changes.
 
This is when she created Root’s proprietary Design for Life methodology. The approach combines design, lifecycle analysis, and cradle-to-cradle thinking, and is infused into every project. This method challenges short-term thinking, guiding clients toward long-term sustainability strategies, and has become a key reason why companies choose Root as their trusted advisor.

Regulatory changes are continual therefore being compliant is being reactive.Embedding sustainability into your business, products and packaging is the pathway forward

A changing landscape

Over the last decade, Tracy has witnessed a positive shift in attitude toward sustainability in business. Companies that have always embraced sustainability as a core value are naturally drawn to Root. Brands like Pukka, Edgard & Cooper and Innocent, who prioritise sustainability, are examples of Root’s traditional clientele. But in recent years, Root has attracted a wider audience, companies that are just starting out on their sustainability journey and need to act fast to meet regulation.
 
To these companies, Tracy emphasises the need to commit to sustainability for reasons beyond compliance. She explains, “The commercial and reputational risks of neglecting sustainability are substantial. It must be embedded from the top down, becoming an integral part of organisational strategy.”
 
Tracy encourages businesses to embrace their moral responsibility and involve every internal team and external stakeholders in the sustainability journey. “Regulatory changes are imminent, but aspiring to become truly sustainable, rather than merely compliant, is the pathway forward,” she explains.
 
Both shareholders and stakeholders are increasingly looking for evidence of long-term strategies which future proof business as well as boost customer confidence and loyalty. Greater transparency and more rigorous disclosure requirements around material impact such as carbon emissions, supply chain due diligence and responsible marketing are hitting businesses or all sizes, calling for a much deeper involvement in sustainability from the boardroom down to the shop floor.
Influencing producers and brands

The future of sustainability

Looking ahead, Tracy envisions a shift from “sustainable” to “responsible” packaging. She aims to engage individuals and businesses in a dialogue about whether it’s responsible to place something on the market, not just whether it’s compliant to do so. She hopes to continue transforming the packaging industry positively, influencing more cohesive, socially and environmentally responsible policies.

Tracy is also driven to raise awareness of the need for greater accessibility in society, especially for those with disabilities like arthritis, something she was recently diagnosed with.  “The packaging sector largely overlooks this issue,” she says, “and I’m determined to place accessibility higher up on the agenda.”

As Root celebrates a decade of success, Tracy Sutton’s unwavering commitment to the environment and society serves as a beacon of inspiration. Her journey from witnessing oil spills on the Cornish shore to pioneering sustainability in packaging design showcases the transformative power of dedication and innovation. In the face of mounting environmental challenges, Root stands as a testament to the profound impact of blending profit with purpose.

Tracy encourages businesses to embrace their moral responsibility and involve every internal team and external stakeholders in the sustainability journey. “Regulatory changes are imminent, but aspiring to become truly sustainable, rather than merely compliant, is the pathway forward,” she explains.

Both shareholders and stakeholders are increasingly looking for evidence of long-term strategies which future-proof business as well as boost customer confidence and loyalty. Greater transparency and more rigorous disclosure requirements around material impact such as carbon emissions, supply chain due diligence and responsible marketing are hitting businesses of all sizes, calling for much deeper involvement in sustainability from the boardroom down to the shop floor.