‘Our Ultimate Goal is to be Fully Transparent on Carbon Footprint’

To celebrate Plastic Free July, Josh Pitman, MD of Priory Direct, a sustainable packaging firm based in Kent reflects on the business' growth

Josh Pitman is Managing Director of the Kent-based eco packaging company, Priory Direct and chaired the Sustainable Innovation workshop at the University’s Kent and Medway Business Summit this year.

We caught up with Josh at the firm’s 55,000 square foot Larkfield business premises to find out how he transformed his father’s print management company into a fully-fledged sustainable hub with high profile clients and cutting-edge technical innovations.

“I’ve always loved getting outside,” Josh explains. “Sailing, surfing, mountaineering, and climbing. Loving nature means my environmental mission is my sense of purpose.”

Priory Direct is at the forefront of the sustainable scene, serving 21,000 businesses with packaging solutions and supply chain optimisation plans. Their products span the likes of paper taping and strapping, paper palette wrap, cardboard shredding, paper bottle covers and eco-friendly wraps. To date, their client list include retail giants like H&M, Penguin Books, British Airways, the BBC and National Trust.

The latest business model can trace its roots before Josh left university. As a student, he came up with designs for integrated label layouts for the likes of eBay and Amazon, bought in droves due to their simple solution of putting invoices and picking lists on to one sheet, using an approach derived from weigh bridge paperwork.

“It wasn’t rocket science, but no one had thought of it – we got 3,000 clients almost overnight,” he laughs.

The firm’s HQ in Larkfield

After graduating and briefly working in artificial limbs engineering, he joined his father’s print management firm.

“I could see how we were missing an opportunity selling only labels when we could offer the jiffy bags, boxes and custom designed solutions too. I pitched it to the management team with a PowerPoint full of easier-to-say-than-do ideas – I was pretty nervous when they said ‘go for it!”

Josh credits this moment at the age of 21, alongside a new passion for reading regularly, as a trigger for a change in direction for the company.

“Books open your mind and I made it my mission to read two a month. The most transformational for me was by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. He inspired me with the idea that if I found something I loved doing, that also helped the planet I’d found my purpose.”

“Another favourite was Raising the Bar which talks about the engine of a business as an enhancer of your ability do good in the planet. If you take a business and use it to create a positive footprint, you can multiply your impact 10-fold. Simon Sinek Start with Why really encouraged me to find our business’s purpose. I was working and selling packaging and labels which was going well, but I wanted to know where the purpose was, how can it be fun?”

All of these things built to a crescendo in Josh’s mind and he landed on a winning formula of planet friendly packaging – something that gave him a zest for working life and a sense of pride in doing the right thing for the planet. Priory Direct was born.

“This was the big tick moment for me – the decision to take the product and make the industry sustainable. This was six or seven years ago and now we’re offering completely carbon neutral packaging which minimises damages and costs simultaneously.”

“Our ultimate goal is to create a business that is fully transparent on our footprint. We already advise people to use less packaging or no packaging even if we lose money and we invest 50 per cent of what we make back into the efforts of the business.”

The business has benefited from a surge in e-commerce during the pandemic and a general boom in online shopping. While Josh agrees that BREXIT has been a ‘nightmare’ the business has been thriving in the UK market, something Josh says is down to the country being ahead of Europe in terms of ecommerce adoption, technological innovations in the sustainable space and a higher sense of awareness.

“We work with customers and find the best sustainable material solutions, but we also offer design. A number of B-Corp businesses choose us as our stories complement one another. We work with Vivobarefoot – who make recycled shoes, Bamboo Clothing, and tropic Skincare but we never rule out working with a client as we feel everyone should be given the chance to move in a positive direction.”

The future vision for the company is to set up more ‘just in time’ stock delivery to leverage locality and to build on their increasingly innovative offerings such as ‘Priory Elements’ which minimises the use of new materials, is plastic free and biodegradable. One per cent of their revenue also goes to One Per Cent for the Planet.

“This generated £17,000 for the charity and is a bespoke offering that really creates a story for our customers,” explains Josh.

Josh remains a visionary with his sights set high on what the company can achieve in the future. Priory wish to work with educational establishments and play a part in giving back to the community to help inform and enlighten communities.

“Only two per cent of the feedstock for plastic is recycled in the UK. The big problem is the infrastructure. The recollection, reuse and repurposing system here is terrible. Legislation is the key and there’s not enough pressure in the right place. The good thing is, thanks to Netflix and David Attenborough, sustainability is now cool and people are finally willing to pay more for something that protects our environment.”

Starting the Sustainable Way – Josh’s Top Tips

  • Find what purpose motivates you, get work experience and find out what makes you tick. Experience changes your mindset.
  • Consider start-ups and SMEs as your first port of call. Blue chips no longer own everything.
  • Start reading, bake it into your daily habits. Broad reading on lots of topics will really spark your interest and give you motivation

Sustainable Innovation is embedded in everything we do at Kent Business School. Read more about our mission here.

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