When tackling environmental issues is not just a corporate slogan. With beauty salons as the focal point of its shampoo business and communities its foundation, O’right has generated a wave of green consumerism that extends well beyond, received numerous international green certifications and design awards, and achieved an annual revenue of NT $270 million, with a worldwide market across over 50 countries. “Take green initiatives to the highest level,” is the only belief held dear by Steven Ko, Founder of O’right and the soul character of the company.
Recovering from depression and devoting to the green industry
In 2002, as a business developer in a hair care company, Steven started his own business, licensing hair care products from foreign brands. Unfortunately, the distress of subsequently losing both parents led him to depression. In the same year, while he was moving into a new house and during the home renovation, he developed allergies and even asthma due to formaldehyde contained in the furniture. Suffering from health issues caused by chemicals of inferior quality triggered him to rethink the direction of his future.
“After my parents passed away, my whole attitude towards money has completely changed.” Steven longed for making an impact and bringing positive changes to the world, within his finite life. Therefore, he decided to devote himself to the environmental cause, starting from the field he was most familiar with – the hair care industry. In 2006, O’right, adhering to its brand principle of being natural and organic, brought green shampoos to the market – shampoos that are free of environment hormones, parabens, sulfate surfactants, or plasticizer. In addition, the bottles and packaging are recyclable and biodegradable.
Steven reasons that it is not enough for O’right to just be environmentally friendly, he hopes to further help raise public awareness about the environmental issues through his products. Thus, he has been using evidence-based measures to evaluate his products. Not only has O’right secured various green certifications, such as carbon footprint, water footprint, and carbon neutral labels, but it also demands its suppliers, such as printing factories, to conform with the requested standards. O’right dedicates to building a green supply chain from top to down in order to “take green initiatives to a higher level.”
Steven also invested NT $180 million in constructing a remarkable green building as O’right’s headquarters, which has been visited by a number of multi-national corporations dedicated to sustainable innovations, such as 3M, Toyota, and Epson. “These companies are much more influential than us. But by sharing our experience with them, we hope that they are able to carry on realizing some of the goals. We might not be the largest company in size but we aim to create the biggest impact. This is also the reason why we have been honored with numerous awards over the years.”
Promoting green ideals, from hair salons to communities
In order to inspire consumers to genuinely embrace green products, Steven values word of mouth marketing rather than advertising or press conferences. O’right works with 7,000 hair salons across Taiwan, introducing its products to customers through services provided by hair stylists who face customers on the front line. Through the network of hair salons, O’right communicates environmental issues with the general public and promotes green ideals to every neighborhood. Meanwhile, O’right empowers hair stylists to be green ambassadors through the participation of socially responsible activities such as Earth Hour and tree-planting. With this approach, O’right not only helps elevate the social status of hair stylists but also revolutionizes the service mentality industry-wise, demonstrating an absolute, wide-spread influence.
Transforming cosmetics into agricultural products
Steven believes that “there is always a better way” in making green products. For example, the “Tree in the Bottle” is an innovative shampoo product featuring seeds embedded at the bottom of the bottle. When the bottle degrades, the seeds will sprout and grow into a tree. Take the RECOFFEE collection as another example. O’right extracts coffee oil from recycled coffee grounds to make shampoo and bottles, which are biodegradable and can be used as seeds to grow coffee trees. Steven’s vision is to transform cosmetics, which are full of petrochemical materials, to agricultural products, in which all ingredients come from nature, realizing a closed loop “from plants to plants.”
A message to young people: embrace your entrepreneurial dreams and believe in your values
Steven believes that the value of a brand goes hand in hand with its ideals. “The most important thing is to translate your core values into actions, including aspects of products, services, and governance. The better the ideals are realized, the stronger the brand value is.”
Steven further suggests eight elements to be incorporated into all key actions and services when communicating with consumers in order to successfully demonstrate the ideals behind a brand – tangible and intangible; sense and sensibility; present and future; direct and indirect. Flexibility is the key to accommodating this ever-changing world. The first step to address all types of fast- evolving problems is to bring positive changes that better the society and the environment.
Addressing young people who aspire to start a social enterprise, Steven says, “Just be a little braver.” The most important thing is to be adaptable, especially in terms of adjusting initial ideas to detailed execution plans. He particularly stresses that there is no need to wait until after graduation to become an entrepreneur. “Usually, people who build a start-up before completing studies achieve better results; simply because they are not limited by the social norms.” Just like Steven, unrestrained in letting imaginations run wild, he has built his own empire of green hair care products.