Pocholo Espina is the founder and CEO of Sip PH, a Filipino enterprise that champions waste-management solutions for the people and the planet. It was during his last two months in college at the Ateneo De Manila that he thought of doing something for the environment.
He was all set on migrating to the US when, together with his partner, Angela Kay Del Rosario, they co-founded Loop, a one-stop-shop marketplace that provides eco-alternatives to everyday goods.
“It was my last hurrah to make sure I did something for the environment before I finished that chapter of my life,” shares Pocholo. “At the time, it was frustrating to not have access to eco-alternatives and one of the biggest issues at the time was the plastic straw getting stuck in the turtle’s nose.”
He first thought of SIP as a short-term business but as they were building the brand, there was a demand, and they started hiring more people for the team and it grew and grew, as corporations that wanted to be part of creating a sustainable lifestyle — not only for their employees but also as gifts to their clients — started placing orders with them.
Sip PH started by selling steel straws and cutlery made out of bamboo, which was financially unsustainable, so they decided to open their first store and created a brand called Loop. They started working with other brands in creating a much more diverse product line, from shampoo bars to even opening a bulk refilling station.
This ‘aha’ moment often comes from passion and while it’s useful at the start, it’s not sustainable for the long run. Instead, choose to commit to your work and everything else will follow.
In two years, the business grew with over 500 products across 50-plus brands, with plans of adding more.
“Unfortunately, COVID wiped both these primary businesses and we only had one path to go to and that was to move completely online,” Pocholo recalls. “We were lucky enough to have had savings at the time and a decent following, which gave us a little room to test out this new channel.”
And, despite the pandemic, they managed to steer the business to profitability while increasing its reach and impact in less than a year.
On days that he is not busy with the business, Pocholo enjoys the outdoors through hiking and diving.
When I asked what inspired him to champion waste-management solutions, he replied, “Three life events have significantly shaped my focus on waste management. The first was joining this organization called ISDA, a skin diving organization that allowed me to experience both the beauty of our environment and also see all the destruction that we have caused. The second was a six-month exchange in Romania that made me think about how even developing nations could involve the private sector in better handling recycling and waste. The last was joining this week-long program by Save Philippine Seas called SEA Camp, which allowed me to really believe in myself and know that even at the age of 19, I could already make a dent in saving the environment.
Pocholo shares with us his top 10 pieces of advice to save the environment:
Experience and understand the world firsthand
I believe that it is important for people to experience the world to root their actions in the future.
Continuously educate yourself
The world and technology are moving very fast. When we started, eco-alternatives barely existed, and today, we work with over 40 brands. Make sure to keep yourself apprised with new developments and always back your claims with not just articles online but scientific journals.
Give yourself well-deserved breaks
Saving the environment is no easy task and comes with days that can get manic and toxic. Make sure to give space for rest, as these are also what give you space to reflect and make critical decisions for the business.
Change doesn’t happen in a day. It might even take a lifetime for your grand vision to be realized. There will also be a lot of setbacks, both in your career and life in general. You need to be ready to play the long game.
Don’t depend on passion
A common problem among people of my generation is that we tend to look for jobs that go beyond just a job and have meaning beyond money and ourselves.
This “aha” moment often comes from passion and while it’s useful at the start, it’s not sustainable for the long run. Instead, choose to commit to your work and everything else will follow.
Innovations can be really simple
The tech start-up field has made us believe that innovation needs to be this crazy breakthrough, like gene-editing technology. But in the context of small businesses, these can come in the form of using compostable packaging or even using printed QR codes instead of flyers.
Focus on a specialization, but never forget the bigger picture
It’s common in the industry to be grouped as an environmentalist when in reality it’s a very complex field that requires you to focus on specific topics.
Always be ready to meet halfway
“Perfection is the enemy of progress.” Easily one of the ideologies from Winston Churchill I keep in mind when creating change.
Working in a field where the status quo is cheap plastic, compromises will have to be made every now and then to see our visions come to reality. It is important, however, to always keep yourself in check to ensure that you haven’t lost sight of your core values and the bigger picture.
Be a nice person
No kidding, sustainability goes beyond just caring for the environment. It means caring for the people around you as well. Nobody wants to work with mean people.
Find your tribe
They don’t kid around when they say, “it takes a village.” With a herculean problem that spans from climate change to plastic pollution, you’d need to find these like-minded people and work with them. For us, those are our friends, partners, and our customers. Nakakawalang gana paminsan, so it always helps to have someone to get you out of a rut and vice versa.