An interview with James Lambe, Managing Director at Blue Sky Botanics
For people who may not have heard of Blue Sky Botanics how would you describe your company?
Blue Sky Botanics is an innovative, leading UK manufacturer of authentic, natural botanical extracts for the Personal Care, Beverage and Food industries. We are based on a 200-acre award winning Organic farm in the heart of Herefordshire, England and were founded in 2005. We offer a flexible, responsive and bespoke service, and have a wealth of expertise in sourcing, creative concept development, and technical and marketing support.
Blue Sky Botanics is passionate about the importance of green chemistry methods and in sourcing with respect, protecting the environment and supporting biodiversity whilst striving to support people engaged along the entire supply chain. These values are based on our personal beliefs and experiences including my experience of working in developing countries; Emma, our Farm Director’s knowledge and passion for nature; and our Directors’ experience of previous workplaces. Our core values include: Trading Fairly by using suppliers who share our values; Encouraging Biodiversity; and Respecting each other with Passion for what we do.
The provenance of ingredients, green chemistry methods, protecting the environment and supporting biodiversity seem to have always been important for your company. Can you explain why?
My early professional career was in economic development and it has always been my aim to encourage equitable trade between Blue Sky Botanics and our suppliers in developing countries. My wife manages our Organic farm and she has been a passionate naturalist all her life, so we have always wanted to protect the wildlife on our farm; an ethos which predates the founding of Blue Sky Botanics here at Castle Farm. We are doing our best to protect the rich quantity and variety of wild flowers, butterflies and moths, and invertebrates that live on the farm. We were keen to work with like-minded suppliers and of course using green chemistry is compatible with these principles.
You grow some ingredients and directly purchase others. When you are not direct purchasing, how do you make sure the suppliers and producers you work with commit to respecting local people and biodiversity in sourcing areas?
We grow on our farm several key crops for processing in our factory. We also purchase directly from farmers, growers and wild collectors all over the world. Our work with the farm gives us first-hand experience of some of the challenges that our producers face which is invaluable in our approaches to sourcing and supplier relations. The botanicals that we purchase through traders do however present particular challenges. This is because we are not always able to obtain full visibility and the depth of analysis that we would like of the supply chain with which we are working. For small volumes we often have no option but to buy from traders and in these cases, we have to use a different approach to our supplier approval process, often leaning on certifications to risk assess and guarantee acceptable standards. One of our approaches is to partner with traders who are prepared to collaborate with us on full supply chain assessment, with suitable confidentiality agreements in place.
You were one of the founders of Blue Sky Botanics in 2005. 14 years later the company has grown, with 36 staff and sourcing more than 300 raw materials from around the world. What has changed over the years in ethical sourcing? What challenges have you overcome and what threats still remain?
The ethical sourcing of plant materials from around the world is a lifetimes work: a process of continual improvement where there is always more to be done and better standards to be obtained! There is no quick fix, and with recent reports on the state of biodiversity globally, our work in ethical sourcing becomes ever more important in the public eye. Over the years we have seen a dramatic shift in the prioritisation of ethics and sustainability in supply chains; this is coming from customer demand and resonates throughout the supply chain with suppliers now becoming more receptive to, or sometimes more apprehensive of, the kinds of questions that we need answering in supplier and raw material approval. In the beginning we were a minority and we now find ourselves positioned alongside multi-nationals in our passions and values. Whilst our values are fostered as a company-wide culture amongst the 36 of us now here at Blue Sky, we have recognized the importance of ethical sourcing by employing a sourcing specialist to focus on the challenges we face, and to help us to maintain our position as ethical sourcing pioneers.
Blue Sky Botanics has been a UEBT member since 2012. What is the strategic importance of working with UEBT?
The critical advantage for us is the ability to build our own internal ethical sourcing system while complying with the UEBT standards. This enables us to present to our customers a globally approved ethical framework adapted to our particular circumstances. Our bespoke approach for our customers enquiries makes a bespoke system for ethical sourcing essential. We strive to go above and beyond leaning on certifications or audit reports. In addition to this, we find that the UEBT principles align strongly with our founding values and enjoy the flexibility and collaborative character of our membership obligations. Another important aspect is the recognition of UEBT as the gold standard by our customers.
How do you see your company in 15 years? What are your hopes for the future?
We aspire to have an ever-improved proportion of the botanicals that we purchase coming from UEBT members or from sources that embrace the UEBT standards. We also want to be making more positive impact throughout our supply chains both for people and planet, and to be ambassadors for ethical sourcing in our field. At Blue Sky ethical sourcing is a way of life, and we are excited about where this will take us in the future.