Sprinklr

Suzanne van Straaten

Activities:Making organic plants accessible to everyone

Founder:Suzanne van Straaten

Launched:2016

Location:The Netherlands

Author Nadine Maarhuis Photographer Gabriela Hengeveld Published 27 February 2024 Read time 7 minutes
Suzanne van Straaten Sprinklr

Introductie

Despite their green appearance, most garden centers sell plants and flowers that are covered in toxic pesticides that harm the environment. Bees and butterflies seeking nectar from these plants often even perish. With Sprinklr, a webshop for chemical-free plants, Suzanne van Straaten wants to make healthy greenery available to all.

In our gardens, we can make a difference by choosing organic plants, asserts Suzanne van Straaten. Photographer: Gabriela Hengeveld

How have we managed to industrialize plants to the point that they’ve become harmful for the environment? That’s the question that doesn’t let Suzanne van Straaten go after reading a report on how 95 percent of plants in garden centers are covered in chemicals, posing a fatal threat to insects. “They’re basically lethal traps, whilst people actually put these plants in their garden because they want to do something good for nature.”

Her disbelief leads to the creation of Sprinklr, a webshop for organic greenery that has sold over half a million chemical-free plants, flowers, trees, shrubs and seeds since its start in 2016. “The organic nurseries we work with are like nature reserves”, Suzanne says, “full of pollinators, ladybugs, birds and other species that provide natural pest control, making pesticides obsolete. Ladybugs, for instance, consume aphids and birds keep the slugs in check.” In addition, at the nurseries soil life is constantly attended to, ensuring a sufficient amount of nutrients to grow robust and resilient plants. “In contrast, conventional growers often have no soil life at all”, Suzanne explains, “making their plants dependent on artificial fertilizers and pesticides for survival.”

Uitgelichte quote

If you’ve relied on artificial fertilizers and pesticides for years, you need to relearn how to collaborate with nature

Changing the tide

Many stakeholders need to act in order to transform the ornamental plant industry, Suzanne asserts, “because the growers we work with are still the exception.” She emphasizes the need for governments to start feeling a sense of urgency and act accordingly. “At the moment, most subsidies end up with the rearguard, such as Dutch lily growers who use so many pesticides they end up polluting their entire surroundings. Whilst the pioneers who demonstrate that change is possible, or growers who are willing to transition towards organic and regenerative, are often forgotten. They receive far too little support.” 

Rules and regulations surrounding organic certification also make it difficult for conventional growers to follow a new trajectory, Suzanne adds, as for the first few years they cannot use the organic label, but are already incurring extra costs. Subsidy programs, such as regenerative transition subsidies, could be a solution, she believes.

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Since we became steward-owned, money is again what is should be: a means to make a difference
Suzanne van Straaten Suzanne van Straaten. Photographer: Gabriela Hengeveld

Collaborating with nature

“It also requires perseverance and a healthy dose of curiosity”, Suzanne knows from growers who have successfully been able to turn the tide. “They’re like inventors, because if you’ve relied on artificial fertilizers and pesticides for years, you need to completely reacquaint yourself with the soil biology and experiment with what works and which techniques make your plants naturally strong, thereby making chemicals redundant. In essence, it’s about relearning how to collaborate with nature.”

Despite the challenges, Suzanne is optimistic about the future, as she sees the demand for organic and regenerative plants increase every year. In fact, for some time, Sprinklr has been struggling to find organic nurseries who can meet their demand. “Sometimes, we sell tens of thousands of plants in a single week, so we need to be able to reserve hundreds of thousands of plants per year, and currently there are only a few places in the Netherlands and Belgium where this is possible”, she explains. “Of course, this is tricky for us, but really, it’s extremely hopeful, as whilst the demand for organic greenery exceeds the supply, there is an opportunity for conventional growers to fill the gap.”

With Sprinklr, Suzanne van Straaten is determined to boost biodiversity. Photographer: Gabriela Hengeveld
organic plants Photographer: Gabriela Hengeveld

Steward-ownership

To safeguard Sprinklr’s mission indefinitely, in 2023, Suzanne and her co-founder Liedewij Loorbach decided to make the company steward-owned. “This means we’ve established a foundation to which we’ve donated all of our shares”, Suzanne says, “and we made a deal with our investors to convert their shares into a kind of loan, which we’ll repay over the coming years, after which Sprinklr will be entirely self-owned.” 

As a result, Sprinklr can never be sold again, nor does the company have any traditional shareholders who can control its course. Instead, it’s governed by stewards who have no financial interest in the company whatsoever, enabling them to prioritize the wellbeing of the planet in every decision they make. 

“I never expected so many of our investors to stay, given they initially joined with a different motive”, Suzanne says. “It shows how infectious it can be when co-founders declare that they’re not interested in a payout but are purely in it to make a difference.” Shifting away from an extractive financial system that’s driven by greed feels to Suzanne like the next logical step towards a fully regenerative business model. “Now, money is again what it should be: a means to make a difference.”

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All living beings are connected, so we can make a real difference
organic plants Every square meter counts, according to Suzanne van Straaten. Photographer: Gabriela Hengeveld
organic plants Photographer: Gabriela Hengeveld

Every square meter counts

Suzanne emphasizes that in nature, all living beings are connected, and therefore as humans we can make a real difference. She encourages everyone to greenify their balcony or garden, no matter how small. “Wild bees can only fly a few hundred meters at once, so they’ll be very grateful for chemical-free oases where they can rest and find food”, she says. “And of course, a garden full of organic greenery is als much nicer and healthier for yourself.” 

Ready to take action? Here is what you can do:
– Remove the tiles from your garden and plant as many organic plants, flowers and trees as you can.
– Do your groceries at organic and regenerative farms who grow your food without pesticides and boost biodiversity.
Try the products from Wilder Land: a Dutch regenerative company that pays farmers a fair price to cultivate chemical-free and native herbs, plants and trees on their land, thereby creating a market for regenerative agriculture.
Start a pesticide-free vegetable garden yourself, for example by using the no-dig method. This way, you don’t disturb the soil life and restore biodiversity both below and above the ground.
Visit one of the many Ecosystem Restoration Communities around the world and directly contribute to landscape restoration. 

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