A staggering 40 million whiteboard markers are thrown away each year in Australia alone. Laid end to end that’s enough to stretch 5,000 km, longer than the road trip from Sydney to Darwin – via Melbourne! David Sharpley, owner of international carpet and rug business Tsar, decided to do something about it.

“When I learnt about those 40 million whiteboard marker pens it sparked the idea of a refillable alternative,” says David. “That idea turned into AusPen.” With a full-time staff of three, the Melbourne-based business now serves customers all around the world.

Cultural challenge

AusPen was born of a commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. “I wanted to use AusPen to challenge our culture’s throwaway mentality and promote a philosophy of re-use, re-fill and re-cycle instead,” says David, the company’s sole director. He launched AusPen in 2001, financing it himself, and worked with manufacturers to create the signature product, the refillable whiteboard markers. Since then the product range has expanded to include, amongst other things, recycled sticky notes, highlighters, staple-free staplers and reusable whiteboard cleaners.

Attracted by sustainability

David complements his team on their resourcefulness and commitment. “Our manager only applied for the position because of the eco-sustainability aspects of our products and service,” he says. The small team handle sales, customer service, order fulfilment, marketing and the website. The business practices what it preaches, managing the energy efficiency of the office and being proactive with regard to recycling. To minimise wider energy use, product is shipped by sea where possible rather than by air. David is mindful of our impact on our ecology. “We want to live with the earth, not from it.”

To further reduce environmental impacts, AusPen has switched from aluminium barrels to barrels made from recycled plastic, even though the replaceable nibs mean that there shouldn’t be any need to throw the pens away.

Customer loyalty

AusPen is growing, and on track for its most profitable year. This is despite the difficulty in selling through large stationery suppliers such as Officeworks. “Our range of eco-stationery items get lost in the clutter of generic stationery,” says David. This makes the company’s website an important sales tool, and once customers try the product, they become very loyal. Referrals are a major source of new business.

Grand plans

Australian educational institutions represent the bulk of existing customers, but the business is excited to be expanding into the US in the next few months. Further products will be added, new customers developed and higher standards of service delivered. To support this expansion and to reduce lifecycle emissions, AusPen is investigating manufacturing options within the US. They are in discussions with a company that provides opportunities for people with disabilities, adding a social dimension to AusPen’s environmental commitment.

“Despite our small size, we are working hard on building AusPen into the best eco-stationery supplier in the world,” says David. Having turned the Tsar carpet business into an international player, it’s a goal with every chance of being fulfilled.


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