Ecoflora: Sustainable Innovation in an Emerging Economy



Ezequiel Reficco

Roberto Gutiérrez


Universidad de los Andes Colombia

Published in


Ecoflora’s general manager, Nicolás Cock, was used to making difficult decisions. Since he took charge of the company, he wasn’t afraid of changing directions if the situation required it. He thought he intuitively knew what was right for the company, and results seemed to prove him right.

However, as 2020 was coming to an end, his intuition appeared to be failing him. Through crises, learning, and adjustments, Ecoflora had perfected its business model and was developing products with the potential for financial success, while also preserving the environment. Several international prizes and accolades had put Ecoflora on the map and brought it to the attention of investors. Nicolás knew this was the right time to scale the business. Pro-bono consulting teams from business schools, such as Stanford, Harvard and MIT recommended expanding to the US

The company had worked hard to set up a network of suppliers in some of Colombia’s poorest regions. This was not some showcase social responsibility program that companies implement to gain goodwill from stakeholders, with little business relevance. Rather, the partnership with subsistence farmers was the source of 100% of the raw materials used for producing natural colorants, with a huge market potential. In fact, catalyzing positive change in marginalized communities was one of the reasons why Nicolás became involved with Ecoflora in the first place. However, demand forecasts suggested that the company would soon need to expand its base of suppliers to avoid
bottlenecks in its procurement needs.

Nicolás knew that Ecoflora’s success would require giving the brand more visibility, increasing market share for its products, and gaining a foothold in international markets. He also knew that success would bring social and environmental benefits. However, growth would entail making difficult decisions and he was not sure what price he was prepared to pay. Some people inside the company saw no reason to reconsider Ecoflora’s longstanding policy of procuring supplies exclusively from Colombia’s poorest –indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. Others argued that scaling output would require changing course and developing partnerships with farmers and
cattle ranchers as the cornerstone of a new procurement policy.