Why does Natural Pod do what it does? – A conversation with the founder and CEO of Natural Pod and Alex Van Tol from Douglas Magazine.
Natural Pod started out as a natural toy company in 2007 by co-founders Bridgitte Alomes and Allan Alomes. From the very beginning they were committed to healthy and sustainable play choices. “It was really from a grassroots perspective of researching and working with local craftspeople to create certain items that worked for us.” explained Bridgitte. The key commitments they strongly held around environmental sustainability at that time are still at the forefront of Natural Pod’s commitment to environmental responsibility today – it’s been in the company’s DNA from the very beginning.
As Bridgitte and Allan deepened their expertise and relationships in the education community, the company’s focus shifted. They began to look at the daycares and preschools in their communities, and saw that the health of the internal learning environments could be greatly improved by introducing furniture made from natural materials rather than plastic and toxic painted metal. “We cared about what the children were engaging with,” said Bridgitte.
Creating beautiful and inspiring spaces was also very important to her and Allan; they understood that inviting children into wonderful, welcoming learning environments fostered their creativity and sent the message that they were valued. Other parents and educators were very interested in the solutions that Natural Pod proposed, and so the company developed and grew.
Fast forward to the present day and Natural Pod manufactures their sustainable learning furniture for educational facilities all over the world. Everything is produced on Vancouver Island and they now ship to early learning centres, middle schools, high schools, universities and even museums: any educational environment where creative play, learning or collaboration are encouraged and where healthy sustainable choices are a priority.
Natural Pod has since partnered with thousands of organizations to create environments that promote and facilitate real-world skills in a way that actually supports deep learning. The company provides forward-thinking, innovative solutions to a sector that’s changing by the day. Unlike classrooms from even a decade ago, most educators no longer accept that the ideal classroom is one where students sit in rows, rather children are meant to learn by doing and exploring, by collaborating with teachers and each other, by finding their own ‘right space’ in a learning environment.
The company’s relentless commitment to sustainable, healthy, inspiring products has only strengthened under Allan’s design direction. He comes from an architectural background and it really shows in his accomplished product design. All Natural Pod furniture is not only aesthetically beautiful but also incredibly sturdy, durable and modular. It’s also designed to be multi-functional. Every product has more than one purpose allowing for maximum usage in classrooms and learning environments. For example, the tables are strong enough to double as a stage, a bench can become a balance beam, and the seating has been designed to incorporate storage and shelving.
“Good design comes back to thinking about how to mindfully use materials to their fullest,” says Bridgitte. “We wanted to be able to do that locally: to be able to know where it came from, what it’s made of, who’s making it.. We wanted to have full transparency.“ As a company Natural Pod holds strong ethical and moral values around these questions. Their commitment to sustainability runs deep, from the heirloom quality of their products, to the materials they use, to their ethical manufacturing, to the relationships they forge with their clients.
All Natural Pod’s wooden furniture is made with FSC-certified materials (Forest Stewardship Council) and ethically manufactured in a beautiful building in the forest near Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island. Items are flat-packed and shipped with a low carbon footprint. Each piece is recyclable and 100% compostable at the end of its life-cycle. “But the best part of the process is when it actually arrives at its destination,” explains Bridgitte. “The intention is the products are installed by the community, by the teachers, the parents and the students, so they have a deeper appreciation for and a greater understanding of how to care for the product.”
Natural Pod offers a way to create non-hierarchical learning environments where all students can feel equal, worthy and valued. Equally important is the way educators feel when they enter their learning space each morning, because they are the experts who are guiding the change makers of the future. “We want a space of beauty, a space of reverence,” Bridgitte says. “We want a space where children can feel and connect back to nature, because they’re in their learning environments more often than they’re in their homes – and it’s often within those environments where they connect the most.”
It’s safe to say that Natural Pod was one of the first on the scene in today’s educational transformation, and Bridgitte is among the thought leaders in this area. Not only is she the driving force and CEO of Natural Pod but also the board president of The Green Schools National Network (GSNN), an organization that are leading the way in creating, better, healthier, sustainable schools.
As education continues to shift towards greater flexibility and student choice when it comes to learning, Natural Pod will continue to create better learning environments that support students and the skills they need to thrive in this century and the next.