Turning your business into a greener and more sustainable one is no longer a mere marketing trick to attract customers and look trendy.
The serious environmental challenges facing the planet have been made plain by the likes of David Attenborough’s documentary ‘Climate Change – The Facts’ and the effective, if troublesome, actions of the Extinction Rebellion movement. Businesses—particularly those involved in production, servicing and manufacturing—must adapt not only as part of their corporate social sustainability but ultimately to remain relevant. Like so many companies that didn’t adapt fast enough to new technology, it’s increasingly apparent that companies who don’t make pronounced efforts towards sustainability risk credibility and eventually becoming irrelevant.
Over the past few years, a fair portion of the world’s top companies—from Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Dell to Hewlett Packard and Wal-Mart—have introduced systems and customer incentive schemes to reduce their carbon footprints. In the UK, Tesco has invested heavily in wind power, recycling and biodiesel for its delivery trucks. In April, Sainsbury’s announced it will end the use of all dark-coloured plastics—the most difficult to recycle—by March 2020 and remove plastic packaging from Christmas crackers.
Last year, the founders of Hisbe—Britain’s most environmentally-friendly supermarket—announced it was expanding from its single operation in Brighton to ten more stores in London, with future plans to go national. Hisbe, which stands for ‘How it should be’, sells all its fruit and vegetables loose, and products like laundry detergent are dispensed into reusable bottles brought in by customers. Hisbe also has a refill station for rice, pasta and grains. The supermarket turned over almost £2-million last year.
There are also programs like the Cycle Friendly Employer accreditation, which partners with countries across Europe to encourage and reward companies that become cycling friendly. Cycle Scheme in the UK is an employee benefit that gives significant discounts on bikes and bike accessories. The participant pays nothing upfront and payments are taken tax efficiently from his or her salary by their employer.
Evolve met with four business owners in Bournemouth who are disrupting the sustainability status quo within their community.
Maria Konstanse Bruun – Sobo Wastebusters
Based in Soutbourne, Sobo work with the local community, including businesses, to inspire change and sustainability. It provides an online directory with information about local recycling and hosts themed events where local experts and businesses to network and share their experiences of going greener.
“I think there’s a will in the community to make changes, but it’s not always easy to know where to start because it can be a bit overwhelming,” Bruun says. “We’re trying to encourage people to see it’s possible to make some changes as an individual, but the problem is we’re mostly talking to the already-converted. But at least they can spread the word; that’s the thought behind what we’re doing. There’s a lot we as individuals can do to make our area more sustainable and that will have an impact on the greater picture as well.”
Bruun admits the thought of the future is “scary”, especially for her children but believes the new generation is more aware and ready than others have been to make changes. Sobo have also engaged with schools to eliminate plastic bottles and cling film as well the ubiquitous (and toxic) glow sticks from discos.
Dan Armstrong – Velo Domestique
Velo Domestique is a cycling-themed coffee shop in Southbourne that opened in 2016. From the very beginning, its owner Dan Armstrong was determined to make the whole operation as green as possible.
The café’s measures include:
- Ensuring all catering disposables are biodegradable.
- Encouraging the use of reusable takeaway cups by offering 10% off takeway drinks with a resuable cup. They also recently ran a campaign where people who used reusable takeway cups were rewarded with free tea or coffee for a month.
- Using only metal straws.
- Stocking cardboard cups lined with PLA – a bioplastic made from corn starch.
- Buying everything in bulk to lessen packaging and carbon emissions.
- Low energy bulbs (the coffee shop has been officially classed as 100% clean energy business).
- Using cargo bikes for food collections and deliveries.
- Using biodegradable bike cleaning and lubricating products produced by local brand Muc-Off.
Armstrong says, “The changes we’ve made haven’t necessarily been so we can say, ‘Hey, we do this,’; it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do and it goes hand-in-hand with cycling.”
As with Bruun from Sobo, Armstrong says one of the challenges in getting businesses to change is that sustainable events tend to attract those already implementing changes or at least interested in doing so. With Velo Domestique, Dan is hoping to create a space where a business owner might come in for coffee, notice what is being done, and ask questions about it.
“A business owner doesn’t have to come into it thinking, ‘I’m going to produce zero waste,’ because not everyone can afford to do that. It’s about marginal changes. I don’t wake up every morning thinking about what I can change today, but day-to-day changes add up. Also, it’s important that your staff is conscious because it’s easier to implement things if everyone is working and growing together.”
Cheryl Hadland – Tops Day Nurseries
Beginning in 1990 with a small nursery in Parkstone, Poole, Tops Days Nurseries now has thirty nurseries across the south coast, with over 3,000 children in attendance. Twelve years ago, founder Cheryl Hadland installed the nurseries’ first solar panels. Her then financial director advised her not to go ahead with the idea, claiming it was a “bad business decision.” Eight years later, Hadland’s investment broke even and has been going strong ever since.
However, Hadland admits at the time the solar panels were more to save on electricity bills than for the environment. It wasn’t until 2016, on a scuba diving trip with David Jones from Just One Ocean—a UK registered conservation charity—that Hadland realised the enormity of the environmental issues at hand.
“David had been a scientific advisor and diving supervisor on a documentary called ‘Plastic Ocean’. We started talking about the stuff he’d read about and seen as part of the documentary and I just remember thinking, ‘We’ve got a serious problem here.’”
Hadland’s first thoughts turned to nappies. Until then, nappies from all the nurseries simply went into general waste and ended up on a landfill somewhere. Waste companies had asked Hadland whether she’d be willing to get a yellow bin to dispose of the nappies, but paying extra for waste collection didn’t make sense so she declined. Then she calculated it: in a day, just one of her nurseries threw away 180 nappies; that’s 900 a week, 3,600 a month. Every year, her nurseries were disposing approximately 1,2-million nappies.
“It was a real shock,” Hadland says. “I realised I’d made a horrible, horrible impact over the years. I immediately ordered yellow bins for all the nurseries. It costs me £1,000 per nursery per year, so it’s quite a commitment, quite a lot of money coming off the bottom line.”
To further combat nappy waste, Hadland has launched a real nappy programme, in association with the Green Early Years Choices Champion Organisation. Most nurseries won’t allow children in cloth nappies because they don’t want to have to store the dirty nappies and generally don’t have washing facilities.
“But it’s actually not that much of a problem,” Hadland says. “We’re trying to encourage parents to put their parents in real nappies for the day. It’s actually cost-beneficial to parents because it’s much cheaper to put your child in a cloth nappy than plastic disposable ones, but they often don’t realise this. Even disposing of nappies in bins at home pushes up their council tax.”
Other measures taken by Hadland at her nurseries include the use of bamboo toothbrushes and a ban on everything plastic, from straws, balllons and glitter to cutlery, plates and aprons. Nurseries have also started growing herbs and vegetables and invested in several electric vehicles for staff travel.
James Fowler – Terroir Tapas
Terroir Tapas in Southbourne is almost completely waste-free, which is an extraordinary feat for a restaurant. Its owner, James Fowler, already owned another restaurant before he opened Terroir Tapas, and said starting with a clean slate made things a bit easier. Instead of needing costly alterations, the whole restaurant could be built around being as sustainable as possible.
“It sort of started when we had a concept of how we wanted the bar to be designed,” Fowler says. “We were going to have it done in polished concrete but found out concrete is not one of the most environmentally friendly products, so we started looking at different materials. This opened up a good kind of can of worms, and one thing led to the next.”
Terroir’s bar top is made from compressed reused coffee lids and plastic chopping boards. The dining tables are from compressed yoghurt pots and lightboxes in the bathrooms are a compressed gathering of floating waste from the sea.
Other measures include:
- Washable napkins and handtowels.
- Using grey water to flush the toilets.
- No deliveries in packaging. All meat and fish is delivered in Terroir’s washable plastic boxes; fruit and vegetables are purchased loose from a nearby green grocer’s.
- Electrolysed water for cleaning—this means no harmful chemicals.
- Using only two bins—one for recycling high-end wine bottles (most of the restaurant’s wines are on tap), the other bin for composting food waste. Fowler plans to upgrade to a composting machine that runs for 24-hours.
One of the more original and innovative additions is the aquaponic system, whereby the herbs, fruits, salads and vegetables grown in the restaurant are fed by waste produced by fish in the tanks below the growing wall. The plants then keep the water clean for the fish.
“I’ve seen how bad restaurants can be in terms of wastage and also how lazy some staff can be in terms of throwing things away so easily and needlessly,” Fowler says. “I have a really good team here; they’re all very passionate about making this a sustainable operation and doing as much as possible to ensure our bins are empty at the end of the day.”
Like Dan at Velo Domestique, James is wary of being too preachy about what he’s doing.
“It’s really about creating a relaxing atmosphere for the customer. They don’t really need to know everything we’re doing. It’s not a marketing ploy and there wasn’t much noise about it until we started winning awards. We’ve put some clues in the menu, and the right customers will ask the right questions. Other than that, we’re primarily about customers having really good food and drinks.”
That said, James concedes everything is not perfect. Being a restaurant that serves meat—the farming of which is acknowledged to have one of the biggest environmental impacts of all—creates a dilemma.
“We’ve had a few vegans in here who hated seeing meat, but it’s about being as sustainable as possible as an operational restaurant. We’re trying to source the meat a lot more sustainably and show meat-eaters there’s a better way of eating meat without giving it up altogether.”
- What measures, if any, have you taken to make your business more sustainable? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Tell us below…