We are so thrilled to have Isabel Mack of Party Kit Network sharing her amazing tips to make your business more sustainable.
There’s been a growing focus on sustainable living, but what does this really mean? And how can we implement changes within our own businesses?
The Need for Sustainable Changes
It’s become difficult to ignore that our planet is in crisis. The effect of climate change on both humans and wildlife is already happening. On 29th July this year it will be Earth Overshoot Day. This marks the date when our demand for Earth’s resources exceeds what can be regenerated or replaced in a year.
Many of us already know we need to make changes in the way we live and work to ensure the future survival of our planet. But the climate crisis is complex and trying to make sustainable choices can be far from straightforward. However, there are things we can do now, which can make a difference.
Understanding the Waste Hierarchy
When considering sustainable options it is important to understand waste. Prior to starting my own journey to live more sustainably I’d never considered where the contents of my rubbish bin went – once my rubbish had been collected it was simply ‘gone’ to me. Where I live most general waste goes for incineration; this does generate electricity but inefficiently, releasing emissions and burning materials which could potentially be recycled. Should my rubbish go to landfill instead, it could sit there for years, slowly emitting harmful greenhouse gases or worse contaminating soil and groundwater [Source: Friends of the Earth].
But it’s not just what happens to our waste once it’s been collected that we need to consider. What about the energy and resources used to make those items in the first place? The waste hierarchy is a good guide to the mindset shift required to live more sustainably.
Starting at the bottom of the triangle, ‘Refuse’ predominantly relates to what we buy. Choosing not to buy something is one of the most sustainable choices we have. But ‘Refuse’ can also mean demanding suppliers remove unnecessary packaging or provide more transparency in supply chains. ‘Reduce’ means both using less but also throwing away less. ‘Reuse’ is repurposing that we, or others, already have before they are recycled or thrown away. ‘Rehome’ and ‘Repair’ continue the same theme of ensuring items reach their true end of life. But perhaps surprisingly ‘Recycle’ is almost at the very end, meaning this should be one of our last options, not the first go-to.
How to Approach Making a Change
When researching a more sustainable alternative there’s much to consider and finding an option which ticks all the boxes can be tricky.
How things are made, what they are made of, how materials are sourced, the manufacturing and transportation carbon footprint and avoiding fossil fuels are just some of the things to consider, making a potentially overwhelming checklist.
I run the Party Kit Network, a non-profit organisation connecting those planning a party with local kits of reusable tableware and decorations helping to reduce waste. When researching reusable tableware there just isn’t an option yet which fulfils all our criteria. Ultimately any reusable tableware is better than the single-use alternative, but it’s all too easy to end up down a rabbit hole researching options. In our case, even though many of us strive to live plastic-free, plastic tableware is often the most practical and affordable option for party kits. So instead, I’ve partnered with a local fully-traceable solution for end-of-life recycling so (after many many parties) the plastic will be used again, not ending up in landfill or the environment. And by the time we come to replace the tableware in our kits hopefully there will be a better option. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step forward.
Suggested Changes for your Business
Below are some suggestions for reducing the impact of your business on the planet. Not all suggestions will be relevant to every business. I’ve started with tips for businesses who make and/or sell products but there’s more general tips towards the end.
Making Your Products in a More Sustainable Way
If your business manufactures products, there are several areas where you may be able to make changes:
- Try to source materials which are a little greener. For example switching to recycled materials, those which are certified sustainable (i.e. FSC certified for paper and wood materials), or are available locally to where your products are manufactured. Remember, for some of your potential customers knowing that recycled and/or certified materials have been included in production will be a bonus so it’s worth shouting about this in your marketing messaging and product information.
- Consider if there’s a way to reuse or share any waste materials from product production. For example, could fabric offcuts be used by another business, donated to a local Scrapstore or recycled?
- Look to see if there’s a way to extend the life of your product. How long is your product expected to last? Are there changes that could be made to increase the expected life of your product? Could you sell replacement parts or offer a repair service?
- And once your product has reached the end of its life, consider how easy it is for your product to be repurposed or recycled. Is it clear to customers what materials have been used and how these could be recycled? Providing practical actionable advice will earn you brownie points from the more eco-conscious customer and demonstrate your commitment to reducing your company’s environmental impact.
Switching to Sustainable Product Packaging.
If you are packaging products you make and/or packing products for shipping:
- Really consider if all of the current packaging is required or actually just a nice-to-have. While I appreciate that part of a brand’s customer experience includes the opening of the package, is there a way to achieve this with less stuff? The planet will thank you for it and it could also reduce your costs.
- Consider reusing packaging you have received to package products for your customers. The Packshare website helps facilitate the sharing of packaging materials within local communities. This enables more packaging to be reused before it is recycled.
- Or if reusing packaging isn’t an option, instead switch to packaging made from recycled materials.
- Provide your customers with clear guidance on how any packaging can be reused or recycled. This is one of my biggest irritations with a lot of brands. It’s not helpful to tell me that packaging is ‘100% recyclable’ unless you tell me what it’s actually made of and give me some idea as to how I might go about recycling it. Be wary of using terms like ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ without the information to back this up. This means clarifying what should be done with an item – for example, is the item compostable at home or only in an industrial composter?
Making Digital Resources Greener.
There’s no doubt that technology has revolutionised how we communicate and do business, but it’s not without its own carbon footprint. The technology industry accounts for 4% of Europe’s carbon emissions [Source: ICTCARBONFOOTPRINT]. We can reduce our digital impact by:
- Clearing out your email inbox and file servers – delete things you no longer need.
- If you have a website consider switching to a hosting provider powered by renewable energy, such as Green Hosting. Reducing webpage sizes by removing redundant code and optimising images and content will reduce your website’s carbon footprint as well as benefit customers with slower internet connections.
- Look to see if there’s a suitable mobile phone network provider which is more sustainable, such as Honest Mobile.
Sustainable Office Supplies.
There are many changes which can be made at the office:
- Consider which of your office supplies could be greener. For example, switching to plastic-free tea bags, using recycled toilet paper (BoxRoll is made in the UK and can be bought unwrapped in bulk), ditching liquid hand wash for barred soap or trying cleaning products made from biodegradable ingredients.
- Do a waste audit at your office – what are you currently throwing away? Could any of this be reused, recycled or composted? For example, if you don’t have a compost bin, there may be a local site accepting waste on the ShareWaste website.
- Ask your suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging they use to send you items, or switch to suppliers who will support your mission to use less.
- Where possible, switch to a green energy supplier. This means looking for an electricity company which uses 100% renewable energy, or a gas company who supports the off-setting of emissions. The SwitchIt website is a useful place to start researching options.
- Need a new desk? Look for a local second-hand one first before considering buying new.
Make Your Money Work For the Environment.
Lastly, money has a big impact in our fight against climate change. Where you invest your money can be 21x more impactful in reducing your carbon footprint than giving up flying, going vegetarian and switching your energy provider combined. [Source: Make My Money Matter]
- Check what your current bank is doing to support climate action and reduce the demand for fossil fuels. Ethical Consumer have a helpful guide to ethical banking. And if you do need to make a change the SwitchIt website is a useful place to start researching options.
- If you have a pension, consider getting advice on how to switch your pension investments to funds with clear ESG investment objectives. This means selecting funds based on their environmental, social and governance impacts. It’s best to discuss any changes with a financial advisor or investment expert first.
Off-setting What You Can’t Avoid.
Switching to more sustainable solutions takes time and isn’t always possible in some areas of a business. If you can’t make a change yet, consider how you could off-set your impact instead.
One option is to look at where you can support a sustainable change within your local community. For example, supporting a project which reduces food waste or a tool library which encourages the sharing of resources.
Another option is to offset your carbon footprint from areas like travel where you’ve been able to make a change. There are lots of schemes which can help businesses offset carbon emissions, however it can be a bit of a minefield so look for schemes certified by Gold Standard. They provide information to help you calculate the amount of carbon you should offset and set standards for measuring and verifying the impact of carbon reducing projects.
If you’ve been inspired to make some changes, there is support available. Local action groups are popping up all over the UK, such as the Plastic Free groups supported by Surfers Against Sewage which are a great resource. And Friends of the Earth provide details of local climate action groups on their website.
As with all areas of business, becoming more sustainable is a balancing act. Solutions need to be fairly practical and affordable to be maintained. But where you have made a change, celebrate! Telling your customers benefits both your brand but may inspire them to make their own changes. All changes, however small, really add up!
Isabel Mack (she/her)
Isabel Mack is an ecommerce consultant turned anti-waste activist. In 2019 she was inspired to found the Party Kit Network CIC, a nonprofit organisation connecting those planning a party with local kits of reusable tableware and decorations. Now with almost 500 party kits across the UK and Australia, the network supports people taking action to help their community reduce waste and stop unnecessary single-use items going to landfill.
Note – I am not affiliated with any of the companies or websites mentioned – I have included them as references or examples. It’s only Jen Gale, the source of the waste hierarchy image, who I know (and wrote the blog post which inspired the Party Kit Network!)