How I run my eco-conscious business

First things first: when I say I’m trying to make my business more sustainable and low-impact, I really mean it. I’m not slapping a ‘recyclable’ stamp on everything and counting myself as an eco-warrior. In fact, the more I read, the more I lose faith in the concept of recycling altogether. Sources and statistics vary, but did you know that only 9% of the plastic you put in the recycling bin actually gets recycled? Source: National Geographic.

This is what zero waste often looks like around here: carrying a giant cauliflower under one arm, and using the post as a pretzel plate (try as we might, our ‘paperless banking’ sends us each at least one letter a month).

This is what zero waste often looks like around here: carrying a giant cauliflower under one arm, and using the post as a pretzel plate (try as we might, our ‘paperless banking’ sends us each at least one letter a month).

This is why my aim isn’t to use recyclable materials; I want to use things that can biodegrade in your compost bin (or lombricomposter if you don’t have space for a compost bin). With biodegradable products, you can be in control of how your waste is processed and reused. Biodegradable materials aren’t perfect, though. The energy required to make any product, be it recyclable, biodegradable or destined for landfill, is non-negligible and I want to consider that too. When I rebranded in January I took a critical look at what goes into each of my parcels, and I stripped back anything that wasn’t essential. Sure, opening a parcel from an independent business and finding it wrapped in ribbon with a couple of bonus stickers and tissue paper is great, but is it worth the energy required to make all those things? The dye to make the tissue paper match my brand colours, or the plastic coating to make the stickers last for ages? For me, this was an easy decision. Since I’ve made the switch to minimalism I’ve had just as many customers sharing their parcels on social media, so it looks like you guys are happy with this decision too. Thank you for your support!

I think it’s important to make it really clear at this juncture that I’m far from perfect, and there are aspects of running an eco-conscious business that I’m still working on. Likewise, my goal isn’t to shame anyone who is just at the start of their zero-waste journey. Did you buy a packet of biscuits today instead of bringing a home-made snack? Don’t beat yourself up. What the world needs is everyone trying their best, not just a handful of people living ‘perfectly’.

Small changes add up

Here are some of the small but significant things I do to reduce the environmental impact of my business:

  • My jewellery boxes have always been made from 98% recycled material, and will decompose in your compost heap (they’ll do this faster if you tear them up first). I used to get my logo foil stamped on by my box supplier, but this year I made the decision to etch the logos on myself using my laser cutter. This uses slightly less energy than a foil stamping machine (I’ve done the calculations - hit me up if you want the numbers), and it means that there’s no pesky foil which won’t decompose later.

  • I wrap my parcels in recycled/biodegradable paper for shipping, instead of using plastic mail bags. Everything has arrived safely so far; the paper gives plenty of protection for the sort of items I ship.

  • I ship all my wholesale orders in recycled packaging. Sure, this means that sometimes you’ll get your order in a box that I’ve made out of two other boxes to make it the exact right size, but that’s definitely better than buying a brand new box, and I’m lucky to have wholesale clients who are totally on board with what I’m trying to do here.

  • My greetings cards are printed onto recycled (and biodegradable) cardstock. I order them in bulk from a company in the EU, and they travel by land to me, which minimises the CO2 emissions per card vs. ordering more small batches sent by airmail.

  • I make all my other products right here in Paris, which gives me complete control over their provenance; the fabrics I use are printed in the EU using ecologically safe inks. The ties are made from 100% GOTS Certified Organic Cotton.

  • As a child I was an epic Tetris player. This skill has permeated many areas of my life, including (but not limited to): packing shopping bags at the checkout, fitting an entire kitchen into the back of a Renault Kangoo, and maximising the number of pieces of jewellery I can laser cut out of a single piece of wood. Maximum Tetris = minimum waste.

  • My electricity comes from 100% renewable sources - France is actually really good for this. We were also on a 100% green tariff when we lived in the UK, and were pleasantly surprised to get a huge rebate at the end of the year for having gone green. Woohoo!

Room for improvement

It’s hard to make so many changes all in one go, especially when you already have a cupboard full of environmentally less-friendly supplies from before you realised you could be doing much better. Here are some of the things I still need to work on, and what I’m planning to change this year:

This photo is mostly unrelated to the topic of the blog post, but I love that the new post boxes here warn against you putting your whole hand in the slot 😂

This photo is mostly unrelated to the topic of the blog post, but I love that the new post boxes here warn against you putting your whole hand in the slot 😂

  • Sellotape: About a year ago I found a source of very cheap (but high quality) sellotape, so I snapped up the whole lot. At the time it seemed like the perfect opportunity, but now my priorities have changed and I feel so guilty for this big stash of supplies that doesn’t fit with my eco-conscious changes. It would be even worse to just throw all the sellotape away without using it, so I’m ploughing through my stash and I’ll switch to paper tape as soon as the regular sellotape is used up.

  • The paper I use to wrap my parcels is recycled and biodegradable, but it comes in rolls wrapped in film 🤦🏻‍♀️ I always used to buy the largest rolls so the ratio of film to metres of paper was optimal, but this still isn’t good enough. As with the sellotape, I have quite a few rolls left to use up, and in the mean time I’m in the process of sourcing unwrapped wrapping paper. As you can imagine, that’s pretty hard to search for online, but I have a couple of good leads from in-person shops here in Paris.

  • Address and stamp labels: the French post office (La Poste) gives up to 4 receipts if you buy your postage at a machine in-store, depending on what you’re posting. This is way too much unnecessary paper, so last year I registered to buy my postage online instead. All my receipts are now digital which is great for my accounts and for the environment. I print off the stamps and address labels using my label printer which is great because I can crop them to minimise sticker wastage. The down side is that (like the post office stamps) is that I haven’t yet found stickers which come on a biodegradable backing material. If you know of any, please do let me know!

What’s the outlook?

I don’t know. Our apartment looks out onto a square where I see the public bins being emptied up to four times a day, which makes me feel like my 2-hour round trip to the zero waste shop is a little futile. But I just can’t knowingly make an environmentally irresponsible decision now I’ve woken up to the damage it will do to the world. So I’m going to keep doing my best, and help other people do their best too. If we stop buying environmentally destructive items, companies will stop making them. Let’s vote with our feet, and try to affect real change. Who’s with me?!