It’s been over a decade since I first started my own business, and over the years my business has changed, pivoted, and transformed just as much as I have. One of the best things about owning your own business is being able to shape it in a way that aligns with your own values, and that is something I’ve tried not to take for granted.
When I first started learning more about environmentalism, it forced me to take a long, hard look at my business and the ways it was impacting the planet. Since my previous office job had been in the publishing world, I had seen first-hand the waste created by the calendar + planner industry as well as the paper goods industry, and I knew I wanted to build something different.
At first, I felt intimidated by the idea of trying to make my business eco-conscious. I thought it would be complex (lots of paperwork and red tape) and maybe expensive (would I need to pay more for “green” shipping supplies?). Thankfully I was able to lean on my 6+ years of experience working with brands in the green beauty and eco-friendly sphere to figure out simple shifts I could make to build a brand that is better for the planet.
Here are some of the simple adjustments I’ve made to my brand structure, products, and policies in order to build a business that minimizes its environmental impact. I hope it gives you some ideas for changes you can make in your own business:
Go dateless! Planners and calendars create a lot of waste because they begin to expire at midnight on January 1st. By March they are largely discounted and what isn’t sold by May is often disposed of. By removing dates from my products I not only made them evergreen but also innovated in a way that helps my products stand out. Dateless planners actually complement the digital task and calendar management tools that so many of us rely on, rather than competing with them.
Abandon luxury packaging. This is probably the biggest thing I have learned: your customers probably don’t particularly care about the fancy packaging. I stopped worrying about branded tissue paper or customized shipping boxes. Instead, I use the free boxes available through the USPS and package all of my orders using leftover newspapers that we collect from our local post office.
Embrace digital products. As a paper goods business, the idea of digital planners or printables can be terrifying. But rather than vilify the movement toward digital, I chose to embrace it. If I can offer my product in a way that is not only paper-free but also instant (no shipping!) with a smaller carbon footprint and easier for the customer — why wouldn’t I? I now aim to have digital options available for all of my products.
Replace what you take. Paper is a renewable resource, but only if we replace it. I partner with One Tree Planted to plant a tree for each paper product sold in my shop. Not only is this great for the environment, but tying an initiative to my brand has been great for brand awareness and building connections with customers.
Make the switch to FSC Certified Paper. All paper is not created (or harvested) equally. FSC (Forest Steward Council) certification is considered the “gold standard” designation and means that the trees have been harvested from forests that are responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious, and economically viable. Contrary to popular belief, FSC certified paper does not always cost more, but you may have fewer options for paperweight, texture, and color.
Avoid dyes, plastic, and coatings. While paper products are generally quite environmentally friendly, they can go in the wrong direction quickly when you start using dyed paper, tabs with plastic coatings, or certain cover materials. When designing my planner I focused on raw, chemical-free materials that are all 100% recyclable. This is not only better for the environment, but also for customers who want to avoid fumes or off-gassing due to health concerns or sensitivities.
Think deeply about new products. Avoid adding products to your collection just for the sake of adding them. Every idea that pops into your head doesn’t need to end up in your shop. Think deeply not only about the products you develop and launch, but also the quantities you order. To increase your revenue, you’re probably better off tightening up your marketing strategy for your existing products rather than launching more products or variations.
Create additional brand initiatives. When you’re building a sustainable brand, you don’t have to stop at addressing your environmental impact. Although my business gives to Save The Boundary Waters and plants trees for each purchase, I also created My Monthly Pledge, which is a direct monthly donation to help people pay their bills. I like that people know that as my business grows, my ability to help people also grows, and I try to focus the efforts on members of marginalized communities.
I hope these tips are helpful as you create an eco-conscious business of your own! Are you thinking of creating paper products or digital designs but not sure where to get started? I put everything I’ve learned as well as information on my printing partners and pricing strategies into an online course called The Planner Creator. You can learn more about it by clicking here.