038: Building an Eco-Consious Small Business - Thyme Is Honey

Plan Podcast Episode 038: Building an Eco-Conscious Small Business

Transcript

You’re listening to The Plan Podcast episode number 038. Creating a business that is eco-conscious, sustainable, or environmentally friendly has become sort of a buzzwordy trend. For small business owners, it can be scary because you’re convinced that becoming more eco-friendly will be expensive or time-consuming. 

If you are a business owner who wants to align your business with your personal values, or you’re someone who has hesitated on starting a business out of environmental concerns today’s episode is for you. We’ll talk about what greenwashing means and how to make sure you avoid it, I’ll share the 7 shifts I’ve made in my business to make it eco-conscious and sustainable, and why it’s important to not only focus on your environmental impact but also your community impact.

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. Being able to start my business was literally a dream come true — it was like all of my childhood dreams came to life. I always dreamed of having a creative career where I got to play with paper, pens, stickers, pretty tape. I assume that is every 6th-grade girl’s dream. But at the same time, I was learning about how to start my own business, I was also learning about environmentalism and the huge impact that businesses and corporations have on our planet. For a long time, this stopped me from pursuing my dream and launching my business — I felt like it was impossible to start a product-based business that wasn’t also adding to the problem of waste and pollution.

My prior experience was in the publishing world — so I saw firsthand all the waste produced by the planner and calendar industry. We’d have products launch in September, October, November — and when the clock struck midnight on January 1 the products would start to expire and lose value. By late February they were discounted, and by March we were literally boxing up leftover inventory and taking products to the recycling center or trash.

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.

Greenwashing

One hurdle to overcome when you want to build an eco-conscious business is greenwashing. This is a term used to describe brands who use buzzy terms like “green”, “clean”, “nontoxic”, “Earth Friendly” to sell their products, but haven’t actually made substantial changes to their production level to have a positive environmental impact. It’s really important to root your changes in action.

7 Shifts in My Business

Here are some of the simple adjustments I’ve made to my brand structure, products, production, and policies in order to build a business that minimizes its environmental impact and supports communities and initiatives I care about. I hope it gives you some ideas for changes you can make in your own business:

  • I went dateless. As I explained earlier,  planners and calendars create a lot of waste because they begin to expire at midnight on January 1st. 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. This also makes them universal, so that people in all countries can use my products by being able to customize the layout of the calendar pages.
  • I ditched the idea of 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. I’ve actually gotten so many sweet messages from customers who loved this initiative and had a good laugh over some of the local stories from my hometown newspaper.
  • I embraced 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 replace what I 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 both customers and affiliates. Relaying to my customers how many trees we’ve planted — which at this point numbers in the thousands — is such a fun way to underscore the ways we’re helping improve the world together.
  • I switched 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.
  • I 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.

So those 7 different ways I’ve made my business more eco-conscious and sustainable, but there’s one more point I want to make in this episode, and it’s an important one. When you are building an eco-conscious brand, you should not stop at just addressing your environmental impact. You also need to look at the way your business impacts or supports marginalized communities.

Environmental Justice

Environmentalism is so closely tied to social justice issues — it’s impossible to separate them. That’s why a better term for it is actually Environmental Justice. We’re not just seeking to improve the environment, we want to ensure that we are equally distributing both environmental benefits and burdens. Currently, communities of color get less access to environmental benefits but bear the brunt of environmental burdens.

So for your business to truly be built on a foundation of Environmental Justice, you need to also have initiatives that support these communities and causes. Currently, I have two initiatives that I think fall under this category:

  • I divest my earnings to support marginalized people. I have a monthly program that takes a percentage of my income and donates it directly to families in need to help them pay their monthly bills and living expenses. A lot of brands will donate 3% of proceeds or 10% of sales to a cause — but this is almost always a charity or organization that also results in a tax deduction for the company. Giving money directly to the people who need it usually does not come with the benefit of tax deductions, but it is one of the best ways to have a direct impact on supporting communities. 
  • I provide shoes to activists. You guys know I love Rothy’s shoes. Diehard fan over here. They are practically the only shoes I wear. I love them because they are super comfortable, you can toss them in the washing machine, and they are made out of recycled plastic water bottles removed from our oceans. I have a code on my website, or you can also find it at PlanPodcast.com, which will give you $20 off. Clearly, I do not need any more Rothy’s, so a couple of years ago I started an initiative where I donate the free pairs I earn to various activists or people fighting for change. I’ve gifted them to protestors, pastors, community leaders— last month I donated a pair to a sexual assault survivor since it was sexual assault awareness month. Now this is a small action, and it might be hard to see the connection between gifting someone a pair of shoes and seeing substantial social change — but it really comes down to taking care of each other and being able to do something nice for the people who are fighting for these causes.

I hope that this has been helpful — and that no matter what type of business you own, whether it is a paper product business or something else — that this episode will help give you a place to start with thinking about both the negative and positive impact your business can have.

I’ll be back in two weeks with a new episode of The Plan Podcast. In the meantime, you can find show notes along with all past episodes over at PlanPodcast.com

Important Links:

The Planner Creator – my online course for launching your customer planner (take $50 off with the code POD50)

Visit My Shop and take 10% off your entire order with the code HONEY at checkout

Learn more about my giving back Initiatives

$20 off your first pair of Rothy’s Shoes

038: Building an Eco-Consious Small Business

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