‘Our small startup makes and sells small-batch olive oil. While we’ve worked hard to employ environmentally friendly and natural farming methods, we want to be sustainable throughout the company, including the materials we use for the product. As a small-batch business where quantity is not on our side, and with very limited resources, how do we find a solution that works for us, the customer and the planet?’
The first step is to think about your brand mission. Unless it’s renewable, fully recycled and biodegradable, every resource has an environmental impact. It’s worth noting the pros and cons of any solution you choose. Do you or your customers care more about the miles travelled, the price point, using something recycled, or that the packaging will fully biodegrade and return to the earth?
‘Be honest about where you’re at – and the limitations. The worst thing is to overstate or “greenwash”. If you do have a lot of interested customers, let them offer solutions and do the research for you – turn it into a marketing opportunity, competition or call out.
‘This is also a great way of building partnerships with different sectors. Keep researching material innovation (and traditional methods – usually more sustainable) and attending relevant events. We’ve struck gold with suppliers before, ensuring smaller minimums by charming them in person. If you can’t find what you’re looking for among your competitors, look outside your industry at what materials are being used in other fields. See if that method can apply, or if you can somehow use their waste.
‘It worked for us when we partnered with Traid to use their textile waste for our collections. Now we’ve scaled up, we use natural fibres instead that are near carbon neutral to manufacture... but still need to be shipped over from India, so we have to weigh up the carbon footprint either way.
At the same time, be brave. The impact of sustainability over inaction is so worth the risk.’
‘Keeping emissions low and doing as much as you can to keep your packaging supply chain as local as possible is crucial. This can be surprisingly time-consuming in the beginning as there is no large online database of UK suppliers, as there are in countries such as China and India, so you may need to go old school. Use yell.com and go to packaging trade shows. Get on the phone – and if you get a no from one supplier ask them to recommend another.
‘If you have to charge a little more because of these sustainable measures, as long as you are transparent, consumers should be understanding. As you grow, things will become more affordable. Sourcing materials from smaller local companies takes more patience and work – and you often need to chase and hand hold – but it’s worth it in the long run.
‘If you’re delivering small batches, think about using zero-emissions couriers such as Zedify. Establish relationships with zero-waste stores you know. This could be a great route for you as zero waste becomes more popular and adopted by larger retailers such as John Lewis. In the long term, if you focus on this you could potentially bypass the packaging problem altogether. By becoming the most environmentally-friendly producer of your product you might then be able to deliver in bulk – and people can fill up using their own containers.’
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This article was first published in Courier Issue 32, December/January 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.