I recently braved my fear of public speaking and joined about a hundred other local individuals and businesses to share my journey towards sustainability. This community event, Sustainability Matters, was hosted by the Darebin Council, and was all about sharing our ideas, our successes, and our growing commitment towards sustainability.
Growing a small business and finding my way forward
My business is first and foremost my livelihood and my opportunity for creative expression, but I care about the environment and doing my best to minimise my impact. My business is now 18 years old, and along the way I’ve gradually been able to make small changes that respect my growing appreciation that the sum of the little things we do really matter in a global context.
My background is in art and design, and I was drawn to using wax as a sculptural material, where I could use earthy colours and textures to create beautiful objects that were designed to be used rather than just gather dust.
My business grew very organically. What started in my mum’s kitchen with an investment of a few hundred dollars in raw materials, evolved through craft markets and then trade fairs to an opportunity to open a workshop and a small retail store on High Street, Westgarth. After 7 years in Westgarth it was time to move in a new direction. We had recently bought our own home, and planned to build a backyard workshop to run my wholesale business rent free and create more work life balance for starting a family. I closed my shop and moved my retail business online.
The next step – A purpose built home workshop
We have a little 60s brick veneer. There is nothing fancy about our home, but the experience of exploring self sufficiency on our own little patch of land has been incredibly fulfilling. We didn’t have the budget to do everything at once, so we ignored the 60s wallpaper and worn floral carpet and started with the things that would have the greatest long term benefits. We planted fruit trees, and installed a 4.5kw solar system and 7000L of water tanks.
My purpose built backyard workshop has a 7 star energy efficiency rating, and one day it could be cleaned out to become a dwelling. We chose LED lights, Earthwool insulation, and the 40 sqm of roof space connects to our water storage tanks which will soon water veggie patches.
Electricity is the highest cost for my business, and we are currently debating whether to put on a second 4.5kw solar system, or to invest in battery storage. We buy any extra power required through Powershop. Even though there are cheaper power providers, it is important to us to buy from a company that is committed to clean energy and building renewable infrastructure for the future.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made was not investigating a solar system during my years as a tenant. Electricity was costing my business around $3000 per year, or more than $21000 over 7 years. Even though solar systems were more expensive 12 years ago, it would have been worth running the numbers, especially considering the much higher feed in tariff offered back then. This realisation was a big wake up call that these decisions can really have a big impact, on both my bottom line and my environmental footprint.
Our home and business as an ecosystem
We see our home and my business as a little ecosystem, and the decisions we make for one carry through to the other. We use natural cleaning products, which we refill from a friend’s bulk supply in her garage. All the common recyclables generated by my business fit within our household recycling. We collect soft plastics in both the house and my workshop, and take these up to Coles every few weeks. We re-use a lot of cardboard and clean soft plastics when packing candles for freight. My husband also brings home packaging material from his hotel to reuse. And it’s a small thing, but we have some jars on top of the fridge for used batteries and printer cartridges that we take up to the recycling depot every so often.
All our organic food waste stays on site and we rotate through two compost bins that are gradually helping to improve our soil. We once heard a well known gardener speak about how valuable all your green waste is, and that you basically shouldn’t let any of it leave your property, and this is our eventual aim: to mulch and compost everything we can, to make our own weed tea as a liquid fertiliser, to grow nitrogen fixing crops over winter, and of course to grow as much of our own fruit, veggies and herbs as possible. Sadly our veggie patch is the last thing on the list, as between my business, a two year old, and renovating our house we just don’t have the extra energy left to devote to a productive garden plot at this stage.
On a social level, I have always felt that my business would not exist but for the community of people who support it, so I have tried to give back a little. Sometimes this is nothing more than supporting my local primary school and kinder with donations towards their fundraising events. I have also run candle making classes for teenagers who were in protective care, where I got to witness these tough kids transform as they concentrated and produced something they were proud of. For the past 14 months, we’ve had a young man with autism do a work placement with us for 1 hour a week. Again, it’s been great to get to know him, to see his humour and cheekiness emerge, and to see him master new skills and make something with his own hands.
The next conscious step forward
Moving forward, the two areas I want to focus on are reducing our use of new soft plastics for packaging, and our freight choices. There’s a company called Sendle that offers carbon neutral freight options by offsetting their emissions and using the beta runs or empty space left in the trucks that regularly move freight from point to point. Lastly, I’ve started to connect with local businesses that generate a lot of shredded paper. Rather than going to the recycling depot, we’re using this unwanted resource to help decrease the amount of new bubble wrap we use.
I’d like to share this final thought which I find very powerful. I’m definitely part of the latter category, but I feel that this is really important:
“We don’t need a handful of people
doing zero waste perfectly.
We need millions of people
doing it imperfectly.”
– Anne Marie Bonneau