Post COP26 there has been increased appetite for everyone to play their part in working towards net zero. Alongside individual and community action, many Cambridge businesses, both big and small, have started to consider how they can start taking action by reducing their carbon footprint.
One local SME and Cambridge Climate Change Charter signatory who are taking their operations environmental impact into consideration is Green Blue You. Alongside pop up stalls at events, they sell their eco-friendly products online with local and national delivery, offering doorstep refills of cleaning, laundry, hair and body products to villages throughout South Cambridgeshire villages. They also support other businesses and organisations by supplying them with their eco-products and are in the process of developing a business advisory offer. A small company with big dreams, they are hoping to expand their business in 2022, with sustainability at the heart of their business ethos as they go forward.
Sarah and Sarah, the two founders of Green Blue You, have kindly shared with us their carbon reduction insights and experiences, and how they are working hard to minimise their environmental impact over every step of their operations.
Why do you want to reduce your environmental impact and what where the first steps you took?
Minimising our own environmental footprint and helping our customers do the same is a key part of our business ethos – it’s important to us personally, and part of why we set up Green Blue You.
However, it also makes strong business sense – our customers expect us to have environmental impact as a priority and they shop with us because of it. We firmly believe that we all need to do our bit, and businesses can play a key role in moving towards a more sustainable future.
The first step we took was around transport and delivery. We were determined to not use our petrol cars for delivery, and so invested in two bike trailers that we could use for deliveries of both refills and non-refill products. We also looked into the impact of delivery companies for orders outside our local area and were pleased to work with Zedify, and their electric bike couriers, where we can.
For any other deliveries we try to use the most environmentally friendly couriers, although it can be a challenge to balance this against cost to our customer.
As we expand, and see demand from further afield, we will not be able to do it all on our bikes. So we are looking at alternatives, including leasing of an electric van which we would charge with renewable energy.
What are you doing to improve your environmental performance?
We established Green Blue You this year, and we took environmental impact into consideration across all of our operations. Even for a small business with environment at its core, this was quite a big step, and we have had to prioritise. Our first concern was around the sourcing of our products – what they were made from, where they came from and how they were packaged? We have and continue to do a huge amount of research on this to ensure that we stock the best products we can, recognising that there are trade-offs and making sure we are transparent on these with our customers.
Our products are sent to us in cardboard boxes, and sometimes paper filler. We save all of this and re-use for deliveries. Some of our suppliers (e.g. FILL) will take back up all of their cardboard for re-use themselves. We won’t work with suppliers that use unnecessary plastic waste.
A couple of months after we launched, we introduced and have heavily promoted our circular refill system for household and hair and body products. We believe offering refills will help our customers have the biggest impact on their own environmental footprint – massively cutting down on single use plastic, and also using products that avoid chemical pollutants.
We try to get second hand where possible and appropriate. For example, one of our shelving units, one of our tables for stalls, and several of our tablecloths were all sourced second hand.
As we expand, we will review and update our delivery methods, always ensuring that we minimise any impact.
Finally, we see public engagement as a key part of our mandate, and we will offer to give talks locally where useful, as well as to continue to engage with our customers on environmental issues.
Going forward our next step is to set up a monitoring and evaluation process, with a plan for this is currently under development. As a company we want to put in place a plan to monitor and assess our carbon footprint, so that as we expand we can keep an eye on the impact of any new operations. We will seek out new local (Cambridgeshire and UK based) companies where we can, to reduce the travel of products, particularly those that can be sourced close to home. On a personal level, we will continue to look at way to reduce our consumption overall, and where we can, improve the energy efficiency of our homes.
What Benefits have you been seeing?
We feel that establishing the right practices from the outset will mean that we are sustainable in the long term and future-proofed for any legislative or policy changes that come in to encourage businesses to be more sustainable.
We know that customers value our approach, and we have received a lot of positive feedback around our approach to sourcing our products and our sustainable delivery. We also see that customers trust us, and so we have high customer loyalty from those that want to improve their own environmental footprint. So for us, sustainability is a key selling point.
What are the main challenges you've faced how are you trying to overcome these difficulties?
Challenge one: access to and interpretation of information on sustainability are two key challenges so many small businesses face.
A key part of our business is to review the products that we stock across a range of criteria such as the source and sustainability of ingredients (e.g. palm oil), distance travelled, longevity and recyclability of product and packaging, environmental impact after use (e.g. cleaning products, sun cream) ethics of the supplier, and if there a circular refill service for household/hair and body products. However, it can be very challenging to get this information from suppliers.
Solution, ask the difficult questions. Our approach has been to ask the difficult questions, not stock products where we have concerns or big gaps (including products we know would sell), as well as work with trusted suppliers that have a clear ethical stance themselves.
Challenge two: we want to provide advice on the disposal of our products too, but this isn’t always easy and it varies widely from one local authority to another.
Solution, include specific and tailored information on the website. We are also working with the suppliers and local waste officers to ensure we are providing the right information.
Challenge three: packaging has been a challenge we have been surprised by. Some products which score highly for sustainability in other respects have come packaged in plastics when we have bought them from bigger distributors. We feel unhappy that customers could be buying these products without knowing this.
Solution, putting sustainability first. With one particularly distributor after trying really hard to influence them without success, we have decided to cease using them despite the fact they give us a better margin on the product.
Challenge four: cost is another key challenge. Some environmentally friendly products are more expensive, as they use more expensive ingredients or processes.
Solution, offer our customers a range of options at the best prices we can. Where we have been able to benefit from a supplier offer then we pass this on to our customers with discounts whenever possible.
Challenge five: finding sustainable transport to use for longer journeys as we expand our refill service.
Solution, currently still exploring options. This is due to high cost of electric vans.
Evaluation and Support Advice
Professional services recommendations:
Resources from organisations such as Cambridge Carbon Footprint and reaching out to likeminded networks through social media, such as other Zero Waste suppliers. Transition Cambridge was helpful for guidance on environmental action.
As a small company they have limited resources, however many of their suppliers have relevant accreditations which they provide detailed information so their customers know what they mean. Although not a an official accreditation they have demonstrated their commitment to climate action as signatory of the Cambridge Climate Change Charter.
Providing guidance on how to start reducing your carbon footprint is key focus of Cambridge Climate Change Charter, Cambridge Carbon Footprint’s online platform for individuals, households, businesses and organisations to pledge to take positive climate action, and help the City of Cambridge reach it’s vision of net zero by 2030.
Any final thoughts and words of encouragement?
Every step makes a difference. It can be overwhelming to know where to start and what is the best option.
Our advice would be to break it down to key areas (energy efficiency, transport, product sourcing, equipment, operations) and then do them one at a time. And don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the many great organisations out there.
If you wish to learn more about Green Blue You and the services they provide see their website, or follow them on their socials.
Would you like to feature as a climate action case study, to help support others in taking the first steps to reduce their carbon footprint? We would love to hear from you, please contact email@example.com for more information.