One Year In Business – Sustainability Report

Oh how times flies! In August last year, I officially set up The Haberdasher Bee and opened the shop the following month. It’s been an interesting first year and so I thought I’d take the time to sit back and take stock of how I’ve done – so here’s my first year’s sustainability report. It’s probably not the most exciting or interesting read, but I want to keep things as transparent as possible about how exactly I’m working on ensuring my business and products are actually sustainable.

I’ve broken it down into sections to make it easier to identify areas for improvement and areas that I’m already doing well with.

Products

It’s surprisingly difficult to find suppliers committed to making sustainable products for your brand. When I first set up the business, the only real solution I could find was to order my stock from a specialist craft manufacturer based in India, though of course this comes with its own issues – not least the carbon emissions involved in shipping these products literally half way around the world.

Sustainability shouldn’t just refer to the environmental efforts of a business, it should refer to it as a whole. Continuing to order own-brand stock from a company in India simply isn’t sustainable for me, as there are minimum order quantities which mean I have to pay a huge amount upfront and hope I earn that money back. It also took several months longer than I was originally quoted for my order to be finished and shipped to me. I just can’t afford to work like that, not while the business is tiny.

As a result, I’ve made the decision that wherever possible, my products should be locally sourced from the UK and Europe. That does mean that I’ve started manufacturing some of them myself – namely items which are laser cut and engraved – and so some stock that I currently hold will be discontinued when I sell out. But it also means that I can manage my finances more effectively and therefore have a more sustainable cashflow.

With regards to the carbon emissions generated from my products, I’ve already sat and worked out how much carbon was involved in shipping my products from India. DHL have a very useful freight emissions calculator – and while my products weren’t shipped with them, I knew from the tracking details what route they had taken to get to me. I was therefore able to input the route into DHL’s calculator and came to a number: 633.18kg of CO2e.

I haven’t yet calculated the carbon cost of my other products, though I do intend to try and do this. I think the scissors are going to have the highest carbon emissions given the fact they’re made from steel, though overall the shipping emissions from India will still likely be the highest amount. Once I have this figure, I’d like to offset double the amount if possible, using a certified carbon offset scheme based in the UK.

For this, I’m looking at using Forest Carbon, who have certified schemes to create and manage peatlands, as well as woodlands, across the UK. If you don’t know, peatlands are a super carbon sink, literally trapping hundreds of tonnes of carbon within the many, many layers of mosses and bog plants. I made a short film about peat bog restoration in Delamere Forest a few years ago which should help give you a better idea of how useful peatlands are in the fight against climate change.

Operations

As my business is based at home, I don’t qualify for commercial recycling collections, therefore I’m still subject to Manchester’s rather daft “bottles only” approach to recycling. My hope is that I’ll be able to add in the small amount of recycling I have to my other business, which is in a commercial address and does need recycling options, particularly for cardboard and metal. Being based at home though does give me more control over certain things.

My electricity is provided by a supplier who generate 100% of it through renewables, including building and maintaining their own wind and solar farms. I don’t need to use disposable cups, plates or cutlery as I can use what’s in my kitchen. I have a milkman who provides us with plastic free groceries and I use loo paper that’s made from 100% recycled paper – plus the company who make the loo paper put 50% of their profits towards building toilets in developing countries in an effort to eradicate illnesses like dysentry.

However, my home is supplied with gas central heating. This isn’t something I think I’ll be able to change in this house as it simply costs far too much; instead I’m trying to get the house better insulated. That way, I won’t need to use the heating as much, as it’ll retain it’s heat far more efficiently.

Packaging

Packaging is an odd thing really. Most people don’t think too much about it, they just buy the boxes they need and that’s that. I’ve had a hard time finding some packaging for products, but in some cases it’s been an even harder time trying to justify the additional costs that come with some fully recycled packaging.

Overall I’m quite pleased to have found product packaging options for my own brand products which are created from fully recycled materials. This is important because we shouldn’t really be cutting more trees down to fix the plastic packaging problem, not when paper and card can be reused and recycled a few times first. The tissue paper and packing paper I use in wrapping and packing your orders are both made from recycled paper, as are the stickers I use and the little purchase cards I pop in the box. The twine I use to tie tags onto items like point turners is also made from recycled cotton and all the packaging directly connected to my products is fully recycled too; the cardboard swing tags, those little envelopes the cork labels are in, the boxes for my seam rippers and awls, and the cardboard packaging for my knitting needles and crochet hooks, all are made from fully recycled materials.

The only real outlier now are the boxes I use to ship your purchases out to you. These are not made from recycled materials, simply because at present I can’t afford to absorb the additional costs associated with buying like-for-like shipping boxes made from recycled paper. However, the supplier I buy my shipping boxes from does operate a plant-a-tree-for-every-order scheme, so it’s not quite as disappointing as it might otherwise be.

My goal is to be able to have all packaging made from 100% recycled materials, so I’ve still got a way to go but I’m a good deal of the way there already. In future, I’d love to be able to get a packaging cutter of my own – this would enable me to have complete control over my packaging shapes and sizes and would actually enable me to stock a wider range of products, as it’s quite difficult to find packaging for smaller items like needles.

Of course, I can only really control how the packaging for my own brand items is produced, so I have no idea of the recycled content of the boxes the William Whiteley scissors I stock are in, for example. I have, however, removed every cable tie and plastic blade sheath that has come with these scissors and replaced them with my recycled cotton twine. There’s still some discussions to be had regarding their use of plastic in this form, though I’m confident that they are still the most sustainable scissor option at present. I’ve been collecting up these little bits of plastic rather than throwing them away, in the hopes of being able to find a recycling solution that works for me.

Shipping

While I do offer carbon neutral shipping with UPS, virtually all of my customers have opted to use Royal Mail. Royal Mail is of course cheaper and has a very well established delivery network all across the UK, so this isn’t too surprising really, though UPS do work out as very good value for tracked delivery compared to using Special Delivery services from Royal Mail. Both Royal Mail and UPS are making real efforts to decarbonise their delivery networks in the near future, so I’d like to hope that within the next couple of years we see this becoming a reality.

I try my best to walk or cycle to the post office to drop orders off, though this hasn’t always been possible. In these cases, I’ve tried to add the journey to the post office into a longer one to justify using the car. On one occasion I booked in a collection from Royal Mail, though this only really works if I book the collection in for the next day, as my postie comes around 11am. It worked out fine for that occasion though.

Sustainable actions going into Year Two

I’ve recently joined Ecologi. Each month, I pay a subscription to them to plant trees and offset the rough equivalent of my carbon emissions from the business. On top of this, every order received since 21st September also plants a tree automatically with Ecologi. It’s a small step towards making the business truly carbon neutral, but my Ecologi subscription and the intended offsetting with Forest Carbon of CO2e already incurred (and emissions from products going forward) will certainly help towards this goal.

As previously stated, all future own-brand stock will be manufactured in the UK wherever possible, with an increasing amount of it manufactured by me. My filmmaking business has already started manufacturing its own products and so I already have access to several of the machines I’ll need. I’ve identified a couple of wood yards where I can purchase UK grown timber too, having already bought some for products I have in the pipeline.

I’m also currently learning to draft my own sewing patterns and write my own crochet ones. My main goal for these is for them to be minimal waste patterns, using up scraps and leftovers wherever possible or using exact amounts of fabric and yarn. They’ll likely be primarily PDF patterns, though I can see the benefit of having paper pattern options too for things like gift sets and kits. Should I go down that route, I would of course ensure all paper and card is recycled and that all inks are environmentally friendly. In the meantime, while I’m learning, I’m doing my best to use recycled paper and avoid plastic. I do need to present my sewing pattern portfolio though and my course has stipulated the type of portfolio must include plastic wallets, but I’ve already found one which fits the bill that is made from a minimum of 50% recycled plastic.

I’ve realised that I need a middle size shipping box, as there’s a huge gap between the two sizes I have. My aim is for this to be the first shipping box I have which is made from recycled materials, later replacing the current sizes I already have with equivalent sizes of recycled boxes.

I have a great deal more planned for this coming year, though whether my plans actually make it to fruition is another thing entirely! It’s been quite difficult managing two businesses, more so now that I have a course to attend each week, and so unfortunately I haven’t yet found the ideal balance to keep everything running. I am working on this though and trying to find a good solution which works for both businesses. This is going to be key to keeping the business sustainable for myself as well as the environment, so I’m quite keen to find the right solution.

Looking further ahead to the future

Sustainability is and always has been a core principal of this business, one that will never change. That’s why I’ve always been keen to have a publicly visible sustainability policy on my Social Responsibility page – and I’ve called it that not just because there’s more than sustainability on there, but because it is everyone’s social responsibility to be more sustainable. I know I’ve not always made the best choices, but I’ve made the right ones for the time that I made them and I can make even better choices going forward.

The dream is to have a super energy efficient little wooden building with a turf roof for the business, surrounded by woodland and supplied entirely by renewable energy created on site. It would have a workshop for manufacturing products, a stock room, a sewing and pattern drafting room with a comfy chair for crocheting in, and possibly a dye studio too, with a dye plant garden outside.

But that’s all just a dream at present!

I think the area I need to work most on, other than building up my range of products, is marketing. It’s a bit of a catch-22 in that without decent marketing, the business will always remain tiny as it won’t reach new customers but without a wider range of products, I won’t be able to attract new customers. I’ve already identified new sustainable products from other brands that I wish to stock, though it’s a case of working out where my priorities lie with which products I want to launch and when.

In the future, I’d love to have a stall at events like the Knitting and Stitching show, which is currently happening in London and will be in Harrogate in a few weeks time. It would be amazing to have a platform like that to talk more about sustainable sewing, knitting and crocheting! Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be in a position to do that, though I think it’ll be a couple more years yet – and hopefully by then, sustainability will be more widely considered in this sector by suppliers and consumers alike.