This article champions small businesses who are taking action on their sustainability. Transparency is key when it comes to a business’ sustainability journey, which is why we have included any challenges these small businesses have faced, along with their successes.

There are many small business owners who have joined the Small99 community. Our community is a place for connecting with others, being inspired by stories and overcoming challenges together in order to accelerate progress to net zero.

Boy Wonder

Boy Wonder was founded by Ismay Mummery, and is a sustainable boy’s fashion brand, featuring hand-drawn prints on certified organic cotton. Following circular design principles, Boy Wonder’s garments incorporate in-built extra growth room, complimentary repair kits and garment care guides to prolong their life so that they can be passed down and cherished by others.

Currently, Ismay’s business is taking a bit of a backseat (though her shop is very much still open!) as she undertakes a full-time PHD, extending much of what Boy Wonder is about: looking at using repair to keep clothing in use.

Shop Boy Wonder in Hope + Story’s pop-up shop in Worcester, online at Great and The Good, as well as on Boy Wonder’s website directly.

“Living a low impact life by being a vegan, not flying and driving an electric car helps me to not only inspire others to become more sustainable but also to combat my eco-anxiety. My work is an extension of my core values as I believe our world will be a better place when fashion isn’t based on exploitation or over extraction of our planet’s resources.

I am a fashion designer mum with a drive to create a better world for my son. My son is the Boy Wonder, the muse and model of the brand. After working in graphics for some years following my BA, I graduated with a masters degree from the London College of Fashion. I went on to work as a designer both in-house and freelance for various small companies including a brief stint at the street label, Firetrap. Designing for men’s, women’s and childrenswear, print design has become my specialism. I had a prolonged career break to care for my late husband and to bring up my son.”

Challenges

  • Sourcing sustainable fabrics that are British-made 
  • Finding digital printers to use my British-made organic cotton, who often don’t like using fabrics that aren’t their own
  • Having very little support – I established my own networks and communities for feedback and advice from like-minded individuals and businesses 
  • Little-to-no funding and not being eligible for any government support during the pandemic 
  • Juggling being a widowed mum with setting up a business!

Successes

  • Finalist in the Blue Patch Sustainable Business Awards for the last two years 
  • Named as a ‘childrenswear brand to watch’ by Drapers magazine
  • Featured in an editorial in Harper’s Bazaar Kids online 
  • Interviewed by Future Textile magazine
  • Partner MSE in the Fostering Sustainable Practices research project by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion.

Ismay’s business journey was presented to the Westminster Business Forum and the Sustainability and Ethics APPG. This research has formed a policy proposal and a guidebook for fashion support bodies to create more sustainable ways of working in the industry!

Boy Wonder’s products and packaging are plastic-free and are made from recycled or biodegradable material. The business is fully transparent by providing factory and supplier lists, behind the scenes footage, and makers’ bios. 

Ismay seeks to encourage her audience to buy less, buy better and wear more, by creating new ways of thinking about fashion.

“As all our jersey garments are knitted, printed and made ethically in Leicester just over 20 miles from our studio, their carbon footprint is very low. They travel approximately 56% less than big brands and according to Nottingham University, making them in the UK creates 47% less emissions. 

I believe Britain could and should become as renowned for its sustainable and ethical fashion production standards as it is for its quality and classic design.” Boy Wonder aims to become B Corp-certified by 2025 and calculates that through its efforts, they are already a climate positive company.

Seven Makes

Owned by Sarah, Seven Makes is an online shop that offers sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic items. Sarah is based in Northern Ireland, and offers local collection as well as delivery, and has customers from all over the world.

“At Seven Makes, I’m passionate about providing people with reusable, quality products that look good! I started Seven Makes during lockdown, by sewing reusable face masks. Through this I discovered my love for sewing and I started to develop a range of reusable alternatives to single use products that people could rely on to save them money in the long term, as well as the obvious environmental impact.

I’ve always had a passion for sustainable products and, as a vegan, I will always ensure that all the products I use are free from animal products; I print some of my own fabrics and the fabric ink I use is vegan and, instead of being heat cured, will air dry for 7 days after which it’s machine washable.

Sarah enjoys taking part in Craft Markets where she can engage with people and ask them about their own sustainability journey.

“Reusable products which go down really well at markets right now are UnPaper Towels (a reusable alternative to kitchen roll), Facial Cleansing Pads (instead of cotton wool pads), and my awesome Luxury Reusable Sanitary Pads!

Challenges

Sarah is always looking for ways to reduce waste, which means constantly making changes to the way her business operates. 

“Even small changes like my move from round facial cleansing pads to square ones mean that there’s no waste! 

I use organic cotton and bamboo as much as possible too, and for every £20 a customer spends with me, a tree is planted somewhere in the world where it’s most needed through my partnership with Ecologi!

You can view the Seven Makes virtual forest here.

Sarah White Branding and Photography

Sarah White is a Personal Branding Specialist and Photographer, helping socially and environmentally-conscious business owners feel more confident about being visible and letting their audience get to know them.

“Often the owners of the most ethically run and sustainable businesses are the ones who are least likely to want to draw attention to themselves. They are passionate about helping others and want to focus on that. But we can’t create and influence change unless our voices are heard, so my aim is to help these passionate individuals to find visibility strategies that allow them to achieve the kind of impact that they know is possible, without compromising their values.”

Unless on a shoot, Sarah works from home so some of her business changes are personal ones too. Sarah has also made the decision to specifically target social and environmental businesses to work with.

“We often worry that if we niche down too much then our business will struggle as we will exclude lots of potential customers. On the contrary, I believe that we are much more likely to be successful if we are open about who we want and are best placed to serve. If we are clear about our values, then those who feel similarly will choose to work with us over the competition.”  

Sarah meets most of her new clients through networking events that tend to use business cards and leaflets. Instead of carrying printed materials, Sarah uses a reusable pop-up banner with QR code, and has a virtual business card on her phone too. 

“I took part in the Small Business Sustainability course earlier this year and found it incredibly useful for understanding the other implications of my business on the planet. I don’t travel extensively, but due to the amount of equipment I carry for my photography and the area that I serve not always having good transport links, I do tend to drive to most of my photoshoots and some meetings. I try to car-share when I can, and I drive a small, relatively fuel-efficient vehicle. I am also considering upgrading to an electric car in 2023.”

Sarah sends her photographs digitally, eliminating the need for paper and ink for printed products. 

“I am fortunate that there is a good secondhand culture for buying and selling photography equipment, so my kit is a mixture of new and used, and most of my batteries are rechargeable.”

Challenges

Sarah notes that not carrying business cards sometimes sets her at a disadvantage, as the tech relies on signal and wifi connection. However, she compensates for this by following up with as many people as she can after events. Sarah also sends thank you gifts to her clients, which can pose a challenge.

“I have put a lot of effort into finding gifts that are ethical, sustainable, packed in an environmentally-friendly way and also useful, as I don’t want anything to be wasted. I’ve found this is actually a great way to support small, sustainable businesses.”

Another challenge for Sarah is in the digital storage of her photographs.

“My photography image files are large and need to be backed up in multiple places so that any tech failure doesn’t result in my clients’ work being lost. I’m aware that the energy used by data storage facilities is huge. I currently use external harddrives as well as some cloud backup, but I am looking at ways to reduce how many images I store. I have also made sure that my website hosting is with a company who takes their green credentials seriously.

As small businesses, we are often fortunate that we can make better choices without having to consult too many people or make vast changes to our processes. So let’s be bold, stand up for what we believe in and show others the way that business should be done!”

CanalPath

CanalPath is a creative agency based in Edinburgh, founded by Derek Watson, a chartered graphic designer. As a small business, CanalPath Creative views sustainability as critical to the business from an environmental and economic point of view.

“As a specifier of paper and board, I have always looked for recycled, perhaps even more importantly, recyclable and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified stock. Minimising waste, and unnecessary plastic including laminate in printed output has always been a priority. Using local suppliers makes managing this much easier and gives greater visibility of the supply chain.

A long-time Apple user, I have always been delighted with the longevity of their products and now also the recyclability as they are happy to take old equipment back to recycle.

“I was impressed the first time I attended a meeting for one client earlier this year and they informed me there are no disposable cups and that everyone was expected to bring their own ‘keep cup’… Unfortunately, this would have been information more useful to have received in advance! I am always prepared now and carry my Whale & Dolphin Conservation Bamboo Travel Mug – I would definitely recommend one!

Challenges

The COVID19 pandemic meant that Derek (as well as many other business owners) would be working from home.

“I invested in a garden office and spoke to the Energy Saving Trust about how best to ensure it would be as sustainable as possible. An air source heating and cooling solution was decided upon although a much higher initial cost made perfect sense for the longer term.”

When writing a sustainability statement, Derek had to contact all of their suppliers to ensure they were doing all they could and had a strategy in place.

“Many projects are digital-only now but this does not always offer the savings they appear, since online storage and distribution costs need to be taken into account. The sustainable forest management of paper manufacturers is also good for carbon capture. What generally isn’t known is that the amount of water mentioned in paper production statistics doesn’t take into account that it does not disappear but is returned to the water supply at the end of the process and will be cleaner than it was going in.

It has been an interesting journey to spend more and more time in online meetings rather than travelling to clients’ offices, although some projects, especially with public bodies, have been challenging as they have tended to drag on much longer than they should due to the unavailability of staff working on the projects.”

Hannah Turner Ceramics

Hannah Turner runs a ceramics business. Hannah’s designs include sculptural creatures, particularly birds and fish. Hannah Turner Ceramics is a Small99 Hero, and you can view the business’ sustainability progress here.

“About 4 years ago I started really looking at how we could improve the business and be as sustainable as possible. There wasn’t much help at the time, but we calculated our carbon and started looking at what we could do. We stopped flying, for work and personal trips, and got a hybrid car. These were easy wins at the time. We made a few other changes, made personal decisions that reduced our footprints, became vegan, planted a few trees…

It stalled a bit as we hit COVID. I then joined in with the COP26 activities, discovered Small99, and got back on track. We changed the business bank to an ethical bank, started tracking our energy use in earnest and also started applying for funding to try and help us switch to renewables.”

Challenges

Hannah has bought a new kiln for UK manufacturing, which has dramatically reduced their energy usage. Hannah would like to install solar panels on the roof next, but this is challenging as she does not own the building.

“I am still getting quotes, nagging the landlord, and now looking into a small system we can take with us if we move, that might provide at least some residual heating in the day via a battery pack, to heat the rooms a bit. 

Our landlord provided new windows for some of our rooms, and we funded quite a few new ones ourselves. He also insulated the walls of our offices and my pottery, but stopped short of the ceiling. So, we are existing in quite a cold, large old building with very little heat. What we do have in the way of heating is electric – we have put space heaters (infrared) in a couple of places, as they use less energy, but it isn’t brilliant.”

Hannah identifies that most of the hurdles in her business’ sustainability journey stems from its scope 3 (supply chain) emissions, as their ceramics are made in Sri Lanka.

“I have tried getting [the supplier’s] to assess energy use, but they mostly use fossil fuels (gas) and they are a developing country without funds to make the changes. I have explored getting designs made in the UK but I would have to make big changes to my business model, so this will be a slow process.

I have committed to net zero by 2030, but I don’t know how I can do this without help!”

Beauty Kitchen

Jo-Anne Chidley is the founder of Beauty Kitchen, a sustainable, vegan, natural skincare and beauty brand. They are based in Wishaw, Scotland and you can view their online shop here.

Beauty Kitchen makes sustainable products that fit into the circular economy, where no waste is created and resources are constantly reused. Their sustainability efforts have led them to become the highest scoring B-corp beauty brand in Europe. They reuse their packaging and have saved over four million single-use bottles from going to landfill.

Making sustainable options accessible and affordable will change the way everyone views their environment. When it proved difficult to find waste zero products that considered both ingredient and packaging sustainability, I decided to take matters into my own hands which is how Beauty Kitchen began. My background is in chemistry, herbal botany and later within HR, which has played a huge role in running my own business.”

Beauty Kitchen’s product range has expanded from skincare to haircare, bath & body care, plastic-free accessories, and sustainable sanitisers, to their Reuse Revolution initiative, which eliminates packaging waste, engages people in more sustainable habits and keeps reusable bottles flowing in a technical cycle. 

“Initially, we incorporated the programme with Beauty Kitchen but have expanded to helping other businesses out with their own sustainability initiatives. So what does this have to do with our own Net Zero journey? Everything – it’s about how your business looks at Net Zero as a business opportunity, your next innovation, a story to talk about, a community that supports each other and shares their challenges alongside their successes.”

You can see Beauty Kitchen’s Small99 badge listed on YouK’s website.  

Inspiration Space

Liana Fricker is Founder & Inspirer-in-Chief at Inspiration Space, which  offers high-quality entrepreneurial education. Inspiration Space uses the power of creativity to inspire the entrepreneurial spirit that keeps our world progressing. 

“At Inspiration Space, we believe that tackling climate change can be a creative and inspiring process. That’s why we’ve created our Low Carbon Accelerator, a programme for fellow micro-SMEs that makes it easier to reduce your carbon footprint and make your business more sustainable.

One of the things I’m most proud of is creating a sensible and achievable plan to become net-zero or carbon negative within the next two years. I have set a strict carbon budget and plan to offset 100% of our past emissions and 100% of our future emissions.

We already use 100% renewable electricity, and approximately 3% of our gas comes from renewable sources. Additionally, 47% of our third-party software suppliers use renewable energy for hosting and 45% of those suppliers are certified as “carbon neutral” organisations.

Challenges

“Our current bank is not divested from fossil fuels and our website produces more carbon than 53.9% of other sites online. That’s why we’ve decided to move our business account to a bank that’s divested from fossil fuels, to avoid indirectly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

We’re also providing carbon literacy training to the startups we work with in our mentoring program, Build. This will help them understand the environmental impact of their operations and take steps to reduce their carbon emissions.

I know that achieving net-zero is a complex and ongoing process. That’s why we’ve joined the Small99 campaign, which aims to help 1 million micro-SMEs become net-zero by 2025. 

I believe that by working together, we can create a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly business ecosystem. We’re excited to be part of this important movement and hope to inspire others to take action as well.”

You can view Inspiration Space’s sustainability progress here within Small99 Hero.

Buttercup Learning

By offering a variety of educational resources, including literacy, conservation books, e-learning, and nature prints that use augmented reality, Buttercup Learning offers multisensory, action-packed learning to support the next generation of environmentalists. See their sustainability progress here.

Buttercup Learning is committed to being a sustainable company, and has made considerable progress in lowering its carbon footprint. This includes minimising its digital footprint via a sustainable website, which is powered by 100% renewable energy. Their green hosting company, Erjjio, offsets their site with 3 trees planted every month through the Eden Reforestation Project. Through Stripe, Buttercup Learning contributes 1% of product proceeds to carbon removal and scaling technologies to combat climate change.

“We know that a large part of our scope 3 emissions relate to our supply chain and understanding how we can find ways of reducing that impact has become a top priority. Spherics has been a great tool to help us begin to understand scope 3. 

“We’re also looking at how to continually reduce our scope 1 and 2 emissions. Simple actions such as remembering to turn off our router at night can all add up to a reduction in energy use. An average router consumes 6 watts per hour. A router can generate 24 kilograms of carbon dioxide every year.”

Buttercup is committed to ethical and responsible sourcing of their materials. They use recycled papers and inks, print on demand, reuse packaging materials wherever possible, and aim to become a zero-waste business.

“Our art prints are printed by our supplier, InkThreadable, using only water-based inks. Buttercup HQ uses refillable ink cartridges for their test prints, which are then donated to local schools and community centres. 

DPD, one of our print-on-demand delivery partners, has a carbon-neutral commitment. All purchases are packaged 100% plastic-free (with the exception of framed prints, which are protected by biodegradable bubble wrap).”

Buttercup Learning is a supporter of the Positive Impact Community and Better Business Act.

“We want to go beyond sustainability and give back more than we take. We want to restore natural ecosystems and empower people to thrive. A regenerative economy is not just preferable, but has the ability to unlock both a solutions revolution for people and planet, and to deliver systems change. Whereas sustainability views the planet as a resource that must be shared; the regenerative economy recognises Earth as a conscious living being and demands that we assume the role of caretakers. 

We examine all stages of products’ life cycles for their environmental and ethical impacts. We only work with suppliers who share our values.”

Challenges

“Some of our suppliers are larger companies than us, so our leverage is limited. Some suppliers don’t want to share details; others have been really transparent about their own sustainability journeys. It has taken up a lot of time that could have been spent on other business activities. However, I feel it has set a solid foundation for our business values and positions our brand clearly for consumers.”

Buttercup Learning is currently working on creating an accessible, fun sustainable actions and impact report to post to its website and social media.

What to do next?

Consider shopping from the above and support sustainable small businesses!

Hopefully these stories from small business owners about their respective sustainability journeys provide inspiration and insight into what a sustainable business looks like, across different industries.

Sustainability is the ability of your business to sustain itself. Net Zero solutions reduce energy costs, fuel costs, and build diverse supply chains. Although each business has a unique sustainability journey, and with this comes specific challenges, everyone can take action towards their sustainability.

If you’re struggling to get started building a sustainability policy or measuring your emissions, Small99’s tool, Hero, can help. Hero breaks down these big goals into small, achievable steps, so that you can start making an impact quickly. 

With Hero, all progress will be visible to your business, in the form of a timeline which outlines the number of steps completed in each action (and % complete), as well as a timeline of any notes made against the action. Notes you make will also appear here to ensure transparency, and to avoid greenwashing and greenhushing.

This progress page can be publicly shared with customers, suppliers, or used in funding and grant applications. Your achievements will also automatically be added to your progress page, showing the world how far you’ve come!

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