A small business response to the Australian Bushfire disaster and our changing climate
Its Wendy here - owner, fabric lover, and chief of absolutely everything at The Next Stitch. I am not a scientist, or even an activist, but it is apparent to me that climate change is no longer an abstract idea or concept . Our weather patterns have changed and as a small business owner and individually I am undertaking to do better.
In early November I flew to Canberra and I was deeply shocked by the sheer scale of the fires as I flew over hundreds and hundreds of kilometers of fire-front along the Great Dividing Range. In the lead up to Christmas those fires were still alight and as the devastation continued to spread and danger intensified, the magnitude of the disaster was weighing heavily on me.
It is really easy to be overwhelmed but I have always found comfort in action, and I also am convinced that individual actions can and do matter. So here is a summary of what I have done thus far in response to Australia's catastrophic bush fires and my initial efforts in making better choices as a business.
1.I made a cash donation
On the 23rd of December, I announced to my followers on Instagram that I would donate my Christmas eve takings (less the tax and shipping costs) to the Australian Red Cross disaster relief and recovery fund. Christmas eve is normally one of the quietest days of the year for me as a business. I hoped to be able to donate $600, but pledged to donate at least $300, whatever happened.
I was nervous.
What if no one bought anything? What if people bought now, but my sales in January tanked because of it? Was I going to be able to pay my suppliers?
I should have known better though as my customers really are a tremendous bunch. I was overwhelmed by the response and we surpassed my $600 goal for the day and I was able to make a $1000 cash donation.
The process to donate was super easy, though I must admit I was a bit surprised that there wasn't a PayPal option available. Doing the right thing sometimes takes a little extra effort right? And digging out my card and plugging in the number wasn't that big a deal.
For everyone who participated, this is a copy of the digital receipt and accompanying donation number.
2. Responsible shipping & reducing single use plastic
In September 2019 Australia Post made changes to the way they calculated postage on parcels. This meant I wasn't restricted to using their red pre-paid satchels when sending parcels interstate. I'd been using compostable 'plastic-like' mailers for about 12 months to post parcels which were less than 500g as I could do this cost-effectively, but as soon as these changes were announced I began using them for all orders.
At the same time as these Australia Post's deliveries went carbon neutral - you can read about that here Talk about a win-win!
Compostable mailers break down in 3-6 months when buried in the earth or placed in a home compost system. They are a more expensive option, yet I've elected to absorb the cost of that choice rather than pass it on directly to my customers. I want to make doing the right thing part of my business, not an opt in choice for customers who are prepared to pay a premium.
Typically a plastic mailer costs half as much as a compostable one. (Currently I'm paying about 20 cents instead of 8 cents for plastic). When you think about how long the plastic version takes to break down, I reckon it is worth it, and that's before I even consider the potential benefits to my brand and increase in customer loyalty (though these are also pretty super!)
Between September and the end of the year, this one small change means there are roughly 600 fewer plastic bags from The Next Stitch going to landfill. This is the difference just one business can make.
For items like Free-Wheeling Single Girl templates which need a firmer option. I've always re-purposed cardboard from fabric deliveries, and now my neighbors even save their beer cartons so that I can chop them up with my Stanley knife and turn them into rigid yet light packaging. I think it is worth that little bit of extra effort, and I know it gives people a bit of a laugh at the other end when they arrive.
3. Using my influence
Yes. Influence. I've not really thought about it before, but evidently I have a bit.
I was humbled by all the messages from individuals who were inspired to make their own donation. There were also other businesses who shared my post about raising funds and messaged me that they had also followed suit and kicked off their own fund raising efforts. (This may have led to an unplanned yarn purchase on Christmas day. Ha!)
Now in no way am I claiming to be responsible for the huge number of businesses, small and large, that launched their own campaigns to support bushfire relief in the dark days of the new year, but clearly businesses and individuals were inspiring each other to act and this is great.
Right now, (that's January 2020 for folk who read this in the months ahead) I am inching my way towards 8k followers on Instagram. I check out the account of every single new follower and know there are many other quilt shops following me, and there are international folk who will probably never become a customer
That's fine, and in fact I want them to notice our lovely, worm-friendly black mailers and ask their local quilt shop about what they are doing to reduce their impact on the environment. I don't bother blocking other quilt shops, partly because I think there is room for everyone, but now I also want them to worry that their customers will think they aren't doing enough if they continue to use single use packaging. Because frankly, its the truth.
I will be posting more regularly about my efforts to reduce The Next Stitch's impact on the environment. I know already that my customers are loving the mailers and I will be encouraging them to think about using their influence as a customer and ask their favourite retailers for sustainable packaging.
Life as a retailer is tough at the moment and there has never been a better time to ask. Trust me - they will be listening.
As the Paul Kelly song goes: 'From little things, big things grow'
If just one other business the same size as mine follows my lead then that will be 5000 fewer plastic bags going to landfill in 2020. That matters a lot to me.
Last of all
These are my baby steps. They are wobbly and imperfect, and I'm not even sure what will come next. But for now I'm walking and I'm determined to get better at it