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Putting the environment first - trying to make better decisions as a new business

Putting the environment first

In 2017 I read a book that changed the way I saw my place in the world. The book was called “Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard, the founder and owner of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia. Until this point, it’s safe to say that I was pretty ignorant about the ways in which my lifestyle and decisions were impacting on the environment. l paid little attention to the changes I could have made to reduce my own carbon footprint, thinking “what difference can I make” in the face of the scale of the American automotive industry, the growth of China’s fossil fuel consumption, the emissions from international shipping and an ocean full of plastic. However, in 2017 I posted this letter to the planet Facebook:

“Dear Planet, I’m sorry.

I realise I’ve come to this late and I wish I had written this letter (and arrived at this realisation) 25 years ago…

I’m sorry for the things I have done which have harmed you and for which I can’t undo. Seven years in the Armed Forces probably didn’t help, charging round in helicopters, jets, fast boats (all with high emissions) damaging your surface with tracked vehicles and explosives and filling hillsides, oceans and deserts with copper and brass. I can’t undo what I have done but I am sorry.

In recent years I have made lifestyle decisions without thinking about how they would affect you, the impact that my frivolous purchases and unconsidered energy use would have on driving the growth of industry and the persistent exploitation of your finite natural resources. While I’m buying, they’re digging, drilling, deforesting and burning… all to fuel my casual consumerism. So I’m sorry for this too.

I’m sorry for having been, until recently, someone who felt that saving the environment was someone else’s responsibility, after all what effect could little old me have, changing my light bulbs or driving a smaller car?

So, why have I had this sudden awakening?

Maybe it is that I now have two young children and I’m concerned that I may be leaving to them a planet in a worse state than I found it. Or that the planet which has fed, watered and sheltered me throughout my life, without asking anything in return, may not be able to do the same for my children. Will they ever be able to walk on a glacier or drink from a mountain stream as I have done?

Maybe it’s that I’ve recently listened to Yvon Chouinard’s amazing book, Let My People Go Surfing, which has certainly made me sit up and listen and has had a powerful and immediate effect on my life https://mobile.audible.co.uk/…/Let-My-People-Go-…/B01KB9NH9U

Or maybe it was Leonardo Di Caprio’s incredibly powerful docu-film “Before The Flood” that I watched recently https://g.co/kgs/9eUAV7

…whatever it was, I see myself differently now to how I used to. I realise that if we wait for governments and businesses to “do the right thing”, to become responsible and take real steps towards reversing climate change, it’ll be too late, because in reality they represent us. They follow us, not the other way around. We elect politicians because they support our values. Big business is driven to provide goods and services for consumers like us, and obliged to maximise profits for investors and shareholders. If we sit back waiting for the paradigm of our modern system to change, guess what? We’ll miss it, if we haven’t already.

So, dear planet, I pledge to make changes to become a more responsible citizen and to offset the things which I can’t change.

I will:

✅ consume less: I’ll buy higher quality, longer-lasting, multi-functional, timeless, reparable clothing. I’ll take my groceries without plastic bags or packaging where possible.

✅ carry a re-useable cup/mug to avoid using disposable coffee cups (which can’t be recycled).

✅ buy food from local producers and avoid high-mileage foods.

✅ eat less beef. The deforestation (particularly in the Amazon) to grow cattle feed which is one of the single most destructive activities for our environment, yet no-one talks about it due to the power of the US food industry, intimidation and lobbying.

✅ avoid buying products containing palm oil, another major cause of global deforestation.

✅ try to only buy outdoor reared/wild meat and fish from sustainable fisheries.

✅ try to only buy only organic cotton to avoid the ridiculous amounts of pesticides used to produce inorganic cotton.

✅ use less water (short showers, small toilet flush, re-use clothes instead of washing after every use).

✅ use less elec (energy saving bulbs, turn off lights, use our central heating system more economically).

✅ only buy recycled single-use paper (loo roll, kitchen roll, printer paper).

✅ cycle to work at least one day per week (1hr each way).

✅ compost kitchen waste.

✅ calculate annual household carbon footprint and offset by payment to accredited environmental action, basically a self-imposed “carbon tax”. http://www.carbonfootprint.com

✅ swap our cars for electric or hybrid alternatives within the next 2 years.

✅ replace oil tank in our garden for a more efficient heating system.

✅ commit to donating 1% of business turnover to small-scale environmental causes and hereby join the amazing network of business already doing this “1% For The Planet” http://www.onepercentfortheplanet.org

I know that actions speak louder than words, so I have made a start on my list already and in the last week I have given half of my clothes to a local charity shop. I have also calculated our household carbon footprint for the past 12 months (a shocking 45 tons!) using the questionnaire on this website http://www.carbonfootprint.com and offset it by paying £280 towards environmental projects.

Today is Earth Day 2017 …let’s not leave it to everyone one else to ensure a better legacy for our children.”

When I mentioned all this to my wife Lisa, to her credit she was already there, she’d just been waiting for me to catch on! She was immediately up for making the changes to our lifestyle and two years’ later it’s safe to say we’ve almost achieved everything on that list.

So in 2018 when we had the opportunity to expand our business and considered opening a new premises in Bath, in light of the changes we’d made at home, we wanted to get it right from the start. All growth comes with cost, from financial to the cost on the environment. A bigger premises was going to consume more energy. We were going to need an industrial air conditioning system, extra showers, toilets and a cafe that was going to sell the majority of it’s produce for take-away. We are going to produce more waste, use more water and consume more paper.

Given that the new premises was completely electric we decided that the biggest impact we could have on our environmental footprint was ensuring that the power consumed by the new business was coming from renewable sources. After a short search we discovered Good Energy, a UK renewable energy supplier who match 100% of the energy they supply with renewable energy from their own wind and solars farms, as well as over 1000 independent generators across the UK. Renewable power from offshore wind farms has now become part of their fuel mix, purchasing 12% of the total energy generated by Westermost Rough Wind Farm, a 210MW wind farm in the North Sea.

Good energy - fuel mix

The next biggest-impact decision was about waste. A fitness classes studio doesn’t create much waste but the new cafe was going to be selling most of it’s produce for take-away so we decided that it had to be plastic-free. So this was achieved by using only VegWare compostable cups, containers and cutlery and all the drinks in the chiller-fridge are in recyclable containers: cardboard, glass or cans.

Next was ensuring that we only use recycled single-use paper due to the impact this has on deforestation and the effects of the timber industry on the (loo roll, tissues, kitchen roll, printer paper etc.)

Finally, here are a few of the other things we are doing as a business to try to minimise our impact on the environment:

✅ We recycle all our plastics, paper, glass, tin and cardboard (of course!)

✅ We use non toxic detergents for all in-house laundry.

✅ All products in our showers and WCs are chemical free, cruelty-free and locally-produced.

We are pleased with the start we have made but we also know that there are still lots more things we could be doing to reduce and offset the impact we have on the environment. As such, we will continue to try and make more changes over the years so that as individuals and as a business we are more responsible custodians of our planet.