To borrow a phrase from a tv show filmed locally back in the day, it's not easy being green. It has always been really important to me to run as eco-friendly a business as possible and I was really proud that the beach shop was nominated in the Cornwall Sustainability Awards 2020.
Partly due to repeated lockdowns and partly due to physical size constraints of the beach shop itself, my focus over the last few months has been to grow the online side of the business. In doing so, I've realised quite how much I love sourcing and carefully curating collections of gifts, jewellery, homewares and souvenirs. Our product ranges not only remind you of what a special place Readymoney is but also support wonderful small-business crafters, artists, makers and creatives in Fowey, in Cornwall and in some cases, further afield.
So many of these businesses either grew or are still run from kitchen tables across the West Country, often having to fit in and around "real jobs" (the concept of "real jobs" is a topic for another day...) and I absolutely love being able to work with such wonderful products and lovely suppliers to bring these products to you. However an increase in online sales inevitably meant having to take a long hard look at how my online orders would be packed and posted, a whole new world for a rookie fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants retailer like me!
Shopping online has certainly become an immersive experience over recent years, lockdown surges aside, and the trend for sharing unboxing videos on social media has led to some creative thinking on the part of many brands. Brands positively encourage their customers to share their unboxing pictures on social media and their packaging is often eye-catching and adds to the whole experience. This isn't just big businesses either, I've personally received orders from some small creative businesses where parcels have been packed in the most beautiful yet sustainable way which perfectly complements their product and unpacking feels like a real
However, what I struggle with is that if we pare packaging back to basics without any reference to branding or marketing value, it's only real purpose is to convey Object A to Person B safely without incurring damage to the object in question and ultimately, that's where the customer's main priority lies. So for me, it felt more important from the outset to reuse packaging where possible, on the basis that as per the 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' message, reusing should always come before recycling. I make this clear in the delivery section of my website and have recently started using stickers to emphasise how I am proud to reuse packaging. I see that as a positive thing and I hope that my customers do too!
Much to my husband's ongoing frustration, I never throw away any cardboard boxes, envelopes, bubble wrap or other packing materials. Friends locally even drop off their unwanted packaging for me to use. I do occasionally have to buy in packaging and never fail to be surprised by how plastic-free packaging such as cardboard boxes and paper tape cost significantly more than their cheaper plastic equivalents. I try not to be sucked into the greenwashing that is biodegradable or compostable plastic bags (this article is a useful read) although I did buy some once and promptly kicked myself for doing so, but it's an easy trap to fall into.
Whilst I don't claim to have any experience in logistics, the environmental cost of transporting and using the right size package for that particular item is also a relevant consideration. We've all no doubt received big boxes from online orders, containing one small item and a load of packing material, whether it be awful air pillows, scrunched paper, corn starch packing peanuts which disappear down the sink or shock horror, bubble wrap. Although postal size categories may mean that it costs the same to post the item in a small box as a big box, and is probably quicker and easier to pack everything in the same size box, using the most appropriate box for the size of the item means that more packages can be packed on each delivery van, less raw material is required to produce the packaging in the first place and fewer resources are required to dispose of that packaging at the end of it's useable
That said, a balance has to be struck between how a small business presents its brand via its online orders whilst ensuring that presentation is sustainable. I have recently started wrapping most of my online orders in recycled kraft tissue paper sealed with colourful washi tape (check out my current favourite washi supplier here), something which makes a big difference to presentation but is still a sustainable option. This does still require a brand new sheet of paper each time but it is minimal. I use stickers or stamps on the outside of the package and only use paper tape, hopefully conveying my brand message and my ethos of sustainability at the same time. This recent customer review made me smile and certainly suggest that I'm heading in the right direction.
With a nod to that famous William Morris quote "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" my handwritten thank you notes are currently on a picture postcard of Readymoney, with a new bespoke design in development, and I've had some lovely feedback from customers during lockdown about how nice it has been to have a visual reminder of Readymoney whilst they are unable to visit.
Overall, I like to think that I am doing as much as I can to avoid unnecessary and non-sustainable practices but this is an ever changing area and I don't pretend that I get things 100% right. So next time you get an online order from me, please do tell me what you think about it, I'd love to hear your thoughts.