By K W Warburton, The Reluctant Spoonie
When I first started selling my handmade creations online, my first thought was how do I make this handmade business sustainable? Not only with regards to the economic factors such as profit but also with regards to the environmental and social impacts of the business.
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These may not be the first thoughts that someone has when they start selling on Etsy, but with my background in sustainable development, I wanted to ensure that my small handmade business had a minimal impact on the environment, benefited my community and also turned a profit.
Common mistakes from handmade business owners
I see a lot of sellers making the same mistakes when it comes to becoming more sustainable (or ‘greening up’ as I like to call it). They will put out one product or line and market that as sustainable to make themselves appear to be a sustainable business. When in reality, their business model may not be sustainable at all! Large companies such as H&M, Primark and others do the same thing for marketing purposes. It’s greenwashing. We can all see through your marketing plan.
The best thing that large and small business can do to reduce their environmental impact and increase their social contributions is to change their business model. Consider people and planet before profit.
My sustainable handmade business
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Packaging and shipping materials were the first sustainable things that I had to source. I wanted my packaging to be plastic-free which turned out to be a nightmare with regards to reasonably-priced padded envelopes. In the end, I decided to go with Jiffy Green Bags, which are made out of recycled paper and are made from a single material (as opposed to plastic-lined bubble envelopes which are mixed materials). This means that they can easily be reused or recycled by my customers. These envelopes are slightly more expensive than plastic bubble envelopes but are much easier to recycle after use.
My supply chain is pretty short. I order all my materials from local businesses or I use donated materials from friends. Being the sole creator and owner of the business, I make all the items myself and ship them myself. I reuse any waste that I produce such as yarn ends as stuffing for my amigurumi’s which closes the loop of my production line.
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The social benefits of my business include donating 10% of my profits each year to a chronic illness charity. I also have my own non-profit letter writing service which I make crochet items for, free of charge.
How to make your handmade business sustainable
Consider your waste as a product or resource
- Reduce waste by reusing waste materials
- Make it easy for your customers to recycle or re-use packaging
- Source materials locally to reduce your carbon footprint
- Consider carbon offsetting your shipping by planting a tree for every order (if you sell through Etsy, they do that for you!)
- Be transparent with your customers. If there’s something that you need to work on to make your handmade business more sustainable, let them know. Don’t gloss over it! Today’s consumers are well informed and will call you out.
These are just starting points to make your handmade business more sustainable. Your business will never be 100% zero waste or carbon-neutral, but there are ways that you can reduce your contribution to climate change and other environmental impacts.
To sum up
Overall, the environmental impacts of my handmade business are small, the social contributions are large and my profits are modest (there is a ceiling to the amount that I can personally make as the sole crafter for this business). By considering the various impacts of my handmade business before I started has helped me to create a sustainable business model and a sustainable handmade business that I can be proud of.
If you have further questions about starting a sustainable handmade business or you are interested in sustainable living, then please join my discussion group here.