Innovation

Sustainable small businesses: You don’t have to be big to have an impact

Yolanda Redrup /


Re-use, not recycle

One small business helping others be environmentally-friendly is Bettlebox. Founded by Glen Christie in April 2012, it hires reusable plastic boxes for people moving house.

“The idea is it makes moving easier than using traditional cardboard boxes, more convenient, more cost-effective, and it’s just a better solution,” Christie says.

“Regular boxes are used once or twice and then thrown away, but we actually get them back, have them cleaned and then they’re ready for someone else to use. The idea is they can get several hundred uses out of each box and they’re recyclable at the end of their life.”

Christie says reusing boxes is better than recycling.

“The model’s started to pick up pace in other cities around the world. There are a class of people who are interested in the environmental aspect of the business, they’re looking for a green solution and they search the internet when they’re moving and we come up in the results.

“But you just can’t depend on the people looking for a green solution. It needs a green message, but it also has to be highly competitive against the traditional competition in the field. There are hardcore environmentalists who will pay more for a green business, but as soon as my pricing is a premium to the alternatives people switch off that method.”

When Beetlebox first launched, Christie heavily marketed the environmental aspect of the business, however, he’s moved away from that strategy.

“That’s the reality of business… it’s still at the core of my model, but I’ve found people respond better to some of the other positive benefits of the product. I now emphasise convenience and price competitiveness, rather than environmental advantage,” he says.

As well as providing people with an environmentally sustainable moving solution, Christie makes bulk orders to reduce transportation and packaging, considers the sustainability of new products he sells and discusses ways to make products more sustainable with his suppliers.

“All the packing paper is recycled paper and that’s recyclable, as is the bubble wrap. With the boxes themselves there was a choice at the fabrication stage whether to buy virgin or recycled plastic. Looking at the benefits of each, we went with the virgin plastic because, while it’s not recycled, it creates a more durable and stronger finished product,” he says.

“In some ways it’s counterintuitive, but with recycled plastic you have to have new ones made more regularly. We determined the environmental footprint was less overall by using virgin plastic.”

In 2014, Christie is looking to reduce the environmental impact of transporting the boxes by ensuring the trucks can use biodiesel and have good mileage.

For small businesses wanting to become more sustainable, Christie recommends becoming more energy efficient.

“Many businesses can be more efficient by combining locations with other businesses and working in shared spaces. This can reduce costs, as well as usage of heating and electricity. In terms of transportation, you should also think about how to optimise routes. You can eliminate 50km a day just by being clever about it, which makes a pretty huge impact,” he says.

But Wright says many small businesses are deterred by the perceived costs.

“Each initiative isn’t really that expensive. You can’t do them all at once, but with each step you move toward being more sustainable. Businesses can look at packaging and electricity usage for starters. You can take steps to improve these aspects of your business on a daily basis.”

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