Today, I was really excited to be invited to speak to the Being Freelance community about ‘green-lancing’ – aka how can freelancers take steps to do good through their business. We had a brilliant chat about all things sustainable business and there were so many different elements to consider, I was inspired to make a list of key things people can consider. In true Sesame Street style, I’ve gone with an A-Z (or, at least, as many letters as I could manage).
There are so many things to consider, I’m sure there’s lots more to add – as you can see, I haven’t got to all the letters yet. What did I miss? Let me know in the comments what I haven’t included so I can keep updating!
What’s my carbon footprint? Is this sustainably sourced? Are there microbeads in this? And palm oil? There are so many things to consider and it can feel overwhelming. So remember, in a lot of cases, there’s an app for that! A few favourites include: MCS’s Good Fish Guide, TreeApp, Giki (new to me but I love it – thanks for the recommendation!), Pawprint, Too Good to Go and Beat the Microbead. Which are your best apps for living a sustainable lifestyle and running a sustainable business (shout them out in the comments)?
A B Corp is a responsible, sustainable business that balances profit and purpose. Becoming B Corp certified involves an in-depth and rigorous certification process looking at all aspects of your business (oh, and there’s a fee). But top tip, if becoming a B Corp isn’t for you (it’s not for everyone, for various reasons) you can still use the free B Corp impact assessment tool to help you determine which areas you might need to improve.
Did you know, turning your camera off during a Zoom meeting (or other video call) can reduce your environmental footprint by 96 percent? If you ever needed a good excuse to turn the camera off when it’s not needed, I think that’s one. And, of course, being able to wear your PJs is just a bonus…
Your carbon footprint is a measure of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by your lifestyle and actions. Everything we do affects our carbon footprint. The method of transport we use to get to a meeting. What food we choose to eat on our lunchbreak. How we heat our homes and offices. Understanding this figure is the first step to help you take action. There are plenty of carbon footprint calculators out there, such as this one from WWF. You can’t be a truly sustainable business if you don’t know what your emissions are (read more about scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions here) so this is an important step to take.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with charities who are doing some really cool work using citizen science. For example, the Marine Megafauna Foundation and Madagascar Whale Shark Project (as well as other megafauna conservation organisations) use photos to identify individual whale sharks and manta rays from their unique patterns. Tourists can submit their own photographs to help researchers build a better picture of the population of the species. There are so many cool citizen science projects out there and it can be easy as a few quick clicks. Help track the effects of climate change on nature and wildlife near you. Warn other gardeners about potentially invasive plant species before they become a problem. Share your wildlife photos to help scientists with their vital conservation research. You can even help WWF count walrus from space!
Did you know 100 billion disposable coffee cups go to landfill each year? They might look like they’re made of paper but most takeaway coffee cups contain a thin layer of plastic which means they’re not recyclable. Investing in a reusable coffee cup is a great way of reducing your waste, particularly if you regularly pick up a takeaway coffee on the way to work – I got mine in 2017 and it’s still going strong.
Personally, I feel there are no competitors when it comes to what we’re doing for the planet. Collaboration is key. Chat to colleagues, other freelancers and, yes, even your competitors to share learnings so you can speed up your sustainability journey. Even from the Being Freelance Q&A I joined, I came away with plenty of new insights and tips from the viewers sharing their comments and experiences. Working together gets us all where we want to be faster.
Is there a charity or cause you care about that aligns with your values? Donating to your favourite causes – either through ad hoc or regular donations – is a great way to use your profits to give back. Even better, can you commit to donating a certain amount (such as 1%) of your net profit to charity? For me, I make a donation to my chosen charities on behalf of each new client I work with as well as making ad hoc donations where I can.
Sustainability is a complex topic. There are many nuances and things are changing all the time. So, education is key. Take time to educate yourself and, where possible (without being finger-waggy), educate others. If we all share our solutions, we can help each other make progress faster.
Whether your in an office or working from home, you’ll be consuming energy. Little changes to minimise your energy usage (turn off lights and computers when not in use, only boil as much water in the kettle as you need, turn down the heating by a degree and pop on a jumper – or, in my case, several blankets) soon add up. Plus, using less energy means lower energy bills. Win. You could also look at switching to a green energy provider – and make sure you let your previous supplier know why you left. Consumer demand is vital in pushing big companies to make a change.
Every action matters
Every choice that we take really does matter. And that’s empowering. Yes we’re ‘just’ one person but we can each do things every single day that has a positive difference. So let’s get to it.
Choose Fairtrade products. Fairtrade is changing the way trade works through better prices, good working conditions and a fairer deal for farmers and workers.
Wait, some FONTS are more sustainable than others? That’s right. I knew that using system fonts on your website can be more environmentally friendly (more on sustainability and web fonts here and here) but the designers in the chat let us know that fonts are important when printing materials too. It’s all to do with reducing ink and paper consumption and, as I’m by no means a design expert, you can find out more details here.
Turning your heating down by just one degree can have a big impact on your energy usage and you might not even notice the change in temperature. Or, if you’re like me and feel the cold like crazy, get those sweaters, blankets and hot water bottles at the ready so you can stay snug while working without blasting the heating too high.
When you’re having a tea (or coffee) break, make sure you only fill the kettle with as much water as you need. Boiling more than you need is, quite simply, a waste of energy. And if you’re planning on having a biccie with your cuppa, scroll down to the palm oil section to see which biscuits are a better choice.
As a freelancer, our work and life can often blend together: doing the school run in ‘working hours’, catching up with client work on weekends etc. I think the same is (and should be) true of sustainability, particularly if you work from home. If this is something you care about, try to make it part of your lifestyle as well as your business practices – taking steps in all aspects of your life will also make it easier for new actions to become habits. Think: choosing fairtrade, plastic-free tea bags, sustainable toilet rolls (we’ve switched to Who Gives a Crap), reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based meals, reducing your paper usage and more.
Using local products and suppliers is a great way to have a positive impact on your local community through your business.
As a freelancer trying to be more responsible and sustainable, I think we have to admit and acknowledge that we are going to make mistakes. Don’t let the pressure of perfection put you off trying. As the saying goes: “to solve the climate crisis, we don’t need one perfect environmentalist. We need billions of imperfect environmentalists.” So, keep trying to take positive steps, continue to educate yourself (as the ground is shifting under our feet) and, if you make a mistake, learn from it, adapt and keep trying.
Choosing where to invest your money is one of the most powerful ways you can have a positive impact on the planet. Look for an ethical banking provider (Triodos, the Charity Bank etc. are great), switch to a sustainable pension fund and choose sustainable investment funds rather than supporting things like oil, coal, weapons and other icky stuff.
Carbon offsetting – aka offsetting your carbon footprint by supporting reforestation or other environmental projects – seems to be a bit of a buzzword at the moment. This Guardian article dives deeper into what carbon offsetting is and how it works. For me, offsetting can be a great solution IF it’s used in combination with other actions (such as, importantly, taking steps reducing your carbon footprint) and your offsetting projects have a proven impact – as you might imagine, some are more effective than others. I’m a member of the Ecologi Climate Committee and regularly plant trees through Ecologi because I’ve been impressed with the company’s work to ensure the projects they support are all ranked highly in terms of climate change solutions. Check them out. If you like them, feel free to plant some trees using my affilliate link (if you sign up using this link, we both get 30 ‘sparkly’ trees).
Palm oil is included in a huge range of products. Once you start looking out for it, you’ll find it almost everywhere. However, the creation of palm oil can cause deforestation and other severe issues for nature, wildlife and local communities. Palm oil can be created sustainably (it is complex and, yes, there are still some issues with certified sustainable palm oil) so choosing to avoid products which use unsustainable palm oil can be a good step. And, according to Steve from Being Freelance, when it comes to palm-oil-guilt-free biscuits, you’re left with “all the fancy, amazing tasting buttery ones” which sounds pretty good. He’s made a decent list here of biscuits which use sustainable palm oil or don’t include palm oil at all. Nice one Steve.
Just like with other finance products, there are sustainable pension funds on the market you can switch to.
Doing good doesn’t need to cost you money. A quick, free way of supporting causes you care about it by signing a petition. It usually takes just a few minutes to add your name. Have a browse on Change.org or keep an eye out for petitions created by the charities you support.
As if thinking about plastic, palm oil and fairtrade isn’t enough… phosphates should be a consideration too! Phosphates are chemicals containing phosphorous. While phosphorous is naturally present in many foods and essential to the functioning of the human body and plants, phosphates are often added to many products and, once used, can be washed down the drain and cause significant problems for rivers and waterways. Wherever possible, read the labels of products such as dishwasher detergents, shampoos and soaps and try to choose phosphate-free options.
Plastic (of course!)
This one’s fairly obvious as we all know about the huge problem plastic poses. Choosing to avoid plastic and switch to more sustainable products is not only a step we can take in our day-to-day lives but also in our businesses. If you sell a physical product, there are lots of great ways to reduce plastic packaging. For example, Fourth Element (which is doing amazing things to make their business and supply chain more environmentally friendly) has replaced single-use plastic packaging with biodegradable, compostable packaging made from cassava starch. Very cool.
Depending on the type of business you run, you may or may not have a commute or regularly travel to meetings. But, when you do need to travel, think about whether you can walk, cycle or take public transport rather than driving.
None of us know everything and we’re learning more each day. An important part of this is asking questions. Whether you’re asking your suppliers about their environmental practices, asking for clarification about something or asking what else you can do to take action. It’s OK not to know everything – none of us do. But we can keep asking questions to continue learning and improving.
Refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose & recycle
This one is fairly self explanatory. Refuse the things you don’t need. Reduce your consumption. Reuse things where you can instead of throwing them away. Repurpose items into something else to extend their lifespan. And, finally, recycle. And yes, the other four Rs should all come before recycling!
Just like your marketing, this isn’t something that can be done once and then it’s done. Your work to be a sustainable, ethical business should be ongoing: keep taking small steps and remember to revisit your policies regularly to see if there’s anything you need to change, update or add.
Did you know you can give back while you’re browsing the internet? I’ve switched my default search engine to Ecosia: the carbon negative search engine. The company plants trees as you search AND is powered by its own solar plants. How does it work? It’s pretty simple. Search the web using Ecosia, the ads generate income for the company and this income is used to plant trees. For me, it’s a great, free way to give back while doing something I would have done anyway (browsing the internet).
OK, so the climate crisis is complicated and it can be hard to know what’s best to do. But there are AMAZING scientists out there who do know, or are working their asses off to find out. And thanks to a growing media appetite for stories around climate action, it’s getting easier and easier to find them. So if you’re not sure, that’s OK. Check out the science. Read some articles by experts or listen to a podcast. Because making our decisions based on science and research is going to give us the best chance of making good decisions for the planet.
Uh, oh… we’re getting into jargon territory (as is often the case when it comes to sustainability)! So what are the SDGs? In 2015, all Member States of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. Central to this plan is something called the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. The SDGs provide a call to action for all countries around the world – however poor or rich – to address social and environmental issues while promoting economic growth. The 17 different goals focus on a range of issues including oceans, climate, education, health, equality, justice and more. Check out my overview and how I’m trying to meet the SDGs through my business.
Remember to think about your wider supply chain when evaluating the sustainability of your business. Working with like-minded suppliers means your business will be having a positive ripple effect all the way through the supply chain.
Are you a customer of a company that doesn’t align with your values? Go elsewhere – and tell them about it. It might be switching to a green web host, a renewable energy provider, sustainable pension funds or an ethical bank. But the more we, as consumers and sustainable business owners, can vote with our wallets, the more chance we’ll see companies changing to keep up with demand.
As you probably know, greenwashing is rife. None of us are perfect when it comes to sustainability so if someone tries to tell you they ARE, they’re probably fibbing… Transparency is vital – if there are areas where you’re still improving and you’re not quite there yet, be open and honest about what you’re doing to overcome these challenges and when you want to get there.
It’s all very well saying we want to improve but – like elsewhere in our business – clear, measurable targets are important for making sure we stay on track. Measure where you are, work out where you want to be, set clear targets and check in regularly to make sure you’re not falling behind.
Turn it off
Computer or TV on standby? Lights on in a room you’re not in? Turn. Them. Off. Getting into the habit of turning things off does make a difference.
OK, yes I’m struggling to find something for ‘U’ BUT it’s important to remember that you don’t need to have all the answers. Keep asking questions, educating yourself and making improvements. It’s OK if you don’t know or if you make mistakes – use it as a learning opportunity to keep doing better.
There are so many different things you can do to be a ‘good’ business and give back. So, I think it’s important to start with your values: what’s important to you? And how do you prioritise your values? For example, as a scuba diver and ocean-lover, my passion is trying to protect our underwater ecosystems. So, I tend to lean towards supporting marine conservation charities (through donations and pro bono support). But your ‘thing’ might be accessibility, equality, supporting local businesses, poverty or education (or something else). Be true to your values and use them as your guiding star when making decisions about how you run your business.
Veggie and vegan
A lot of people find the thought of going vegan rather overwhelming. If you do choose to go plant-based, amazing. But reducing your meat and dairy consumption still has a big impact if you’re not ready to go ‘all the way’ (for transparency: I’m flexitarian so while I’m mainly vegetarian, I do sometimes eat meat). Can you do meat-free Mondays? Choose almond instead of dairy milk when buying (or making) a coffee? Or have veggie lunches (think falafal wrap instead of a ham sandwich)?
As many cash-strapped charities can attest to, monetary donations are a great way to support causes you care about. But it’s not the only way. Donating your time and expertise is also a brilliant way to give back. If you’re a writer, can you help a small charity with a blog post or article to help them promote their work? As a PR professional, can you give them some advice on an upcoming communications campaign, or perhaps help them draft a press release? Whatever you do: web developer, designer, translator etc. etc., there are many charities that would really appreciate you lending your expertise. Or you could do something unrelated to your field of work – this month, I’m heading down to Plymouth to spend a day helping them pack seagrass bags for their seagrass planting project!
Voting and lobbying is a powerful way to have your say about issues you care about. Vote for the parties that are helping to protect our planet and contact your MP about the issues you care about!
Website & web hosting
Internet usage might feel intangible but it has a huge impact on the environment – and as a freelancer, it’s likely your sustainable business has an internet presence. That’s because it takes a huge amount of (fossil fuel) energy to keep the internet running. Powering datacentres and cloud computing is, reportedly, the second largest global contributor to carbon emissions after the aviation industry. But there are things you can do. Switch to a green hosting provider. I use Green Hosting which is 100% wind powered and uses UK-based, data efficient servers. Also, check out the carbon footprint of your website and take steps to reduce it. The same can be said of reducing the number of emails you send and store.