Ever since we launched Sustainable Marketplace we’ve focused a lot on why people start a sustainable business and have heard some awe-inspiring stories which we'll continue to share in our 'Five Minutes With' blog series.
But we think it’s also important to share how people start and manage their sustainable business, hopefully creating a useful business resource along the way.
And why not start with our own story?
Here are some questions our team asked me to answer in a blog.
How did you turn your passion for sustainability into starting a business?
When our youngest finished school and enrolled in uni I thought it was a perfect time for me to change direction as well.
In the years leading up to this minor ’crossroad’ we’d made quite a few changes in our household to reduce our impact on the environment. I was confident the more conscious way of doing things wasn’t just here to stay, it was about to take off exponentially all over the world.
My husband Glenn and I had both spent many hours trawling the internet for brilliant ideas and really smart eco-friendly products and were generally having a ball learning about sustainability, when it suddenly struck us that it would be so much easier if, instead of following link after link, there was one website for all things sustainable. A ‘one stop shop’ for sustainable products and knowledge
It was kind of a lightbulb moment (solar powered obviously). Soon after we were writing our business plan and the journey to create a sustainable marketplace had started. We launched the website in November last year and I’m proud to say it truly has the capacity to become a one stop shop for products and services ranging from reusable straws to resourced building materials and sustainable banking. It's also fast becoming a knowledge sharing hub.
Our vision for Sustainable Marketplace is to create a community for both businesses and individuals to bring their brands and stores, products and expertise to the one spot. As a group we’re able to send out a strong message supporting sustainability.
Once you came up with the concept of Sustainable Marketplace, where did you go from there? How long has it taken to build the marketplace that we are today?
We registered the company with ASIC in October 2019 and began creating list upon list: possible products, possible services, possible events and holidays, all with corresponding lists of possible suppliers.
We began searching for the right platform. There are many great ecommerce platforms out there but we soon realised a marketplace platform was an altogether different beast. That’s when we found Marketplacer, on whose platform Sustainable Marketplace is built.
As Glenn’s input is limited to the weekends (I call him our weekend warrior) and therefore it was just me doing the Mondays to Fridays, it took five months before the website was ready for launch. I have to confess I hadn’t quite appreciated the complexity of a marketplace website, especially the various plug ins required to operate one.
There’s the payment gateway, the various payment methods we offer, a direct connection with our bookkeeping software, a plug in with the email delivery system, a connection with our CRM and marketing and sales software, Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics…. the list goes on. I’m reasonably tech savvy, but definitely needed time to become comfortable with all the new apps and technologies that had suddenly become such a big part of my everyday existence. And then there was the website’s back end! Familiarising myself with the admin side of things was a project in itself really.
As a passionate wise man once said: Crikey!
While the team at Marketplacer were designing and developing our website, we decided we would initially focus on getting products on the website and reached out to all the businesses on our lists who make, import and sell sustainable products. To our delight we had a positive response. Even though we were an unknown start up and didn’t even have a live website to show, some businesses signed up to become a part of the website. Urthly Organics, Mulbury, Bee Natural, Jonny, WAW Handplanes : I think of them as fearless pioneers.
Obviously it’s easier so sell the idea of something that actually exists, so once we’d launched and there were a handful of business on the website, other brands and stores followed. Today 34 retail stores have signed up to be on the marketplace and they represent just over 40 brands. I’m pretty proud of those numbers.
What are some ways to keep your business authentically sustainable?
It all starts with the team. Our team is the beating heart of Sustainable Marketplace. We strive to offer everyone who works with us the support and flexibility they need in their employment.
Instead of going to one of the big four banks, who continue to invest in fossil fuels and other non-sustainable industries, we opened our business bank account with Bank Australia. Their track record for investing in sustainable industries is outstanding.
We signed up to a community owned, community funded energy provider who are leaders in the change to 100% renewables.
We’re a registered employer with Australian Ethical, enabling us to offer our growing team a sustainable super choice.
We successfully reduced our printing to the barest minimum. There’s only one document type left that I print now, amounting to literally only one or two sheets of paper a week. Our business cards were printed by a sustainable printer in Victoria.
Our office is a registered collection point for Mobile Muster (Australia’s mobile phone recycling program) and the Better Packaging Co. (yes, you may leave your used home-compostable mail satchels in our mailbox. We’ll compost them).
We’re members of 1% for the Planet and give back 1% of our sales to the environment. 1% for the Planet have been around since 2002 and their members have donated a whopping $270m million to the environment since then.
We only buy what we need, make sure what we buy is of good quality and reuse, recycle and compost wherever we can.
But most of all: we acknowledge that we’re all on a learning curve. We’ve not moved from a linear to a circular economy ever before so everything is new. There are a lot of innovations coming our way and what is acceptable practice today, may well be obsolete tomorrow.
What have been the most valuable resources in helping to start a sustainable business?
We decided right at the start to use the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals as our very comprehensive sustainability guide.
The 34 retail sellers on our website are an invaluable source of inspiration and knowledge. I am so in awe of their stories – both personal and business - and what drives and inspires them! I love talking about it with them too. To the extent we’ve been publishing all their stories in our ‘Five Minutes With’ blog series.
Another go to resource for me is Planet Ark. Their website and various newsletters are fantastic sources of information and pragmatic ideas. They’ve just launched the ambitious Australian Circular Economy (ACE) Hub – a very exciting initiative!
And let’s not forget social media: Instagram and LinkedIn are great places to find other sustainable businesses and learn what they do.
What have been some unexpected challenges with starting a sustainable business?
The unexpected challenge had more to do with running a business in general. Whilst I realised there were busy times ahead, I hadn’t quite appreciated how chockablockers my brain would be at times, especially when we were in the website development stage. So much to learn that I had never anticipated I would need to know!
I’m not sure if I was a very enjoyable person to be around in those months… :-)
We’re still super busy and always running out of time but operating a marketplace has definitely become a source of happy inspiration. To the whole team. Each new seller that comes on board brings with them a great personal story of ups and downs. And each personal story adds flavour to our shared message of sustainability. That’s a pretty solid foundation for the future!
What would be your best advice for someone looking to start a sustainable small business?
Go for it!
I mean it. I think the time is right for sustainable business and there will be many opportunities on the road ahead. The more sustainable businesses there are, the more opportunities there will be, and the sooner we will reach the point where we’re a 100% renewable, circular economy.