Posted: Tue 24th May 2022
Enterprise Nation has created Plan it with Purpose, a programme to help 10,000 businesses implement sustainable best practices that have a positive impact on the planet, society and the economy.
Through the programme, we like to showcase role models other business owners can relate to. Here, we talk to Helen Fisher, founder of We Are Carbon, an organisation that uses podcasts and documentaries to educate people on sustainability.
What led to you going into business for yourself?
I've been self-employed for most of my working life, so going into business wasn't new to me. But this is the first business I've started on my own, which meant there were lots of things I was learning for the first time.
We Are Carbon is very much a passion project, and the move to creating it as a business was fairly organic. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve but the challenge was designing a solid and profitable business model to go with it.
In the first COVID lockdown, I took the plunge and launched a website. Not to run it as a business but to start interacting with people and gaining feedback. It took me another year to hone in on exactly what gap I could fill. Because I had existing work commitments as well, I had the time to develop my ideas.
Did you look for support in those early stages? If so, from whom?
I knew what I was setting out to create but it was overwhelming given the lack of resources or assistance. So the support I sought came from two directions.
First, there was education, to develop the skills I'd need and the understanding of the business aspects I didn't have experience of. Second, there was networking. Which is also a form of education, as every connection I make offers new insights and perspectives I can learn from.
We're so fortunate to have this unlimited resource of the internet. Of course, it's important to find information that's dependable, and Enterprise Nation has been a great learning ground for me. I'm sure that will continue!
What were your experiences when first setting up? What problems arose and how did you overcome them?
The biggest problem was figuring out what the product or service is. I had such a strong concept but I needed to know how to make it profitable. It felt intimidating trying to get started, but from the beginning I knew I wanted something a little different from existing models. In the end, I allowed the problem to inspire the solution.
I realised that for people to be able to digest the content I have to share, I'd need to present it in various formats. Long-form content such as a podcast can go into great depth, and I also break some of the concepts that are covered into bite-size animations that get the points across super quickly.
But the real potential comes from the subject matter. My focus is on engaging people with climate change from a new angle; bringing a story of the possibilities we have to be abundant as a society when we work in harmony with nature. This tips the focus away from telling people they need to restrict all the time and it's so much more motivational.
When you work within this area, you're never working alone. You become part of a common mission to spread the word and inspire others, and so that became the foundation of my business model.
What's your approach to sustainability?
Being sustainable is a lifestyle to me. It's really the reason that the business was born and so it can't be separated from it. I keep it in mind at all stages. But I like to think beyond sustainability and ask how our daily actions can help regenerate the damage we've already done both to people and to the planet.
Sustainability can be a pretty loose term these days. I think we need to move towards considering it holistically, rather than it being some exercise we associate with box-ticking and pleasing the crowd.
As a business, you have to look at every facet, which at the very least should be people, profit and planet. There's no good putting all your efforts into one area at the detriment to another or you're not really sustainable at all.
My own personal rules are to reduce toxins, build community relationships (locally and globally), and be circular with resources. That can apply to materials, products or packaging, transportation, infrastructure and buildings, how you interact with staff and suppliers, right through to the food you serve up in canteens. It really can apply to everything.
What simple, low-cost measures can businesses take to improve their sustainability?
It varies from business to business but I think a great starting point is to brainstorm how your business can increase its web of resilience. By that, I mean that for every need and action you have to fulfil, you should consider having a number of options in place.
For example, COVID highlighted that many businesses have become dependent on one or two key suppliers. One big, all-encompassing provider can be incredibly convenient, but it means that everything falls if that one link within your chain snaps due to import problems, transport issues, unexpected weather or staff shortages and so on.
Being sustainable means being resilient in an ever-changing business environment. This could be as simple as including several small, local suppliers within your shelf space to avoid a sudden shortage. And mull over how this might apply to all the different aspects of your business too.
Another thing to consider is how sustainability can add value to your business's story. When sustainability becomes a true value of your business, it then becomes part of your brand and your storytelling. So there's an opportunity for all businesses to immerse themselves in this.
What are the next steps for your business?
As I get a foundation in place, the next step will be to establish a team to work alongside me, which is exciting but challenging. Beyond that, I have an ambition to find businesses to partner with in creating educational content that continues to focus on the same themes and topics, but presents the information to a range of audiences.
I'm hoping to be able to bring content designed specifically for children, for example, along with education for business owners and land managers. The main goal over the next couple of years is to use this business to fund and produce a documentary to bridge some of the knowledge gap for the general public.
Finally, what are the key lessons you've learned from starting your own business?
You should never stop learning, and you should never hold back on asking for help! If we want to keep up with the world and succeed into the future, we should always see our plans as a creation in progress.
And it really is amazing how much help is out there, so don't underestimate the value in reaching out and getting feedback.
Plan it with Purpose
A programme designed to help owners of small and medium-sized businesses develop a better understanding of environmental and social issues in the UK. Visit the Plan it with Purpose hub