Posted: Fri 19th Aug 2022
At Enterprise Nation, we love to recognise small businesses across the UK that are making a conscious effort to be sustainable. We launched our Sustainable Small Business Awards to champion the achievements of our nation's small businesses.
Since the competition closed in early August, the judging panel has been hard at work whittling down nominations for each of the five awards categories.
The Sustainable Business Transition Award recognises established businesses that have broken down barriers, explored new opportunities and made changes in pursuit of a more sustainable society. The six nominees are:
Absolute PR and Marketing (Rachael Whitson, founder)
Booker Flowers & Gifts (Gemma Wakerley, owner)
Climbing Trees (Alex Holliman, managing director)
The Games Den (Pete McLaurin, owner)
Linwater Caravan Park (Katie Guinan, owner)
Blue Patch (Jane Langley, founder)
Below, representatives from each of the six businesses tell us what they've been doing to become more sustainable, and why they feel they should win the Sustainable Business Transition Award.
What does your business do?
Rachael Whitson, Absolute PR and Marketing: We're a boutique, award-winning agency that is passionate about delivering the very best outcomes for the community and the climate. We celebrated 21 years in business with a rebrand that puts sustainability at the heart of our work.
Gemma Wakerley, Booker Flowers & Gifts: We're a retail florist that creates bespoke flower arrangements using only top-grade flowers. Our mission is "Flowers handmade with love – providing quality flowers that don't cost the earth".
Alex Holliman, Climbing Trees: Climbing Trees is an ethical digital marketing agency near Colchester. Founded 11 years ago, it's made up of PPC and SEO experts who blend industry-leading tech with a genuine passion to grow digital brands and help its clients have a positive impact on the world.
Pete McLaurin, The Games Den: We're an online games store based in Leamington Spa. We're passionate about gaming but we're also acutely conscious of the impact that retail and the games that we sell have on the environment.
Katie Guinan, Linwater Caravan Park: We're a caravan park offering camping and touring pitches and self-catering accommodation. Our mission is to be the highest-quality caravan park in Edinburgh in terms of sustainability, staff satisfaction, customer experience, community impact and value for money.
Jane Langley, Blue Patch: Blue Patch is the UK's sustainable business network and directory. A social enterprise, we promote sustainable SMEs and micro-enterprises, helping them to measure and reduce carbon emissions and report outcomes.
What action have you taken to make your business more sustainable?
Rachael Whitson: We do everything we can to limit our environmental footprint. Our office is heated by biomass and draws water from a spring. Our electricity comes from renewable sources and we've virtually eliminated single-use plastics in the workplace.
Gemma Wakerley: We try to create flower arrangements in the most sustainable way. Our packaging is eco-friendly and can be easily composted or fully recycled. To ensure our flowers are grown sustainably and cultivated by workers who are treated humanely, we only buy from local and/or MPA-certified and MPS-certified suppliers.
Alex Holliman: Climbing Trees is now a certified B-Corp. Some changes we've made include reducing our carbon emissions by more than half, running off 100% renewable energy and using second-hand refurbished technology. We've also joined the Million Tree Pledge and made a commitment to become net zero by 2030.
Pete McLaurin: We only use biodegradable or recyclable materials in our packaging when we ship products and we use a carbon-neutral courier for 80% of our deliveries. We also provide an innovative and unique recycling programme for waste plastic from the miniature models we sell.
Katie Guinan: We're keen to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We're signed up with Earthly and we offset carbon we can't avoid. We switched to 100% renewable electricity supplier Good Energy in 2020. And when we refurbished our reception, we added sustainable features that mean we won't need to install air conditioning.
Jane Langley: With only eight years to reach net zero, we're training our members to audit and reduce emissions. We invest all our surplus income into community-owned renewable energy projects. Our aim is to create a sustainable local economy.
What have been the main challenges?
Rachael Whitson: It was a steep learning curve to understand what action we needed to take and by when. We had to do a lot of research to make sure our work remains purposeful and isn't 'greenwashing'. Balancing the cost of putting sustainable measures in place has also been a challenge.
Gemma Wakerley: There's no real satisfactory solution to deal with large volumes of green waste, so we're conducting a composting trial. We're looking to go paperless and working with university students to develop a paperless order management system. We're unable to switch our diesel vehicles to electric because we don't currently have the ability to charge them.
Alex Holliman: We've grown organically over the last decade, which has left us with clients and suppliers who no longer match our ambitions or aligned with our values. We've consulted and engaged with all our tech suppliers to determine what their plans were for reducing carbon emissions. We're committed to educating suppliers and advocating for change.
Pete McLaurin: Our biggest challenge has been finding a reliable recycling facility that will help us reduce our plastic waste. Because we're a small business, our proposal was rejected by every recycling facility we contacted. Eventually, the British Plastics Federation put us in touch with a small recycling plant that was interested and willing to adapt.
Katie Guinan: We don't have the capacity to electrify self-catering heat sources or install rapid chargers, but we've been approved for a loan to install 50Kw of solar panels this winter. Our accommodation is on LPG heating, and despite asking suppliers to build off-the-shelf sustainable units, none have delivered. As a small business, exerting influence is challenging.
Jane Langley: Because of our business model, we don't have investors. This is unique, so we manage finance with exacting attention to cash flow. The path for Blue Patch is slow – we've adjusted to 'extreme patience!
Why do you feel your business should win the Sustainable Business Transition Award?
Rachael Whitson: Lots of UK businesses are working to become more sustainable, but many are doing it by purchasing carbon credits to offset their emissions. By devoting a significant amount of our time, budget and energy into making meaningful changes, we've shown a serious and responsible commitment to tackling climate change at source.
Gemma Wakerley: When we encounter difficulties, we try to come up with an innovative solution to tackle them. With our green waste challenge, we're conducting research with a view to potentially setting up a new social enterprise. Our paperless solution will not only benefit our business but many other florists too.
Alex Holliman: Despite our size, we've made major changes in a short space of time to become more sustainable. We've won our dream client Greenpeace, planted 150,000 trees and become B-Corp certified. The results are having a far broader and influential impact by educating the wider digital marketing industry and beyond.
Pete McLaurin: We might be small but we have big dreams! We're working to fix not just our business but the wider industry, by providing a solution to a real ecological problem that no-one else is addressing. The volume of waste created by the hobby that we and our customers love is frightening, yet no-one wants to take that corporate responsibility.
Katie Guinan: I believe we're leading the way in our industry in Scotland and setting an example of what a sustainable caravan park can look like. We're always looking for new ways to improve our green credentials and our focus is not on fast growth but sustainable growth, which in the current climate many similar businesses have failed to resist the temptation to do.
Jane Langley: Blue Patch is helping SMEs and micro-enterprises to reduce carbon. We're funding renewable energy via 100% of our surplus income and we're a transformational business model. We can't address climate change through the continual growth of consumption, so a new pathway is needed. We're working towards creating a healthy, sustainable local economy.
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