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  • Writer's pictureDublin City Mum

What's your sustainability story?

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

Change by Degrees and Dublin City Mum think sustainability really matters. I invited Change by Degrees to write a feature at Dublin City Mum on sustainability and give us their top ten tips on how to get started. We put our heads together and decided to approach businesses doing their best to build sustainability into their DNA. Here are their stories. We hope they inspire you.

What lies at the heart of sustainable business? 

Doing business in Ireland today is tricky. Doing sustainable business might seem even harder still. Where to start? How to change? What will it cost me? are just some of the questions you ask when discussing how to build sustainability into your DNA. We talked to twelve company owners determined to do just that: some at the beginning of their journey and some deeply rooted in sustainable operations. All have one thing in common – they firmly believe they are doing the right thing, and the rewards are felt emotionally and financially.

What does doing the right thing look like?

Tight margins and large overheads heavily influence decision-making processes and businesses can feel ill equipped to introduce new operating systems and sustainability policies. However, sustainable business can involve everything from managing your waste correctly, paying your staff fairly or giving back to the community you operate in (and beyond). It could be about producing products that have multiple life cycles, reducing your operating costs without compromising your quality to buying from suppliers who source their raw materials fairly.

Some businesses do this instinctively, and tell no one about it. But this story has impact and really matters to customers. Equally, employees perform better, are more creative and have increased loyalty when they feel the boss is ‘doing the right thing’. 

You don’t need formal qualifications or expertise in sustainability to work it into your systems and how you do business. Ian Kelly and Anne Marie Green of DUC (a social enterprise that manufactures a selection of products to help lift children out of poverty) used their desire to do something ‘the best’ way possible, as a starting point. Hazel Kelly and Davy Schmeits from Lille Barn (an online store for sustainable, ethically made children’s wear) says ‘We learned a lot by simply being parents! And research helps a gut feeling into a rationale’. 

At The Happy Pear they constantly try to make small changes to be kinder to the environment, moving one degree at a time, closer to sustainability.

"We are a small business with a big heart and we will continue to make small changes to leave less of a footprint and help make the world a better place"— Stephen Flynn, The Happy Pear

Nature or Nurture?

For some companies, family values have informed their desire to run their business sustainably. Davy and Hazel, from Lille Barn are influenced by their Dutch and Icelandic heritage respectively, where buying good quality clothes that lasted, and were then handed down, was a natural choice.

Róisín Scott of Chaos + Harmony (a clothing and décor site for children) was raised in an environmentally conscious home. Her dad, an environmental engineer, even bought a board game called Waste Not Want Not one Christmas!

At Accessories4babies (an online solution based baby products), Eimear’s mum and dad taught her from a really young age how to recycle and the importance of caring for the environment.

"I bring my little girl down to the recycling bank and show her what goes where. I have a keep cup, we don’t use straws. I was just raised like this."

For others, it was the birth of their own children that kick started their desire to live and do business more sustainably. Pat from Reuzi explained how back in 2012, when she became a mum, she noticed her household’s packaging waste increased alarmingly. With her husband on board, they made a decision to change things little by little, which led her to set up Reuzi, a platform for likeminded people to connect and learn from one another, buy sustainable products and share their journeys.

For Michael Sheary of BuJo Burger the light bulb moment came when he held his baby girl in his arms and made a promise to create a business his daughter could be proud of.

For him, there was no other way than to do business sustainably. To that end, along with his business partner (who also had a baby on the same day in the same hospital!), they created BuJo Burger. As the only burger focussed restaurant in Ireland and the UK to hold a 3 Star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association they take their environmental responsibility for the local community and the planet pretty seriously. From day one BuJo has only used fully certified 100% compostable packaging. "It's more expensive but it doesn’t cost the earth".

Supply Chains Matter

Michael is passionate about traceability, caring deeply about where his products are sourced. He has covered the country in search of the highest quality he can find for Bujo Burger and he has earned awards for his efforts. When we spoke Michael had just stepped off Stephan McCarthy's family farm in Kiltale, in Co. Meath where he was personally sourcing Irish rocket for an upcoming limited edition burger.

Hazel and Davy of Lille Barn only stock a brand if that brand can tell their story, about their impact on the environment, the working conditions for staff and the entire supply chain.  They are deeply invested in doing business only with those who have shared values and that operate close to home with shorter supply chains. They aren’t afraid to ask questions of their suppliers and only work with those with a sustainability story. 

Sooby Lynch at Mutiny Kids (an online magazine for concept stores and kids fashion) explains how they make a conscious decision every day to work with and promote brands that also share their values. This extends past work and into her everyday life. She tells us we ‘absolutely have to talk to BuJo Burger!’ for this feature. This speaks to the very core of sustainable business where like-minded people seek one another out and are happy to advocate for one another when they see great work being done. 

At DUC they partner with The Christina Noble Foundation and operate a One-For-One business model, where like Toms (the international shoe brand), every product purchased directly creates a benefit e.g. every DUC sports bag sold givesa child in Vietnam the opportunity to learn how to swim.

For Ian and Anne Marie, the founders of DUC, working with trustworthy manufactures is key. All products are made in Vietnam by a factory that pays a living wage and treats its employees fairly. 

"When you’re dealing directly with small brand owners, it’s easy to have these kinds of conversations"

— Roisin Scott, Chaos and Harmony