• Climate hub
  • 6 May 2022
  • 9 min read

Sustainable success: How 3 Kiwi businesses are going green

Small changes add up to sustainable success for these Kiwi businesses

By Amy Hamilton-Chadwick

Sharon from Abstract Signs feeds shredded paper to her worm farm.
Sharon from Abstract Signs feeds shredded paper to her worm farm.

It’s not easy being small – when you run a small business, you have to look for affordable and realistic ways to solve your problems. Reducing your company’s carbon footprint might not be at the top of your list when it comes to spending.

But Kiwi business owners are creative, and some of our Genesis business customers are proving that tiny changes can add up to much more sustainable businesses. We spoke to three owners who are showing that sustainable business practices don’t need to be expensive and they can work for even the smallest enterprise. Everyday tweaks can cut costs, reduce energy use, and help your business reduce its emissions.

The Corner Stone Café: Nature provides sustainable solutions

The destination garden at Corner Stone Café.
The destination garden at Corner Stone Café.

You’ll find the Corner Stone Café near Thames, on the way between Auckland and the Coromandel. There’s been a café on the same site for about 20 years, but with previous owners concentrating more on other endeavours than the café side of the business, things had been tough. That all changed when Noel Hair bought the property, and partner Phillippa Brooks took over the running of the café. Together they decided to transform the exterior space into a carefully planned destination garden.

“We bought the place about 12 years ago, when there was nothing there – just buildings and rocks,” Phillippa says. “We planted a shelter belt all around the external fence-line and within this we planted fruit trees: plums, peaches, nectarines, apples, lemons and limes. We use the fruit in the café kitchen, where we make most things ourselves. Outside we’ve planted to control the heat and wind, with flowering cherry trees and palm trees to create shade over the tables. We grow our vegetables; not all of them, but most of them. We’ve also planted trees and flaxes to encourage tui and wood pigeons.”

She’s serious about making the café almost self-sustaining: Water tanks collect rainwater for the gardens; beehives provide honey and the bees pollinate the vegetables and fruit trees; a worm farms turns food waste into fertiliser and leftover cooked food feeds a friend’s pigs. Noel takes all the rubbish to the dump to ensure it’s recycled as much as possible and uncooked vegetable waste not used to feed the worms goes into the massive compost heap which in turn feeds the garden and fruit trees.

Phillippa says that having the whole team on the same page is essential when it comes to making positive changes. She leads by example and sets the standard for the team, many of whom have worked with her for over a decade. And although the staff all embrace Phillippa’s principles for running the business, she says you can’t expect the same commitment from the customers:

“I don’t think the customers even notice – they’re happy to have takeaway coffee cups which is very annoying. I’ve even got notices up saying how difficult it is to recycle them, so it’s a bit irritating when they still ask for a takeaway, especially when they sit down and have it right there! I think I will institute a small charge on takeaway cups and donate this to the local shorebird preservation group.”

Her final takeaway for small business owners is to recognise when you need to get some help. You’ll run yourself ragged trying to solve every problem while simultaneously trying to reduce your carbon footprint. Phillippa has recently found someone to help her with the gardening so she can focus on the core business of running the café.

Praxis: Aiming for net zero with DIY carbon offsetting

Local people are replanting 20,000 mangroves in Papua New Guinea.
Local people are replanting 20,000 mangroves in Papua New Guinea.

Praxis is a faith-based organisation that works around Aotearoa, providing NZQA-accredited training for Level 4 Certificate in Youth Work and Level 6 Diploma in Youth Work, as well as running an alternative education school in Porirua. Over the past decade, Praxis has trained as many as 1,000 youth workers throughout New Zealand and the Pacific.

A few years ago, the Praxis team began discussing climate change and thinking about what positive actions they could take. They came up with the ARO Project: assess, reduce, offset. One of the goals is to make Praxis a net zero carbon emission organisation by weaving the principles of ARO throughout its day-to-day work.

A significant part of the ARO Project is mangrove planting in Papua New Guinea, in partnership with a former Praxis graduate. Young local people are replanting 20,000 mangroves along the coastline and estuaries, which will not only sequester carbon at four times the rate of rainforests, but also protect the coasts against erosion and storm damage.

“We’re interested in projects that intersect with the environment and young people,” says Lizzie Pringle, Co-leader at Praxis. “Climate change such an important thing for young people, and our carbon offset programme involves young people in the community. People can donate money to go to planting mangroves, and the young people involved in the project get a financial contribution for their involvement. We do have someone in PNG who checks everything is planted and everyone paid, so we can see where the money is going.”

In addition to the mangrove planting, Praxis students are always working toward improving their communities. The students working toward their Level 6 qualification are required to do a citizenship project, explains Lizzie: “They have to meet with a group of young people discuss some of the needs within their community. The students think about long-term projects and then do some brainstorming to work out how they can empower young people in the neighbourhood to get involved.”

One community project was a Petone beach rubbish clean up, another created beeswax wraps to reduce plastic packaging, and another revitalised a community garden in Whanganui. Praxis also organises ARO Day once a year for its students and staff across the country. They get together and undertake a community project that supports the environment, such as planting or cleaning up beaches or riversides.

Lizzie says that an important first step for any organisation is the A of ARO: assessing. It can be difficult to accurately calculate how much carbon your business emits so there are agencies and calculators available to assist you. Once you have a sense of your company’s full carbon footprint, you can then think about ways to eliminate, reduce or offset your emissions.

“We want climate change action to be woven into everything we do,” says Lizzie. “It’s part of our Christian kaupapa of caring for the planet and caring for creation – all centred around young people.”

Abstract Signs: Smart energy use and low waste prove a winning formula

Sharon embraces upcycling in every part of her life.
Sharon embraces upcycling in every part of her life.

Abstract Signs is a “big small business”, says Sharon Mackie-Langton, who runs the Taranaki-based enterprise with the help of her husband. They don’t have any employees, but they do have an extensive range of equipment, storage spaces and materials.

Central to the business is the large main workshop, which the couple built 14 years ago, spending extra to get it double-glazed and fully insulated, partly using batts recycled from the building it replaced. The large space is warmed by just a single heat pump, and Sharon says understanding how to use a heat pump effectively is a key tool in efficient energy use in any home or business.

“People need a real good education on how to use their heat pump properly, because there are too many old people out there who are too worried about the running costs to keep warm,” she says. “We put the fan on auto and run it all the time and people are amazed at the way it heats the whole workshop. The extra power costs us $100 a month, which is so much cheaper than firewood.”

A major part of the Abstract Signs’ sustainability efforts come from upcycling, which Sharon embraces in every part of her life. Clean packaging is reused, shredded paper goes into a worm farm, and old timber becomes new display stands for signs. Cover sheets from packing boards turn into workbench shelves, and broken pallets are chopped up for kindling for the neighbour’s fireplace. She used strips from off-cuts of ACM sign boards to cover the gaps between the tops of her curtains and the wall in their home, reducing heat loss and saving energy. Sharon has even created her own Garden Art Gallery, some of the items are upcycled using materials that would have otherwise ended up as landfill.

“It’s quite fun trying to come up with ways to use everything so it doesn’t go into the rubbish,” says Sharon. “Everything has its use. Even offcuts of vinyl go to the kindergarten for the kids to make art – we have such a range of weird stuff for them to use and build with, they absolutely love it.”

Local kindergarten children reusing offcuts as art supplies.
Local kindergarten children reusing offcuts as art supplies.

She believes no business is too small to make a difference – just start by looking around and thinking about ways to reduce how much you send to landfill. Community connections can help you reuse and recycle; your trash could be their treasure and vice versa, whether it’s a neighbour, the local school or kindy, or another business. Building up those relationships helps your entire community become more resilient and sustainable.

“This is not big industry, it’s not about doing big exciting things. But when everybody does a little bit, that helps. Just look around – there are so many things we can do. It doesn’t matter how small, it all adds up.”

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