Success stories of sustainable business

Sustainable businesses practices can have real business benefits when conscientiously integrated into small business operations. Whether it be cutting back on waste or water usage, transforming the way your business operates also needs to result in real bottom line benefits.

We hear from three businesses who recognise their role as leaders of sustainable change.

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Bees for the environment

You wouldn’t expect to find honey bees on the rooftop of an inner city Melbourne hotel.

But Alto on Bourke isn’t your average accommodation option.

Management jumped at the chance to host two hives of honey bees on the hotel rooftop. That decision means the 30,000 bees that call the hives home can pollinate the city trees and plants across Melbourne.

“Apart from providing a great boost to local plant life and helping secure the honey bee population in Australia, we get to enjoy the wonderful side product of sweet honey for the hotel guests to enjoy on signature dishes, or buy to take home,” hotel manager Gary Stickland says.

The decision to add hives to the roof is part of a broader transition to a carbon neutral hotel. Alto on Bourke is now powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, making it a unique operator in Melbourne.

The boutique accommodation also purchases green electricity, uses inverter technology for the air conditioning plant and has fitted flow restrictors to all showers.

“We focus on being the best possible hotel first. However, where possible, we take the more environmentally sustainable approach,” Stickland says.

Costs are lower in some areas of the business, such as the collection of recyclable material being less expensive than general waste. However, some cost reductions are offset by higher fees for green power.

“However, we have reduced our marketing costs because our sustainability ethos helps set us apart from other hotels, meaning that customers seek us out for our approach,” Stickland says.

“Effectively we do the hard work behind the scenes to be sustainable, and guests simply need to enjoy themselves.

“Often, guests are surprised to find that our style of hotel exists. I look forward to the future when we are just one of many - strength in numbers.”

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Biodegradable blooms

Fellow Melburnian Yvette Timmins also looks forward to others in her industry thinking about a more sustainable approach.

She opened Bloom College in 2013 and has run more than 350 workshops and educated more than 3,000 students over the years.

There’s no plastic wrapping or ribbon here. Environmentally-unfriendly floral foam is also banned. “Floral foam is in every florist you go to, but it isn’t biodegradable and ends up in landfill and waterways.

“Instead, we teach students how to utilise chicken wire, recycled papers and ceramic containers when arranging flowers,” Timmins says.

Bloom College also separates out waste to cut down on landfill. “It sounds simple, but the majority of the industry doesn’t do this,” Timmins says.

She hasn’t measured whether or not a sustainable approach is a cost saving or expense, saying that’s not the point. Her business turns over around $500,000 per year.

“We believe that as educators, we should be teaching good habits so that we end up with a cleaner industry. After all, we’re so closely linked with nature that it doesn’t make sense to be any other way that sustainable in our approach.”

Her advice for others was simple. “Expect some pushback and judgement, because people generally don’t like change. But push ahead anyway, keeping in mind that the changes you’re making will be positive for the greater good,” she says.

The response from students has been positive, which spurs her on.

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Zero waste smoothie bombs

It’s a similar story for the founder of Smoothie Bombs, who was spurred on to implement eco-friendly changes after listening to her customers.

The pre-portioned smoothie boosters moved to zero waste packaging at the start of this year, utilising recyclable tubes and compostable inner wrappers.

The mother and daughter-run small business believes it can create change through ethical business choices. “The eco-friendly changes came about after hearing customer feedback and seeing other influential brands take a stand for the environment,” business founder Cinzia Cozzolino admits.

The Melburnian has also transitioned to a waste-free work space and uses recyclable packaging for online orders.

It’s not about reducing cost. The compostable inner wrappers are double the price of the plastic ones, but hasn’t increased the retail price, saying that being environmentally friendly and accessible to everyone was the main goal.

“We had to import compostable film from overseas and run tests to see whether it performed the same way to maintaining shelf life of our product. With new materials, there’s always a bit of trial and error, which can take time.

“We’ve also grown to incorporate new waste-free processes (such as how we ship online orders), sourcing affordable alternatives to what we use,” she says.

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