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  • Jenny Stallard

How to be a more eco-friendly and sustainable small business owner

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Freelancing and plastic might not seem to have much in common, but if you look around you, at your desk and your work, you might start to notice all the different things you use that are made out of plastic. From pens and phone covers to a water bottle or how you bank, sustainability is everywhere.

I spoke to three writers specialising in all things 'eco' to get their advice on how we can be more eco-friendly as freelancers.

Of course, it depends what your business is and where you work from, says Anna Turns, who specialises in writing about the environment (, but it’s also about making decisions which aren’t just about the everyday. “It’s about resources, not just plastic, as everything has a carbon cost and a long term impact,” she says.

Rae Ritchie is the Eco agony aunt for Woman magazine and also has a column in Woman&Home magazine. ( Her newsletter is called Turning The Dial, all about small steps to a more sustainable way of living. She says: “Although as a freelancer you don’t have the same impact as a large office building that decides to commit to being more sustainable, it is far easier for you to implement changes. You’re not depending on vending machines to get you through the mid-afternoon slump. You can choose to stock up on drinks that come in glass or aluminium or even buy snacks that aren’t wrapped in non-recyclable plastic. Plus you’re probably already doing more than you realise. Presumably you’re using a mug for coffee rather than a single-use mixed material cup with a plastic lid?"

Freelance Climate Writer and author of The Green Fix newsletter, Cass Hebron says: "I think it depends on the way that you work. Freelancing doesn't inherently mean using more plastic but it varies. For example, I find that when I'm working from different places, travelling and working remotely at the same time, I have less control over the amount of plastic from expenses on the go like coffees, lunches out, etc. Plus a freelance budget during frugal periods often means you end up buying the cheaper plastic-wrapped items at the supermarket!"

"But at the same time, you can also live a lifestyle that has less environmental impact - e.g working from home, commuting less, more control over the environmental impact and the source of your equipment, food, coffee, etc.”

Here are some beginners tips for anyone wanting to be more sustainable as a freelancer:

Step away from the pens…

We all love a good pen, right? I know I do. Well, did. Because I hadn’t really thought about the impact of that shiny new pen. Something I’ll try to stop doing is picking up the ‘free pen’ – as Rae advises: "Next time you need a pen, buy one that uses refillable ink option rather than a single-use biro. And try to resist picking up random free pens – they’re nearly always rubbish and just end up in landfill.”

Instead of binning pens, “collect old biros, felt tips, whiteboard markers and recycle at your nearest drop off point via TerraCycle,” adds Anna.

Ditch the printing

Ahh back in the day in our ‘real jobs’ we printed like there was no tomorrow. But it’s possible you don’t have a printer at home – and perhaps you shouldn’t consider buying one.

Anna explains: "If you don’t have a printer, you won’t need to buy printer cartridges, you’ll save resources, money and plastic. Also, use an online invoicing system like Wave app and reduce postage."

And don’t forget when you’re out and about…

“Take reusables wherever you go, if you’re hot-desking, take your own water bottle/coffee cup/cloth bag with you,” says Anna. Rae adds: “Create a grab-and-go kit for when you’re not working from home. This can include everything from a reusable water bottle and coffee cup (some, such as Ocean Bottle, do both jobs) to a knife, fork and spoon (you don’t need to buy fancy bamboo stuff; use spares from your cutlery drawer). Be sure to download the Refill app so you can find nearby places to top up with water for free.”

Coffee shop kudos

“When you're working in a coffee shop, take some time to find some small locally-run cafes that will appreciate the business and often have shorter supply chains for their ingredients,” says Cass Hebron. “Also look out for ethical cafes - things like Fairtrade certified coffee, donations to charity and plant-based options all indicate a lower impact.”

Bills, bills, bills

Your bank and bills can be greener as a freelancer – yes, really! Anna says: "Bank with an ethical bank like Triodos to ensure your personal/business money only contributes to environmentally-friendly businesses and not fossil fuels/arms/tobacco.”

“For electricity, switch to a fully renewable green supplier such as Octopus or Good Energy. invest in a FairPhone that can be easily upgraded, avoid inbuilt obsolescence!”

And say ‘no’ to the receipt – yes, I know that goes against the principles of expenses, but Rae explains: “If you need a receipt for tax purposes, ask for an electronic version. Most paper receipts are coated in a thin layer of plastic, making them unsuitable for recycling.”

And clean up wisely…

Refill instead of recycle – buy office cleaning products that you can refill – try the concentrated oceansaver pods or similar,” says Anna.

Forget the gimmicky accessories

Rae says: “In the market for a phone case? They’re great for protecting your tech but billions get dumped every year so get a plastic-free compostable version. They’re widely available.”

Cass Hebron adds: “You can source your furniture and even stationery second-hand (in the UK, check out Freecycle, Oxfam online shop and local Facebook groups). Only buy what you really need."

Choosing the right clients can be eco-friendly, too..

“We can have a greater impact through our business values. Working for clients that have environmental provisions and building a freelance brand that values the environment & ethics is a fantastic way to make a career that works for both you and the planet,” advises Cass Hebron.

The question now is, where will you start?

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