Zero waste freelancing – why, what and how?
Us freelancers could be forgiven for thinking we’re off the hook. Our business model – usually providing services and consultancy from our laptops – typically doesn’t involve production or even many materials.
So it’s easy to think that the way we work is eco-friendly or zero waste by default.
But over the last few months I’ve realised that I had my head in the sand about some of the ways my freelance work could be contributing (negatively) to the planet.
But there’s good news – it really is possible to green your freelance business by making some simple switches. And, even though they may seem small and even inconsequential, if a lot of us make these changes we can begin to make a difference.
On a personal level, I follow a lot of eco-friendly practices at home: we reuse as much as possible, buy second hand, buy from the bulk store, and eschew as much plastic as feasibly possible.
This philosophy can’t help but spill over into my business life, with my focus on helping ethical and sustainable brands communicate their world-changing value to their customers.
But claiming to be an eco-friendly business because of my values without reviewing my business processes felt like greenwashing.
Is zero waste freelancing too lofty a goal? Here are a few changes I made to get closer to my zero waste freelancing goal.
Business cards were one of my first business expenses. I wanted to be prepared for my first networking meeting where I knew (hoped!) I would be swapping details with fellow entrepreneurs.
I settled on Moo’s cotton business cards, which are made from recycled cotton t-shirts. They are pricier than the usual versions, but that small price premium is worth it for the peace of mind that I am contributing to the reuse of a waste material.
In a way, they turned out to be a less eco choice for me because I jumped the gun. I ordered them before I’d had a chance to set up my website and professional email address.
I have since wondered whether business cards are strictly necessary. In this day and age, it’s just as easy to look up our new connections on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram, and from there have access to their contact details and website.
Another option is to get a business card rubber stamp commissioned that can be used to stamp on scrap paper – the ultimate eco choice. It’s also a great way to use your values to stand out. But make sure you are set on all your business details before you order!
Received wisdom in the translation world is that proofreading is much more effective on paper than on the screen. For some reason, the screen tends to sneakily hide mistakes that jump out on the printed page.
But that’s not very good for the environment.
To combat this, I have recently started using the text-to-speech function in Word. Although a robot voice makes everything sound strange, it helps me weed out silly typos or awkward turns of phrases ok-ed by the spellchecker.
I do still print out translations and copy when I have reached the final proofreading stage, but I print in draft and double-sided. I now only print when I’m almost 100% sure that there will be no errors.
I recently became aware of how much energy web hosting uses. I was taken aback at first, so do forgive my naivety, but I had never given thought to the huge data centres that host our digital lives. In fact, web hosting is one of the most polluting industries. In 2020, it’s predicted that the web hosting industry will be as polluting as the airline industry.
I quickly switched my hosting from WordPress’s automatic inbuilt hosting to Make Hay, a green web hosting service which sources 100% of its power from wind farms.
Switching was easy – I spent £99 on Make Hay’s website moving service once it became clear that I had neither the skills nor the desire to move it myself. Money well spent!
As a freelancer working from home, it’s inevitable that home and work become intertwined. As such, any green practices at home directly affect your business and working life.
No temptation for takeaway coffee on the way to the office when you’ve forgotten your reusable cup.
No breakfast served in disposable bowls. Every day. (The last company I worked for).
No petrol emissions from the car or bus.
A recent study even found that people are less eco-friendly at work and recycle less. I do have to admit I have a penchant for bin diving and would often save reams of paper that colleagues had unthinkingly put in the landfill bin.
On this note, we recently switched our energy provider to Pure Planet, which provides 100% renewable energy and 100% carbon offset gas. We were surprised that it only worked out a few pounds more expensive that our previous energy provider.
My experience with printer cartridges has been pretty hit and miss. We were taking them to a local refill company until recently, but they kept on getting clogged and ran out suspiciously quickly. Officially, you aren’t supposed to refill cartridges, you’re supposed to buy them new each time from the manufacturers.
We’ve just started using a new type of recycled ink cartridge ordered online. The jury is still out because we’ve not printed much since we replaced them. They do also come swathed in throwaway plastic, compared to the refills from my local cartridge centre, so I cannot say if they are more eco or not at this stage.
If you need new furniture for your home office, then make sure you check out freecycle, eBay, and Gumtree first. You might find an amazing deal, like I did with the retro MADE green computer desk I picked up second hand.
We are also in need of a new computer chair soon. Scandalously, my husband’s company had a lot of old office chairs they needed to get rid of following an office move. We asked if we could buy one, but what did they do? Pay someone to landfill them (health and safety, apparently).
Our next purchase is likely to be a laptop. I’ve been trying to convince my husband for a while that if I can get my ten-year-old laptop repaired, I’d be over the moon to carry on using it.
But he’s the IT expert, so his word goes.
Have you heard of the new engine Ecosia? For every search carried out, Ecosia will plant a tree. In fact, 80% of its surplus income is donated to not-for-profit conservationist organisations.
Of course, as a copywriter, Google is our taskmaster. But Google isn’t the only search engine.
While Google’s sheer size means I use it for keyword research, I do try to use Ecosia for everything else. Of course, it’s new so just doesn’t have the sheer power that Google currently does. But who knows – maybe in the future we’ll all be ecosia-ing instead of googling.
What’s next for my zero waste freelancing goals?
So what’s next on my to-do list for improving the eco-friendly and ethical nature of my business?
One thing that is on my mind is donating a portion of profits to good causes. Sadly, I’m not quite at the point yet that I am rolling in profits, so this is very much a long-term goal. But it would be a great cause to get behind.
Another thing I’m also looking to change is to an ethical business insurance. By this I mean an insurance that donates a proportion of its profits to conservationist causes and follows sustainable business practices. After all, it’s not just about what you can directly affect, but greening your supply chain is one way we can ‘vote with our wallet’ and hopefully encourage other suppliers to review their own practices.
Have you considered making your freelance business more eco-friendly? What changes have you made? If you have any suggestions for areas I have missed or can recommend some great companies, let me know in the comments below!