Want more loyal customers? It’s time to take a deeper look at the greater impact of your creative business.
In 2014, a global study by Nielsen found that 55 percent of consumers would pay more for products and services from a company that made a positive social or environmental impact. Not only that, but this number shows a 10 percent increase from the last study taken in 2011.
If you haven’t already noticed, people from all over the world are becoming more aware and concerned about our planet and the state of society. Most consumers will do what they can to support others who are also striving to make a positive difference. This includes purchasing products from eco-friendly and ethical-minded businesses.
Francesca Palange, co-founder of No Serial Number, a lifestyle magazine covering eco-conscious craft and design, cites grabbing a share of the growing ethical consumer market as one of the major benefits of choosing to focus your business around making a positive social or environmental impact.
Offering products that support a charity or a cause, or products made from recyclable, compostable or natural materials can be radically unique selling points to a growing number of consumers.
On a different level, Palange sees creative entrepreneurs as “pioneers of a small-scale revolution that is leading the way to more humane and transparent manufacturing practices. In clear opposition to the anonymizing and often de-humanizing force of industrial and corporate production processes, these new practices truly value, respect and even exalt the artisanship involved in the making of products and the natural environment that allowed us to make them in the first place.”
She continues, “these businesses really make the effort to tell the story behind the product, who made it, how and where it was made and using what materials exactly. Eco-friendly creatives can really drive this economic and social transformation. I think being considered an icon of best practice is not a small achievement!”
Think about the intention behind your business, before you even get started. What do you want from from your business, aside from the money and freedom of self-employment? Are you giving back as much as you’re getting out of your business? Can you find a way to make a positive contribution to society and the environment?
As a business owner, you are interacting with and representing your community. You’re a person with increased visibility. What you do and what you say does matter, it has an impact as small or localized as it may be.
Jacqueline Williams, an illustrator, designer and printmaker who owns Liquorice Panda, has found that running an eco-friendly business attracts a variety of clientele.
“We live in a ‘throw away’ society, so some people do need to have their eyes opened to the processes behind sustainability. On the other hand, there are customers who discover your goals and support your business based on this factor,” Jacqueline explains.
Could you be the one to change a customer’s perspective and open their eyes to an alternative product that is eco-friendly? There are many ways to make a positive impact with your business. It all comes down what you believe in, what you stand for—or what you would like to stand for.
Susan Stuart, a User Experience (UX) designer who owns LightMotif Productions, knows exactly what she stands for as a creative professional, but the dilemma arises when clients ask her to advocate for ‘users’ and not for human beings.
“UX designers are often asked to empathize with users, be their advocate, create a design that is easy or appealing to them, create a ‘great’ (monetizable) experience. But when that design doesn’t really serve the person’s greater needs or society at large, it’s deceptive–so then are we as UX designers really users’ advocates? You can over think the ethical issue–many things have both a dark and light side–but I’ve just been going with my gut.”
As Susan began to receive more proposal requests for these types of “deceptive” projects as she calls them, she decided to finally take a stand and say no. After a period of intensive networking focused solely on nonprofit or social enterprise work, Susan finally landed a contract with the largest technical nonprofit in the world.
“We were just a great fit, but I think another reason for the loyalty is that these types of clients need to see the passion and shared purpose first. ‘You just get us,’ they once told me. And they started giving me all kinds of creative work beyond UX. For instance, I directed a 6-minute animated tutorial for them. It was great to get paid for meaningful work done with a wide range of my creative skills.”
For the kind of client-based work Susan is engaged in, she pursues her beliefs by supporting clients with these same goals.
“There are new kinds of design consulting offerings popping up to support clients in eco-ethical ways. None of it is mainstream–you have to dig to learn about the methodologies and find firms offering these things. It’s not an easy road. It takes guts, passion, creativity, and perhaps the right partnerships.”
Operating as an eco-friendly entrepreneur doesn’t happen instantly. What’s most important to keep in mind, is what you and your business can become over time.
If you want to embrace a more eco-friendly and ethically aware style of business, here are some ways to start moving in the right direction.
1. Join a Group of Like-Minded Entrepreneurs.
Whether it’s online (Facebook groups, Meetup.com, Slack) or in real life, connecting with other entrepreneurs who share a real desire to make a positive impact can you get jump-started in your own efforts. You can get the support and resources you need from other creatives who have already taken their business to another, higher level.
2. Repurposed and Recycled Materials.
As Thomas Edison once stated: “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
So if you aren’t already incorporating used materials into your products, why not start now? Reuse scrap materials that you would usually throw out. Or if you can’t find a way to utilize them, donate your scraps to someone who can. Have a stroll through a junkyard or a garage sale, ask around at a factory or warehouse. Join a Freecycle group. See what you can repurpose into your next new product or tool.
3. Recycled Packaging.
Because some stores are starting to ask customers to pay for plastic bags, Jacqueline Williams believes that self-employed creatives should be increasing their efforts to package their products in recycled envelopes, bags and boxes. When Jacqueline sends out items bought by her customers, she adds, “I include original illustrations or print on the envelopes to encourage people not to throw away their envelopes. They have the option of putting their envelopes in a frame for display, recycling the envelope and sending it on to someone else, or making something from them. When packaging larger items, I recycle shoe boxes, as they are the perfect size, and often decorate the sealing papers. I even know a ceramicist who uses lots of old newspaper instead of bubble wrap.”
4. Locally and Ethically Sourced Materials.
Sometimes, it can be expensive to obtain 100 percent ethically or locally sourced materials. And sometimes, depending on where you live, it can be impossible. So, the most important thing is to do what you can. Use locally and ethically sourced materials whenever possible, and point out your efforts to your customers. Look for alternatives—you may even end up with a brand new product while experimenting with materials that you feel more comfortable with.
5. Natural Materials.
When Jacqueline works on her eco-printing items, she says the used leaves can be tossed into the compost heap after being boiled down or steamed. “I also use natural pigment inks created in my kitchen to paint and use surplus abstract monoprints to craft handmade beads for jewelery, pen pot holders and bowls,” she adds. A couple artists working with textiles have even discovered that you can create clothing from banana stems or pineapple leaves.
6. Zero Waste.
By considering the life cycle of the tools and materials you use and the products you create, you can employ a process that will allow you to become closer to a zero waste operation. Recycle your wastepaper and office electronics. Before you throw anything at all in the trash, think about how you could recycle it, use it in your art, donate it, refurbish it or simply save it for later.
7. Consider Your Carbon Footprint.
This is an easy one, as the options these days are endless for improving your eco-friendly status from the business angle. To start with, you can go paperless (okay, unless you’re in the paper arts), create or rent an energy efficient workspace, and use public transport, e-vehicles, bicycles or walking as your mode of transport when shopping for materials or making trips to the post office or bank.
8. Working for a Cause.
More and more companies are offering a percentage of profits to a charity as a way to give back to the community. But donating your products or creative skills to an organization in need is also a wonderful way to show that your business cares.
Make sure your customers know about your eco-friendly mission and efforts. Explain how you make what you make, mention your eco-ethical materials and processes and those that are not, and state why you have decided to pursue this path. Write it up loud and clear on your website, social media channels, blog, product labels and business cards. It’s an important distinction that your customers will want to know about.