I did a Q and A via email for a horticultural business magazine, I thought it interesting to publish it here…
It would be really great if you could tell us about what your garden centre is doing to help reduce plastic and with it being such a big issue, how are you raising awareness in your shoppers about buying and gardening more sustainably.
We took a long hard look at our practices as a horticultural business last year, we were taking steps before the switch to plastic free selling.. stop using peat and pesticides was the most important. We consider human created climate collapse to be the single biggest threat to our existence on earth and the consequence.. our contribution to the decline/destruction of entire species of animals and plants. Our actions are not a business ‘trend’ or career decision, it is not a business opportunity to capitalise on… frankly, future challenged generations will laugh at the concept of profiting from climate collapse. You may not want to hear this in a business magazine, but free market capitalism and consumerism got us in to this mess, greenwash won’t get us out of it.
The awareness of customers is already there, they can see and feel the change in climate.. they read the evidence from scientists around the world. Our role now should be to accommodate growers to make choices, to choose to reject plastics in any form be it pots, bags, rabbit guards etc. The current horticultural industry is still bound to plastic and waste in a similar way to supermarkets. Since the rise of plastics in the 70’s the convenience of plastic its use has become almost invisible, we (did) expect everything we buy to be cocooned in the stuff, hermetically sealed and safe. It has become the language of convenience buying for people with busy lives. Blue planet brilliantly illustrated the true cost of that convenience and the horticulture industry has been struggling to justify its actions since that.
It is hugely important that we have a thriving kinder horticulture sector in the UK, it has an important role to play with addressing climate change/nature collapse, linking people back to nature (and its inherent mental health benefits) , growing food and carbon capturing. Consumers love what we are doing, it is not as ‘convenient’ as before.. but look at what that convenience has given us!
Do you have any set schemes in place? If so, how do these work and have they so far been effective?
The biggest thing we have changed is internally recycle all plastics, nothing leaves our site except for specialist recycling. We have drastically reduced our energy use and we now only grow plants useful to UK nature..
- We have designed and created POSIpot which is a ‘point of sale’ swap pot.. we decant from plastic to POSIpot, made from waste cardboard which can be planted in the ground with the plant. This has been a great success with customers going out of there way to buy from us, we wash and reuse the plastic pots.
- We have invented the peat free compost ‘bag for life’ scheme which means customer buy a super tough recycled bag that we refill from bulk. This now extends to mulches and even logs in the winter.
- We are pushing bareroot plant sales – Fruit trees, soft fruit and shrubs.
- We sell feeds, seeds and liquids by volume not packaged up.
- We plant orchards plastic free with plastic free ties and guards.
- We do lots of other things like only buy UK made products like garden tools and pots. We spend a lot of time assessing the carbon footprint of all our purchases and actions. The next big purchase for us is a large electric van for deliveries.
- We are based in a school and we work closely in environmental projects with the students. Our aim is to set up a reprocessing centre for garden plastics, already all our broken pots are sorted and shredded and made into new objects at the school.
I would say overall our actions have been positive, best of all it feels the right thing to do. Customer feedback has been brilliant. We are growing the business slowly and we now have staff members who we can pay a decent wage and train. We have not got everything right, but it is an enjoyable challenge.
It would also be great to hear about how you’re encouraging garden shoppers to shop and buy more sustainably.
We work with community groups including schools and green pressure groups, we actively donate plants we won’t sell and offer our time to specific projects.. this visibility has side benefits. We are lucky living in an affluent area of the country, price is not always the key consideration and we are surrounded by quite a few quite garden centres with pretty much the same imported or off site grown stock.. we definitely offer something different and interesting. We also have opinions and we are not concerned about disagreeing with established thinking. Small businesses need this.. they should celebrate having some character. Our customers are our biggest asset.. they are our advocates.. they can smell greenwash and insincerity at a thousand yards!