Starting an environmentally ethical business

The past couple of weeks have been personally transformative. They started with me almost accepting a job as CEO of a tech business here in Melbourne. I’d been in a turmoil trying to decide whether to take it or not. There was nothing wrong with the job, the question was whether or not I wanted to dive back into the Tech industry and continue to pursue my career of the last 25 years. In the end, it was a pretty easy choice. I bailed. With that decision came an acceptance that it’s time to for me to move on from Tech and try my hand at something else. Any lingering turmoil and indecision vanished and a clear vision for what to do next arose surprisingly clearly.


Start with the why

That same day I decided that I’d start an online store selling affordable, light-weight travel gear for Australian backpackers. It made sense for me to be doing this, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, backpacking light is one of the things I’m truly passionate about. I’m frugal by nature and finding affordable travel gear from the likes of Kathmandu, Macpac, Patagonia, North Face, etc is next to impossible. There’s a need for a cheaper alternative to these brands.  I speak some Chinese and learning all about sourcing product from factories in China strikes me as a fascinating challenge. I’m also very motivated to start an environmentally ethical small business and answer the question of how a financially sustainable business can also have a net positive environmental impact. In other words, can a business that operates in an advanced capitalist society be used as a tool to help reverse climate change and environmental destruction?

Having figured out why I wanted to try my hand to creating an online store I need to get started on actually getting it done.

Week One

I spent the first week setting up the business, writing the business plan and exploring Alibaba. This included:

  • Using the Australian Government Business Registration Service to register the company, get an ACN and ABN and company name. I ended up picking the name Below7 during this process as earlier names that I was keen on using were already registered;
  • Buying the domain using iwantmyname, a friendly Wellington based DNS provider that has excellent customer support;
  • Learning about drop-shipping and sourcing using Alibaba on the Goodlife Warrior and Wholesale Ted Youtube channels;
  • Writing a Business Plan and ordering some product samples from AliExpress
  • Opening a bank account for the business;

Week Two

It became clear that prior to talking to suppliers in China or potential partners in Australia I needed a website to give myself credibility. The urgent task for Week Two was getting a website and brand designed. I’m not a designer myself so enlisted the help of a former colleague to help with this. We rented a couple of desks in a nearby shared office space and he set to work preparing a Style Guide, Logo, and wireframes for the website. My job was to set-up WordPress and start writing content for the site. We managed to knock most of this off during the week and had a starting point for the site by Friday. I choose WordPress/WooCommerce to host and build the site rather than Shopify because I needed that site to be easily customizable and I wanted to create something bigger than just another online store. Presenting the philosophy behind light-weight travel and the environmental purpose of the business is, for me, the most important message. The Shop is secondary.

Week Three

It’s week three now and I’m in the midst of actually building the Site. I’m not a web developer but I do want Below7 to look professional so I’m using the Divi theme to create the site. I’ve been using this for some volunteer web site work with the Wilderness Society and have found it a great way to get something presentable up and running quickly and easily. The real challenge is writing the content and building a ‘store’ before I have anything to sell. “Coming Soon” will be two words used frequently on this site for the time being. By the end of the week I hope to have enough to be able to start talking about the business with some credibility.

What about the environment?

Exactly how to create an environmental ethical business is still something I’m figuring out. There are many questions that I need to answer, such as:

  • What is the carbon footprint of importing stuff from China to sell in Australia?
  • What are the best environmental charities to support?
  • How to measure the negative environmental impact of this business so that it can be scored against positive outcomes that the business enables?
  • How to ensure that suppliers in China are behaving responsibly, both towards the environment and also towards their factory workers?
  • What level of environmental and financial transparency should the business share with customers and/or the public?
  • How to source products that are affordable, yet durable enough to last?

I’ll be working through these big ethical questions over the next several months whilst I set up the Website and online Store, qualify suppliers in China, figuring out a marketing strategy and do all the other work necessary to start a business. It’ll be an interesting winter and I’ll keep readers updated of the progress on this blog.

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