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Greener Living: Top planet-positive places to shop




We all want - indeed need - to live a lower carbon life. Alice Ryan meets the brains behind four local home brands, all founded on a desire to provide eco switches that are easy, affordable and effective

Green Blue You

Launched in lockdown by friends and fellow conservationists Sarah Smith and Sarah Ferriss, Green Blue You is a one-stop online and pop-up shop for planet-friendly products. The Histon and Girton brand’s biggest hit? Its handy doorstep refill service

The motivation

We are both passionate about biodiversity conservation and have worked in the environmental sector for many years. However, we felt frustrated by the lack of progress internationally, plus we wanted to be part of the action, to make a difference on a day-to-day basis and in our communities. It was the Covid lockdown which was our turning point in taking the leap. Thinking about what we personally wanted to be doing in the post-pandemic world, coupled with seeing how lockdown highlighted the importance of community, local businesses and a new appreciation for nature on the doorstep - the time felt right.

The beginning

We spent months working in the evenings and weekends, planning, researching, and getting set up. The business aspects were all new to us, from setting up as a limited company, getting our branding and website up and running, researching brands and products, and finally committing to it full time and launching in mid-April 2021. We really enjoyed the challenge and the learning, daunting as it sometimes was and still is!

The response

It’s been fantastic. People have particularly appreciated our flexible and carbon neutral local delivery and the range of different products we sell, knowing we have researched them. The build up to Climate COP26 in late 2021 also increased awareness of our environmental footprint and we have seen lots of new customers wanting to make changes, which is great. Of course we need to build on that and continue to grow the market for sustainable products, particularly as life starts to return to normal.

The best-sellers

Refills of cleaning, laundry and hair and body products are by far our best-sellers overall. Our doorstep refill model seems to have really suited our customers, and we have also had good uptake of our bulk (5 litre) refills. Other eco-friendly household essentials such as dishwasher tablets, compostable sponges and shampoo bars are also popular – primarily as they are easy switches of things people need a lot. More randomly, our little eco-friendly children’s nail brushes have been popular, catching people’s eyes at pop-up events as eco-friendly party favours or stocking fillers.

The top switch

Use less. Obviously that’s not just one switch but as an overall approach to life, it covers a lot. . . thinking twice about whether you need to buy something can really help reduce overall environmental impact - and can lead to savings! - and then for things you do buy, think about materials, packaging, disposal. Otherwise home improvements big or small to use less energy, e.g. insulation or draft proofing; meal planning to have less food waste; switching to reusable and refillable products to use less plastic and packaging. It’s a lot to do all at once, but an overall aim of using less can help you spot opportunities when they come.

The reward

Having our own business is extremely hard work but it’s also incredibly empowering and has been a hugely positive change in both of our lives. It’s been very rewarding to have such great local support, something we don’t take for granted. We really enjoy researching products, exploring sustainability issues, and writing blogs. And knowing we are helping people access eco-friendly products when they were not doing before is very satisfying and makes it all worthwhile.

Based in Histon and Girton, Green Blue You offers doorstep refills of cleaning, laundry and hair and body products locally (villages to the north of Cambridge) and nationwide delivery from its online store: greenblueyou.co.uk. Follow @greenblueyou on Facebook and @green.blue.you on Instagram for more information and updates, including pop-up dates and venues.

Clear to Sea

Watching David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet galvanised career environmentalist Catherine Winn to open Clear to Sea, her planet-positive grocery and homeware store in Bury St Edmunds. With an ever-growing fanbase, the shop is now celebrating its third birthday

The motivation

As a keen environmentalist, I have worked in education and several charities, such as Kite Country, the National Trust, RSPB and Essex Wildlife Trust. David Attenborough has always been inspirational and his series The Blue Planet spurred me into doing something to alleviate all the plastic waste.

The beginning

In February 2019, I opened up my zero-waste shop Clear to Sea, the subtle title emphasising the need to protect our oceans from the horrendous dumping of plastic waste. I wanted to show people that food could be purchased without all the unnecessary packaging and that everyday items we use could be sustainable as opposed to single-use and/or throwaway!

You can find a full range of cereals, nuts, sugars, flour, rice, pasta, pulses, grains, herbs, spices, tea, coffee, seeds, dried fruit and more in the shop, along with a choice of plastic-free cleaning tools, shavers, soap and shampoo bars, reusable cups and lunchboxes, wooden toothbrushes, natural deodorants, and a full range of refillable household cleaning liquids.

The response

The reception has been amazing, with my loyal customers supporting me thoughout Covid, when I remained open. I hope more people will adopt the zero-waste shopping experience, which reflects a similar approach to shopping a few decades ago! Very little packaging, buying as much or as little as you need - hence reducing food waste - and bringing a sense of smell and taste back into life, not experienced in a clinical supermarket environment.

The best-sellers

My top-selling brands are the refillable household cleaning products which are plant-based and biodegradable. Refilling saves so many plastic bottles! Another popular product for women is reusable, washable sanitary pads and washable period pants which stops millions of pads going to landfill and also saves money too. Of course, loose food is very popular as customers don’t have to buy huge amounts.

The top switch

There are so many alternatives to using plastic, which is in almost everything. During my last three years researching plastic-free options, the choice and range has increased. The easiest place to reduce plastic usage is the kitchen: coconut fibre scrubbies and dish washing brushes can replace the plastic ones; beeswax wraps can be used as a substitute for clingfilm. The change is easy.

The reward

The BIG plus when visiting and supporting an independent, sustainable shop is knowing you’re helping to keep the local community alive. On a personal note, I’m proud to support ethical UK food suppliers and, even more importantly, young local entrepreneurs who are producing their own homemade, natural products and are keen to promote changes in consumer habits.

Clear to Sea is at St John’s House, St John’s Street, Bury St Edmunds. For more information follow @cleartosea_ on Instagram.

Eco Japan

After moving to the UK from her native Japan, Mayumi Dixon decided to bring her homeland’s hand-crafted and eco-conscious gift and homeware with her. The result is Cambridge-based brand Eco Japan

The motivation

I’d become used to seeing so much beautiful wrapping paper wasted every year, especially after Christmas. I thought I could do something to change that habit by using Japanese Furoshiki - the art of fabric wrapping which, dating back centuries, is traditionally used to transport clothes, gifts or other goods.

My background is actually in education management and teaching, although I have a degree in International Law. I have always been conscious of eco-friendly practices and the environment more generally, but Eco Japan is something that really just evolved quite naturally for me.

The beginning

I set up Eco Japan to introduce Japanese Furoshiki at craft fairs and Christmas markets in 2018. From that simple start, I have now branched out into other eco-conscious Japanese design items and homeware, bringing traditional Japanese craft products with an environmental ethos to the UK.

The reception

It has been great! It makes me happy to be able to contribute something to the world’s environmental crisis by discovering Japanese goods both old and new, and encouraging a focus on quality, long-lasting products and ethical practice at the heart of our living.

The best-sellers

Furoshiki wraps: they’re such an easy and beautiful alternative to wrapping paper.

Nozomi up-cycled jewellery: these one-of-kind accessories are handmade from broken pottery by a team of women in Ishinomaki, Japan, where there was a huge earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Akin to kintsugi - the famous Japanese art of mending broken china with gold, built on the idea that there is beauty to be found in flaws - their ethos is ‘finding beauty in brokenness’.

Masuhisa Spinning Cloths: made from cotton grown with chemical-free, non-toxic methods and slow-spun using traditional mules from the 1870s, these cloths are brilliant for removing make-up with water alone, no need for soap or oil. They’re long lasting, but once they’re worn out, you simply compost them, returning them to the earth.

The top switch

Use loofahs for your dish sponges. They clean well, dry out so quickly and are compostable once you’ve finished with them.

The reward

The business has brought me a close group of newfound friends, some customers, some people who have taken part in my workshops and many other small business owners who, like me, meet at markets and pop-ups through the year. I love feeling part of a community and being able to get to know people who have the same passion I have for the products.

Order online for nationwide delivery at ecojapan.co.uk. For more information, including places and dates of forthcoming local pop-ups, follow @ecojapan.uk on Instagram.

Planet Friendly Living

Launched just four months ago by long-time business partners Clare Freeman and Catherine Wrench, Burwell-based brand Planety Friendly Living is already making a name for its eco-conscious online store, stocked with clever and stylish switches

The motivation

Although we’d both been working towards living more sustainably in our respective households for many years, it was only when we were chatting one day about a school project for one of Catherine’s daughters, that the idea of setting up an online resource focusing on eco-friendly products and information came to mind. Catherine’s daughter rejected our brilliant suggestion for a project, but we decided to run with it as a business!

The beginning

Clare started out in internet consultancy and Catherine in childcare. We ran an online business together supporting childcare providers for 12 years before deciding it was time for a change of direction. We sold that business, Out-of-School Alliance, in June 2021, and we’ve been feverishly working behind the scenes on Planet Friendly Living since then. Our online shop finally went live late November 2021.

The response

It’s still early days, but so far the response has been really encouraging. We’ve been pleased to receive loads of orders from local customers, as well as seeing a growing interest in our online shop nationwide.

The best-sellers

Our most popular product is the Laundry Egg by ecoegg, after it was featured on the BBC’s ‘Shop Well for the Planet’. This amazing product replaces your laundry detergent and fabric conditioner all in one go.

Customers have also been giving rave reviews for our reusable bamboo kitchen roll. It’s super-absorbent and can be washed and reused time and time again, so a single roll seems to last forever.

Our own favourite product is the beeswax (and vegan) food wraps. Not only do they reduce our reliance on single-use plastics such as cling film, but they also look really pretty!

The top switch

The key element of making a switch is that it needs to be sustainable in the long term. Everyone’s situation is different, so what changes are feasible varies from person to person. For some people it might be switching to a more plant-based diet, for someone else it might be choosing plastic-free products, for someone else it might be buying an electric bike. At Planet Friendly Living our motto is ‘small steps to a better planet’ – whatever change you choose to make is valid, the important thing is to take that first step.

The reward

We feel like we are working towards being part of the solution, rather part of the problem.

Shop for delivery nationwide at planetfriendlyliving.co.uk. For more information follow @planetfriendlylivinguk on Instagram and/or Facebook.


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