Sustain This: Running a business off blood, sweat and that dirty newspaper in your driveway

by Oni and Liz at The Laser Co

14 December 2015

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It’s rare that someone wakes up one day and says to themselves “I’m going to make a profitable and ethical business. Now, what should I make/do/supply?” Instead it tends to go the other way around – I have an idea, a product, something that fills a consumer need. But I also have personal values and beliefs that will ultimately dictate how I want to run my business. The challenge becomes that still in this day and age, meaningful doesn’t always equal monetary, and sustainability doesn’t always match consumer demands.

But rather than lose hope at the barriers before us, we at The Laser Co have consciously made decisions and built our business around an ethos of purpose. As such, this determines all of the decisions that we make and, so far, seems to be working out pretty darn well.

Start as you mean to go on.

We’re only in our second year of business but have just recently managed to buck the ‘you won’t make a profit in the first 2 years’ rule of thumb by doing just that.  The minute we did so we joined the reputable Carbon Neutral Scheme, a choice we felt was imperative considering the emissions created during laser cutting. We now report quarterly to Carbon Neutral and our ratio of trees purchased increases with the number of invoices we create.

It turns out that as long as you stay true and consistent to your goal: to operate with sustainability, profitability and ethics at the forefront of your business, then the behavior itself organically integrates into working practices.

All talk and… hang on… action?

For example:

  • We saw an opportunity to repurpose boxes that purchased materials arrive in, to then deliver sold products to customers
  • We collect read newspapers from friends (and the annoying never-read free newspapers that get pelted at our house every day) to use as protective padding when fulfilling orders
  • A big one for us is the use of recycled & reclaimed timber where possible. Countless hours are spent scouring classified ads and collecting reclaimed timbers.
  • We give away what we call ‘laser trash’ which is the negative shapes left after laser cutting to schools and crafters who love it.
  • We also discovered Poplar Plywoods that are Eply (Have the FSC Certification and offer low production miles).  This timber is fully traceable, renewable, and happens to be a great product for laser processing into many applications such as timber signage, wooden products, furniture and more.

Some decisions may seem small, but the overall impact can be substantial. We also work to remind ourselves that any single decision is not necessarily tied to a single project, customer or order, but it will inform how we move forward and do things in the future.

Sometimes clients have the key.

A perfect example of this happened recently. We were in discussions with another great sustainable company  http://www.worthyandspruce.com/ – who wanted to become a wholesaler of our solid timber cufflink range. But after a few conversations they actually declined our product because we used imported American Walnut timber, on the basis of the massive air miles this timber does.  This was an aspect of material sourcing that we hadn’t fully considered yet, and were excited at the prospect of addressing it and adjusting how The Laser Co could work to avoid this impact.

We discussed how we could resolve it and we now produce our whole accessories range in Tasmanian Blackwood timber – which means: less air miles impacting the environment, supporting local lumber yards and the Australian economy, and providing the highest quality for our customers with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) grade timber. We have a great relationship with a new wholesale stockist, a warm and fuzzy feeling, and another selling point for our products.

And we mean to go on.

When we started The Laser Co we were passionate about staying true to our personal values, but life is expensive. Running a business is expensive.  There have of course been tempting short cuts available or less sustainable choices we could have made to make the path easier and more profitable.

But the longer we are in business the more we realise that these sustainable practices which we have put in place out of a sense of ‘right’ also have an added bonus of building depth and personality for our brand.  Worries we once had about having to be apologetic about aspects of our business, whether it was a slightly higher mark-up than our competitors, different turn-around time or limits on the materials we could offer, are every day being challenged and eventually removed.

We have stayed stead-fast on how we want to run The Laser Co and the impact we want to leave on the world, and now the kind of clients we strive to attract have actively come to us because they see that we are part of the Carbon Neutral scheme, or they have read a blog post we put out about donating a portion of funds to Animals Australia (on Melbourne Cup Day), or they’ve seen an instagram post about a new sustainable premium timber we are excited to be stocking.

So now we wake up each day and think to ourselves: We’re doing it. We’re building a flourishing business that we are proud of, one built around an ethos of purpose.

And pretty things.

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