This article first appeared in print in the January 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. It was part of our January Green Issue supplement, which featured stories with an environmental focus.
Planet over profit. It’s not the sort of mantra you’d expect to hear from business owners, but Birch & Lace/Feather & Stone owner Sara Sansom and Big Mountain Kitchen & Linen owner Nicole Cherlet are running their businesses with a focus on being environmentally conscious, and it’s paying off.
The green approach is has succeeded for the two businesswomen, who tied for Business Person of the Year at the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce’s Excellence in Business Awards in 2018. The Mountaineer had a chance to chat with Nicole and Sara about their respective decisions to go green, the challenges and the response from their customers.
Mountaineer: What made you decide to take a green approach with your business?
Sara: The beauty industry has some seriously toxic waste that is being ignored. It isn’t taught in school, it isn’t talked about in business practice and it is wreaking havoc on the environment. I wanted to stay in my craft, but I wanted to be able to control the waste situation, talk about it openly and inspire change.
Nicole: It’s 2018, I don’t see an alternative. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t try to reduce your impact when we’re surrounded by all the evidence of what convenience is costing us.
Mountaineer: Can you provide an example of changes you’ve made to make your business green?
Nicole: One of the big things I noticed with my business was just the shear amount of shipping. That’s where I put my focus at the beginning, trying to consolidate our shipping as much as possible to reduce the impact and therefore reduce the cost. I’ve been trying to be really conscious of what is the social cost and what is the environmental cost of everything we do beyond the economic cost.
Mountaineer: In addition to focusing on reducing the amount of shipping, Big Mountain Kitchen & Linen also hosts the Revelstoke Local Food Initiatives sharing library and promotes making mindful decisions when it comes to purchasing items.
Sara: We deal with product lines that package minimally and use sustainable materials including post consumer packaging. We also cut down on waste and have systems in place to use everything to its maximum usage.
Mountaineer: Birch & Lace/Feather & Stone also offer waste free, bulk shopping and is probably best known for its waste diversion program. Through the waste diversion program, hair, an organic material that creates methane when trapped in the landfill, is instead sent off to be made into hair booms which are then used to help soak up oil spills. In addition, Sara takes home all of the organic waste from the two businesses and composts it in her backyard.
Mountaineer: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Sara: Cost can sometimes be an issue when implementing certain things, but if I move forward with good intention — it’s easy enough to save up. It’s been a good lesson to learn you don’t have to do everything all at once and nothing will ever be perfect.
Nicole: A lot of it is trying to change customers’ views because we’ve been trained for convenience. Our whole throwaway culture has consequences. It’s been interesting figuring out how to reconcile that with a retail store because I sell stuff and I have to sell stuff to pay my rent, so there is a certain amount of, “OK, I want you to buy new things, but I want you to be mindful of when you buy new things.”
Mountaineer: What has the response been like?
Sara: Our community seems to really champion environmental movements, and since we opened I know for sure one of the other salons in town has joined the waste diversion program, and I have talked to several others who are interested.
Nicole: Most people aren’t really interested in what other people are doing. People need to be conscious of the whole lifecycle of the entire product. What’s the social cost of this thing? Is this thing giving me more time with family and friends? Five years in we are seeing people trust us more. We’re not going to sell you on the latest and greatest big thing unless it’s going to help you do what you want to do. So we are seeing people becoming more mindful.