Earth Collective’s ‘Interview with the Collective’ series is a collection of interviews with likeminded souls from around the globe, who are working towards a better future for the planet and people in it. In today’s Q&A, we chat with Dr Sarah Martin, PhD, the Founder of Nourish Zero-Waste stores in the UK, about (amongst other things) her business journey so far, her catalyst to sustainability, what gets her out of bed in the morning and her five top tips for those working to achieve a zero-waste lifestyle.
What was your catalyst to diving into the world of sustainability?
It was moving from Kent to Devon in 2017. My husband and I had been living in Kent for 15 years, working hard, playing hard, and we were living a life that didn’t leave time for us to consider our actions. I left my job as an Assistant Head in a high school in Kent, and enrolled on an MBA, and we moved to Devon 6 months later. The change of pace and of location gave us the time to evaluate where we were and what we really wanted out of life. We’d become embarrassed about our attitude and our consumption and determined to do something about it. I found it was impossible to live in an area of outstanding natural beauty and not be affected by that and want to live in a way that cherishes rather than destroys the natural environment. Opening Nourish was a huge leap into the unknown for me but has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Tell us about your business journey so far – what got you to where you are today with Nourish Zero Waste?
I’d been having conversations about how to reduce packaging and plastic use with a friend and that it would be great to be able to buy products without packaging – like we used to ‘way back when’. I was trying really, really, hard to buy locally and getting really frustrated with having to buy staples in plastic from supermarkets, feeling forced into buying packaging because there was no other choice. The shop in Topsham became available at a time when I was working out what I wanted to do after finishing my MBA and, I just thought ‘Why not just do something about this myself?’. I signed the lease, did a ton of research quickly and within six weeks, the shop was open!
It was met with in various ways – enthusiasm from people who were struggling like I was, scepticism from those who thought there was no way people would take their own containers to shops, and curiosity from people who had never come across the concept before. Nourish opened on a shoestring budget and with minimal stock, and as more and more people started shopping there, I was able to invest in expanding the product range into the around 500 food and non-food lines we now sell.
Thankfully, the shop was a great success and so when the owners of the Bran Tub on Magdalen Road announced their retirement in January 2019, it seemed like a natural progression to open a second chop closer to the city centre.
We have saved over 30,000 pieces of plastic from being used. This is a conservative estimate – we count each sale as one piece of plastic saved, but we know that the sale of one of our reusable water bottles will prevent the use of hundreds of single use plastic water bottles.
What has been your proudest achievement to date for Nourish Zero Waste?
Winning Exeter Living Award’s Retailer of the Year in 2019. The finalists in the category were established and very strong retail businesses – I honestly didn’t think I had a hope of winning – I had even taken my posh shoes off and had to scramble to put them back on when they announced me as the winner!
What do you think is the biggest threat to our planet and the people in it today?
Apathy. We are in the middle of a mass extinction due to our consumption, and I am worried that there are still a lot of people who don’t want to face up to the reality of the situation. I
can understand that there are so many barriers to living sustainability, but it’s going to take everyone caring about it to change the way government and corporations operate. It’s easier to just keep on with our very comfortable lives and not think about it too much, but in the end we will have to answer the question from our children: “You knew about this, what did YOU do?”
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Usually my dog, wanting his walk! Running my own business is stressful, especially during a pandemic; however, going straight from bed to a dog walk along the banks of the River Otter is always the reminder that I need that working to protect our stunning natural environment is what I want and need to do.
Who/what has been the biggest influence in your life?
My husband. We have been married for over 20 years and he has always been my greatest champion. He believes in me and my abilities, and is always there to reassure, encourage, cajole and push me into action when I feel unsure of myself. There is no way I would be the person I am without him.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold
Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols
Homesick – Why I live in a shed by Catrina Davies
What does the word ‘community’ mean to you?
To me, it means a group of people working together – physically or emotionally. I grew up in a strong village community in west Wales and didn’t realise until after my teenage year how safe and supported my ‘rebellions’ actually were! Everyone looked out for each other. Similarly I have found some incredible online zero waste communities – where I learned a lot, and can now advise others. I genuinely think it is important to connect with the community in which you live and work and give as much as you take from it.
What are your five top tips for people who are working to achieve a zero-waste lifestyle?
- You will make mistakes. It’s fine.
- Always ask the question – do I need this ‘thing’ or do I ‘want’ it?
- Make small changes over time, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Just keep heading in the right direction at the pace that you can.
- Be kind. We are all at different stages in our zero waste journeys, and we are all learning all of the time.
Where are you heading to next in your journey?
The next stage in my journey is to provide consultancy to businesses in any sector who are committed to ensuring sustainability is at the forefront of their future. I will be arguing the business case for sustainability and justifying the importance of integrating sustainability to ensure long term value creation. I will show that sustainability can be a powerful aspect of marketing to enhance a company’s brand and reputation helping companies to formulate a practical action plan for overcoming the barriers and seizing the opportunities associated with creating a sustainable business.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know!
The pandemic has had a massive impact on small businesses – and we need your readers more than ever to support us through these difficult times.
When they shop in local independent shops, they are making a direct impact on someone’s life, rather than making a rich CEO of a multinational even richer. Every pound spent locally now will keep your community alive.
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