What will post-lockdown hold for my sustainable business?

By Kate Hall

“There will be a move towards sustainable and ethical producers, with particular emphasis on locally made products.” - Tenille.

I’m crossing my fingers and toes and hoping this is true.

Although we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, over here in New Zealand, we’re currently experiencing ever-so-slightly more freedom post lock-down.

Businesses are coming back to life…

There is a ‘consumer re-awakening’ and it’s the most fascinating phenomenon to witness.

I’m watching Instagram promote absolute shit on my feed that I’ve never shown interest in, and the lovely local cafe down the road is closing down (wait, make that two of them). Meanwhile, the ‘Support Local’ message is being promoted on all media platforms in every way possible, and the New Zealand Made Products Facebook group is going off.

Who the heck knows how this is going to pan out?!

There's no doubt that no matter the case, every single business has big challenges to face in the next pandemic chapter, but today I’m asking questions on behalf of the hospitality industry: What does post lock-down hold for my sustainable business? What does it mean if I’m a sustainable cafe, a local coffee roaster, event planner or a zero waste caterer?

I’m not in the hospitality industry myself, and I thought it would be insightful to gather perspective from outside our New Zealand bubble.

I recently had the priviledge of speaking to two lovely humans from Less Stuff More Meaning; Australia and New Zealand’s hub for eco-ethical weddings. LSMM is a centralised hub for so many sustainable vendors in the hospitality industry- I figured who best to have a conversation with?

Introducing…

Sandra: Founder of Less Stuff More Meaning

Tenille: Member of Less Stuff More Meaning and founder of Vegan Weddings & Events.

The first topic I threw out there was packaging.

From across the ditch, Tenille confirmed that Australia is facing the same single-use packaging come back, and dropping the Use-Your-Own concept because of contamination concerns (which we know shouldn’t be a concern when reusables systems are done correctly!).

Tenille explained “Many cafes, restaurants and caterers that previously didn't operate in the takeaway or delivery space have needed to adapt to these styles of service to survive. This means that to remain sustainable, they have had to source eco friendly packaging.

"Truly sustainable single use packaging is still difficult for many food producers to source. Many of the recyclable or compostable options are also not suitable for freezing or microwaving, making it difficult for sustainable producers to compete in the market with those suppliers who are using more versatile plastic packaging. Even consumers who would ordinarily choose a more eco friendly option may, during these times, opt for the more practical option. Reusables, being the most sustainable packaging option, also aren't being used due to contamination concerns.”

Moving swiftly onto a more positive note, while acknowledging these initial sustainability setbacks, there seems to be a growing wave of conscious consumers. Tenille said it so well, “I believe that this opportunity for introspection will give consumers the chance to assess their personal values and ethics.” And Sandra backed it up, “One step at a time, our collective awareness grows.”

If Tenille’s predictions come true, there will be a “move towards sustainable and ethical producers with particular emphasis on locally made products. Consumers will be looking for providers of true hospitality in the sense that they will be drawn to those businesses that are taking care of their needs and the needs of the community in a caring and compassionate way.”

“There will be more general mistrust of big business and large food chains and small businesses will thrive if they are able to remain connected to their communities. I think it's an exciting time for those businesses that already have sustainable processes in place and whose products already fit into this niche.”

If you’re a small business in this space, wondering what the heck the future will look like, here’s some advice from these two experts who have been through recent bushfires and several years of challenges.

Tenille: “My advice for those small businesses that are concerned about making it through this difficult time, is to reframe their mindset from "how is my community going to support me through this" to "how can I support my community". I believe that businesses with that frame of mind will be more successful at getting through Covid.”

Sandra: “After the Australian bushfires environmental concern reached a new level, and during this COVID period of hibernation, we’ve become even more motivated to return to our roots of simple living. Just take a look at nursery sales that have gone through the roof!

So for small, sustainable wedding and hospitality vendors, this is our time to shine! It's time to show you’re a specialist in your area and how your values are reflected in your business. Make this front and centre of your brand’s story, and ensure your website is searchable for words such as eco-friendly, sustainable, ethically made etc. Don’t be shy! None of us are perfect, but if you’re researching your supply chains, cutting back on waste, and promoting mindful consumption, let your audience know.  Because now more than ever, we want to support people like you!”

The future is never clear when you’re running a business, but right now it’s hard to predict what will happen tomorrow. Keeping your values close, and your community connected, is the key for coping as a sustainably minded businesses across Australia and New Zealand.

*Styled images supplied by Vegan Weddings & Events.