I lived in London for a while and, even 15 years ago, they had about 10 different bins for recycling. When I moved back to Sheffield we had two, then eventually three, but it never felt like I was doing enough and I wanted to try and make more of an effort to recycle more and find ways to reduce our carbon footprint (not sure this was a phrase then though). Over the years, we have had made a number of changes; composters, water barrels, veg patches, recycling, upcyling, learning how to repair things…… I don’t like throwing things away. I’ve had my sofa for 25 years and I love it, it’s well made and I don’t want to be part of the throw away problem …. And, in Yorkshire, not throwing ‘owt’ out is a considered a good thing (keeping stuff longer also helps with being tight, another positive thing in Yorkshire!). At 30 I went to work for an environmental firm and this really developed my passion for looking at making a positive impact on the environment. Changing how I do things at home always felt in my hands. It’s always been easier to make changes as an individual, but when I wanted to change things at work too, as a business owner I was soon to find out it’s just not that easy……
My music school is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that was started by my partner Aubrey Robinson. In the past we have been in shared offices which had made it difficult to make real change, but when we relocated in December 20, albeit just over the road, we all of a sudden had a lot more freedom and, more importantly, power to make changes. Not that it’s been easy though – our new school in Ecclesfield is an 18th century converted pub. I love it, but the age has its own challenges. However, this wasn’t going to stop us from starting the process.
Like most of my ideas, the climate pledge started out a grand idea. I wanted to go all in and completely overhaul everything we did and get to carbon net zero over night. Aubrey calls me a bull on a China shop most days!!!!! I wanted underground heat pumps, solar panels, an eco roof, charging points and I wanted them all yesterday. When you look realistically at the costs of these things it’s simply not viable. Even with all the grants that are currently available, financially small business are completely priced out of the market. We are not for profit, which means that costs of any kind are always considered really carefully, and we have to think about how any expenditure will affect our team, our students and our customers, and how our decisions might affect them. Some of the changes that I wanted to make will cost tens of thousands. It can be a really deflating process. I want to do things better but I don’t have a way to buy us out of the problem, sometimes it feel like it’s not possible….. but then I saw the Amazon Climate Pledge advert on the telly and I figured it can’t hurt to find out more…..so I signed up the music school.
This was back in April 2021 and, although we didn’t hear anything for a few months, we started looking at what we could do. We started with a simple spreadsheet to track everything we use (this spreadsheet is now a complete beast!!!). We listed everything we use, buy, throw away ….and so now have noted everything from post it notes, computers, carpets, cleaners to photo frames and even the paint on the walls. If it’s in our building it has a footprint, so the job we are now undertaking is looking at what that footprint is (in most cases this is a ridiculously huge task on its own) and then we look at what we can change now and what we will work towards. The spreadsheet looks at alternatives, the costs and reality of it happening. We have to be realistic – there is not an unlimited pot of cash to make the changes, we are going to have to be clever about this, but we are also completely committed to it.
When I got the first email from Amazon I was giddy. There were many questions about how we could achieve carbon net zero, they wanted to make sure we were being realistic about the challenge in front of us….We were looking to make a pledge alongside companies like Pepsi, Microsoft, Hermes and Uber. These guys have departments dedicated to sustainability and environmental change and all we had at this point was me with a bit between my teeth…sometimes it feels like the odds are stacked against you, but it’s moments like this that make me think about a quote that many attribute to Margret Mead ….”Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” I know this might sound like delusions of grandeur and I don’t expect to change the world, but it is the idea that a difference is made by individuals.
I want to make a difference. I would like my footprint to be a positive one. If i wait until it is easier or simply offset the problem I am not really doing anything to make things better. I need to put my big girl pants on and get involved. We are going to do things better and we are going to start doing it now…..and the big difference between Harmony Music School and the Blue Chip enterprises of the world is that we can effect change in our environment almost instantly. We don’t have to wait for anyone else, we can see the problem and find a solution. Day one, we don’t want any more single use plastic. Day two ….there aren’t any! There is no board, or department or procedure to sort, it just gets done. We have the ability to make instant changes and that is a massive plus for all small businesses.
Obviously, I know it’s not that simple. There are 19 of us working in the music school and we are always busy. I need roughly another 10 hours in every day (and at least another £30k), but already two of our team have come forward to be our Climate Champions. Together, we are really energised about the process and, with every week that passes, we find out new things that are going to make it work. And the help we are getting is keeping us on track – we have been introduced to new people and organisations that are committed to helping us achieve our goals. So far I want to say thank you to those who have contributed to getting us to this point:- Sheffield Chamber of Commerce Professional Energy Purchasing Sheffield City Council Amazon The SME Climate Hub
I am confident that we will meet more amazing people and organisations along the way and that we will 100% achieve carbon net zero – you watch, we will get there before the big boys do!
SME’s employ 52% of the work force in the UK. Small businesses are the driving force behind the economy and the individuals behind them are those that will make the biggest change. I am glad we have signed the pledge and I hope it encourages others to do the same
Don’t be put off by the challenge. If you want to start today, but aren’t sure how, give me a buzz and I’ll send you all we have been using. I’ll keep you all updated along the way…