Start green, stay green – Part 1.

Start green, stay green – Part 1.

Living your values through your new business


For Anne Threlfall, receiving heartbreaking news during her second pregnancy was a defining moment.

At just 10 weeks, Anne and her husband were told their baby girl was unlikely to survive in utero. The news was a shock, but it also offered perspective and set in train the making of ethically driven small business, Elkie & Ark.

“When you go through something like that, you kind of have to focus on the good stuff,” says Anne.

“Focusing on the broader picture, we thought ‘okay (our daughter) may not live, there’s an 80 per cent chance she won’t, but if she does she’ll have clean water every day, food, education, no bombs in the sky.”

Anne began researching her daughter’s diagnosis and discovered a similar condition was rife in villages located near conventional textile farms and factories. So she dug deeper.

“At that point I was like ‘right, this is ridiculous, I can actually do something about this’.”

The result is start-up Elkie & Ark, Anne’s stanch drive to “create my own business that does everything impeccably right from the farm to the finished product and also beyond”.

Creating luxury Fairtrade bed linens, Elkie & Ark is a robust example of a sustainable business; of a genuine commitment to green business practices, not just a corporate policy paying lip service.

 

Representing more than 95 per cent of all businesses in Australia, SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) have the strength in numbers to make a substantial impact on the natural environment as well as influence eco business practices.

While some SMEs remain reluctant to engage in green practices, viewing environmental sustainability as a burden and unnecessary expense, many embrace social responsibility. Some, like Elkie & Ark, go the extra mile.

While Anne didn’t set out to follow a strict set of principles in starting up an environmentally friendly and ethically sound business, she has applied her personal values throughout the process.

The mum of two (daughter Elkie survived in utero and post-birth surgery was an “unprecedented success”) has long been interested in environmental sustainability. She wrote to The Body Shop founder and renowned environmental campaigner, Anita Roddick, as a young girl; she studied microfinance; she has worked for a number of NGOs and charities; she leads a very organic, very waste-free lifestyle.

But in her search for her dream vocation, she had one consistent frustration.

“I wanted to help people in a way that was self-perpetuating – not where I had to spend a lot of time having to raise funds and then spend a lot of money on raising those funds, and be bound by other people.

“I wanted to help people really fix a problem, not putt on a Band-Aid solution.”

Elkie & Ark is certainly self-perpetuating.

All products are designed in Australia before being hand-picked, spun, woven, sewn and hand-finished from 100 per cent certified Global Organic Textile Standard and accredited Fairtrade cotton.

Moreover, Anne conducted extensive research to ensure she secured the right partners; partners who would share her vision of environmental sustainability and, as importantly, humanity.

To Anne, that means safe and supportive working conditions, and helping to empower women, men, children and communities to get out of poverty.

“The power of business, when it’s done well, to help people build their lives is so strong,” she said.

Anne has managed to meet her own lofty sustainability standards without compromising the quality of her product, although she admits it’s not a cheap way to go about things. She also concedes she is not perfect, but is quick to add that she will always strive to be.

She says the foundation of her achievements has been research, research and research.

Of course, there are many shades of grey between doing absolutely nothing and doing absolutely everything.

Making smarter choices around your office about the consumption of energy, water and other resources is a simple way to improve environmental sustainability. An audit of the environmental practices of suppliers could unearth some potential for improvement. Opening a dialogue with staff and stakeholders and encouraging them to buy in to your sustainability values will help incite long-term behavioural change.

Whatever you do, says Anne, “you just need to give a damn about it”.

Read more about the Elkie & Ark journey here.