Buy less, buy better: Results and decisions from the We Are Stardust eco survey


Tree root watercolour painting

I often feel awkward about selling cards and prints when I know that to tackle climate change we need to reduce the amount of stuff we buy and consume, reuse and repurpose old and unwanted things, recycle as much as possible. How do I navigate this ethical problem? And how can I reassure you that when you do need to buy a new card, you know we are stardust is as environmentally friendly as possible?

Buy less, buy better

Agnes Becker walking in Watercress Wildlife Garden, St Albans

I am doing my best to live by this statement in my personal life. When I do need to buy something new I try to buy from businesses that are doing their best to limit their negative impact on the environment and society. This isn’t always easy as there aren’t many companies that make their environmental policies clear.

At we are stardust, I want to reassure you that I’m doing all I can to reduce the impact my business has on the environment. No doubt there is much more I can do and I will keep learning and tweaking things as I go (let me know if you have any suggestions!).

Earlier this year 20 we are stardust Journal Subscribers, the Stardust Testers, kindly volunteered to accept some test cards and fill in a survey to help me decide how to make we are stardust as environmentally friendly as possible. Here are the results and the decisions they informed.

Reduce

Smaller card size

Old designs will remain 5 x 7 inches until they are eventually phased out and new designs will be a smaller (A6) size. As Stardust Testers were fairly even in terms of the size they preferred, 53% preferred A6 compared to 5 x 7 inches, I made an executive decision! 

Last year's We Are Stardust Christmas cards were A6 size

Smaller print orders

To keep costs down I have been ordering 1000 cards from my printer at one time. This means sometimes I over-order and have stock hanging around for a long time (I don’t want to throw it away!). In the future I will place smaller orders, at a higher cost*, so that I can reduce the amount of potential waste.

No air miles

I do my best to use UK based suppliers as much as possible to reduce on carbon emissions from shipping.

Digital downloads rather than printed products

I hope to create more digital downloads, such as the recent bluebell nature guide. Although I love holding a printed, physical card and book in my hands, digital downloads will reduce the shipping, manufacturing and printing of things I want to share with you. They will also help me get beautiful new offerings to you faster!

Reuse

Cardboard boxes reused

I send off wholesale orders in reused old cardboard boxes. I pack them as neatly as possible using recyclable tape from DavPack so they still feel special when they arrive at my stockists. 

Business cards from faulty cards and old T shirts

Instead of buying new business cards I am using cards that arrived not quite in the perfect condition I’d like in order to sell them in my shop. I also occasionally use these cards to create gift tags. When I do need to buy more business cards, I buy get them printed on card made from recycled cotton t-shirt off cuts from Moo.

We Are Stardust business cards

Reuse your ribbons

If you order three or more cards, they will come wrapped in a ribbon from MacCulloch and Wallis in the hope that they will be reused by my lovely customers (if you know any manufacturers of eco friendly ribbons, please let me know). I'd love to know how you have used your we are stardust ribbons - let me know in the comments.

Recycle (and renewable sources)

Card stock - FSC vs 100% recycled

All cards are printed on recyclable card stock so you can pop them in your local recycling bin (or frame them or cut them up and reuse them as gift tags).

We are stardust cards will continue to be printed on Forestry Stewardship Council* (FSC) certified card that has been made in the UK by GF Smith. The printer I use also has 100% recycled FSC certified card stock made in Italy and shipped to the UK. As nearly 79% of Stardust Testers preferred the FSC card stock (they said it felt thicker and higher quality and the print of the design was sharper) and the fact the recycled card would have to be shipped in from Italy thereby emitting more carbon into the atmosphere, I have decided to stick with the FSC certified card.

(If anyone has any information on ways to compare the processes for making card stock, I’d be very grateful. For example, is the manufacturing process of making card stock from recycled paper actually better for the environment than card stock made from tree pulp?)

*The Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) runs a global forest certification system that system allows consumers to identify, purchase and use wood, paper and other forest products produced from well-managed forests and/or recycled materials. FSC certified paper and card means you can be sure you are not contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests.

Cellophane wrappers - polypropylene vs corn starch PLA

Supply chains are a nightmare to navigate. I recently found out that the “cello” wrappers I was using weren’t actually made of cellophane (which is biodegradable as it is made from plant based fibre called cellulose). They are made of a recyclable oil-based plastic called polypropylene. The alternatives don’t give a clearcut answer as to which material to use instead.

One alternative is to use wrappers made of corn starch (PLA), which is biodegradable and compostable but only under the controlled conditions. Most local authorities in the UK won’t take PLA wrappers as they don’t have the right industrial composting facilities, see this Law Print blog, so PLA wrappers will likely end up in landfill anyway. The Smithsonian Magazine has a great US focused blog on the pros and cons of PLA which you may want to read – the gist is, it’s probably a good idea (though the cons of using corn for packaging rather than food need to be thought through) but composting facilities need to be made more available.

Another is to use paper wrappers, however that isn’t as environmentally friendly as it may seem, as this Lucy and Yak blog explores.

After much wrangling with all these points of view I have decided not to wrap any cards ordered through my shop in wrappers. However, I do need to wrap cards sold to wholesale stockists in wrappers and once I have used up my current polypropylene wrappers I will be switching to corn starch PLA wrappers for all A6 size cards (I can’t track down corn starch PLA wrappers for the larger 5 x 7 inch size card). Despite the cons and the increase in price*, I hope this is the right step forward in the longer term and that local recycling facilities will soon catch up.

Recycled envelopes

All envelopes are made with 100% recycled Kraft paper by Regent Envelopes, a UK based supplier.

We Are Stardust cards and ribbons

Recyclable boxes and tissue paper

I am working towards posting all orders from my shop in recyclable cardboard made from partially recycled materials from DavPack. I will also start to buy unbleached, recycled tissue paper from Eco Craft to wrap larger orders and prints in. I am considering giving customers an option to choose cardboard packaging for shipping that has previously been used – what do you think?

One question leads to another...

It’s not easy navigating these supply chains. Once I started to look at it I noticed more and more things to check, e.g. where does the cardboard that makes the packing come from? Is it shipped from abroad? Are the forests properly managed? The only thing I can console myself with is that I am doing my best, one step at a time and that I will share this journey with you as I go. I want to be transparent and I want to make it easy for you to know not only who makes we are stardust cards but also where they come from. Next up, time to sort out the supply chain for my prints!

*both of these facts mean I will have to put up my prices in the next few months. As my cards haven’t changed in price since I launched in 2016, I hope that won’t be too much of a surprise. Also, my Stardust Testers showed me I have probably been undercharging for a while now…

Do you have any questions about we are stardust’s environmental efforts or thoughts on how I could improve? Let me know in the comments. 


2 comments


  • lesley austin

    Hello Agnes,
    I found you through the Josephine Brooks podcast and came to see all the creations you were talking about there. So wonderful and unusual! I have been designing and making paper goods, with an earth-thoughtful bent, for more than 20 years now and am glad to be a sounding board for you, if you would like. Tho’ I am in the U.S. so my sources will only be so much help. But I did want to mention what I’ve used for ribbon over the years. I began by buying vintage seam binding off eBay and used that (or raffia-but I could never really find out about how that was grown and processed) until several years ago when I began using thin strips of thrifted/hemp/linen and organic cotton fabric. This is by far my favorite “ribbon.” And I would imagine it might not be difficult to source an organic cotton with stars printed on it? Wishing you so well! Lesley


  • Claire Chalcraft

    As a consumer I am drawn to buy only from makers and creative businesses that are environmentally conscious about their packaging and materials … I admire the lengths to which you have gone so far and really applaud your openness and huge efforts as well as your artistic talents too of course! Best wishes Claire PS … I am not selling anything … just making and creating as a way of connecting and feeding my inner artist!!


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