It’s been just over 3 years since Sea Kayak Oban changed hands. Right from the start it’s been important to us to reduce our environmental impact, and as we head into our fourth season we’re reviewing what we’ve done and working out where there is still more to do.
One of the first things we did was change our energy supplier to ClearBusiness. They are a green energy supplier, meaning that our electricity is as renewable as it can be without us installing solar panels on the roof (which we’d love to do, but we don’t own it). We’ve replaced all the lighting throughout with ultra-low energy LED lamps and this has brought us to the point that our electricity use is so low we can’t move suppliers as no-one else will even give us a quote. This may be helped by being in a building with no heating or hot water….
Running an online shop inevitably means using lots of packaging. Once we had a handle on what we needed, we moved to recycled paper and paper tape for our packaging. We have never bought any padding materials or boxes (except paddle boxes, which are quite specialist) choosing instead to reuse what we receive from our suppliers. So if your item comes cosied up in plastic bags, it’s because something we ordered was wrapped in them for protection, not because we believe in using plastic packaging.
Transporting kayaks from the factories on an open trailer means the boats need to be securely wrapped. When we unwrap a kayak, we keep the plastic wrapping in one piece, roll it up and store it. Then on a later collection, we take it back to the manufacturers for re-use.
It’s sad to say, but you can’t go kayaking on the sea and not come across marine litter – bottles, bits of old fishing nets, pegs from mussel farms, etc. We make a habit of picking up what we can as we go – even just taking boats down to the beach in Oban, if there’s anything lying around we’ll pick it up and put it in the bin before launching. At lunch breaks, especially if we’re on a south-facing beach there’s always lots lying around, and we will encourage clients to pick up three bits of rubbish to take back with them.
Our retail ethos
We can’t avoid the fact that retail by definition is about stuff, and in our case, lots of stuff made from plastic. However, we only stock products we believe are of high quality, and will do the job for a long time before they need to be replaced. We regularly suggest to customers looking for advice that they might not need everything on their list, rather than just making the sale regardless.
We prioritise small, UK based manufacturers over large organisations importing from abroad. This allows us to be more connected to supply chains, as well as in many cases reducing transport emissions. Many of our suppliers themselves take environmental issues seriously, working on developing more products made from recycled materials, and engaging in actions local to them.
We find ourselves in a privileged position, often being people’s first contact with sea kayaking. Any paddler knows that kayaking gives you a unique perspective on the world, and especially on the marine environment. As coaches and guides, we feel we have a responsibility to help people understand that world, the threats it faces, and the actions we can all take to protect it. We also celebrate the positives: there’s nothing like a white-tailed eagle sighting to impress on people that re-introductions can work.
We hope that everyone who comes on our courses and trips leaves with a better understanding of the environment, and a drive to care for it.
This is by far our biggest challenge. Sea kayaks and public transport do not go well together! Like most businesses, and indeed the whole country, transport is a huge source of emissions for us. Picking up boats for the shop involves hundreds of miles of round trips. Getting to launch spots often involves driving, even if it isn’t far, and during Covid everything has been exacerbated as we have been avoiding carrying clients in our vehicles, meaning we often need to take 4 or 5 vehicles where previously it would have been just one.
Following the recent demise of our VW Caddy after 217,000 miles, we looked into electric vehicle replacements. Unfortunately we hit a brick wall: the need to tow a large trailer. It’s something we simply can’t manage without, and the options on the market currently are few and far between, especially as we need to transport 7 people plus kit. Added to that the enormous lead times, and we weren’t going to have anything viable for the start of this season. For now we have compromised, buying a smaller, second-hand but non-electric vehicle as an interim to increase efficiency. And we will (weather permitting), continue to prioritise launching from Oban Bay, to avoid transport altogether. But it’s definitely one for us to keep working on.
Charitable donations and other actions
Working with Patagonia in our first two years brought the ‘1% for the Planet’ movement to our attention. Joining the organisation itself costs quite a lot of money for a small business, money which could be going directly to the charitable organisations. So instead of paying them to join, we’re using our money to support a range of initiatives and causes.
So far these include:
– Bamboo toothbrushes: In order to encourage our customers to move away from single-use plastic, we send out a free bamboo toothbrush with every online shop order. Even without a permanent switch, each one used stops a plastic one going to landfill.
– ‘Treedom’, a charity planting trees across the world, working with local communities and agroforestry projects. Trees are sponsored, so every person who buys a boat from us will be sponsoring one of our trees, and get a unique code to identify it.
– Seawilding, a local charity working on community-led restoration of seagrass meadows and native oysters in Loch Craignish;
– Treemazon, a local primary school tree nursery project.
We see these actions as a starting point, and intend to continue our environmental commitments into this season and beyond.