We’re travelling across the city to meet the businesses in Bristol Pound’s network who are making the most of our Premium Business Services. We want to hear the stories about their business, about themselves and how being apart of a localised economy helps them.
Words | Tim Oxley Smith
Photographs | Ibolya Feher
Arriving at the Zero Green at no.12 North Street, we waited a short time for owners Lidia and Stacey to join us. They were en route back from their new shop, currently under construction up the road at no.80 North Street.
For Lidia and Stacey, this interview would be their second of the day – having already been with BBC Radio Bristol earlier that morning. They were fitting us in between keeping one eye on the shop and the other on the building work taking place at the new site; on track (we were assured) to open in November.
We walked over no.80 where we met Sunny aka The Hippy Chippy Carpenter working on some wooden frames in a back room. In 2018, Sunny built the ramp of the current shop as a favour. Now, Lidia and Stacey have tasked him with fitting the new shop. One good turn deserves another – just one of many for Zero Green.
As Sunny sawed away in the background, we got chatting. Stacey and Lidia told me how the idea of Zero Green was formed when eating lunch together at a previous job; where they regularly discussed how there was no way to shop plastic-free.
Timing is everything. And once Stacey and Lidia had decided open Zero Green – combining their backgrounds in food retail and customer service – a sea-change was happening. Quite literally. Stacey recalled how Blue Planet II aired on October 2017, bringing the world’s destructive use of plastics to the forefront of the public consciousness. Saying by the time the shop opened in March 2018, “people knew what the problem was.”
Well, timing is almost everything in Zero Green’s case. Although they don’t deny that indirect promo from Sir David didn’t hurt, Lidia sights the driving force behind opening the shop was the fact their needs as consumers weren’t being met. It was around this notion that they were able to harness their activism into becoming a new type of entrepreneur.
Zero Green had found their gap in the market. Despite this, Lidia and Stacey remember how they were scared this gap could be too niche. But by putting their faith in something bigger than their business plan they realised that the zero-plastic zeitgeist was there – ready and waiting. More people were starting to think about their impact on the climate with schools and other businesses coming to Zero Green to ask how can we start to solve the problems we face.
Stacey and Lidia start discussing between themselves, that, how before, they anticipated a particular early adopter demographic to be the ones visiting Zero Green. But now there isn’t just one demographic. And why should there be when we’ve all got a part to play in saving the planet?
“People are wising-up” says Lidia. Using recycling as an example “this part of our weekly routine is nowhere near enough.”
Stacey backs up her business partner on this point by describing a brief history of rubbish. “In the past, it was black bags… and today we recycle. But really, we shouldn’t even be recycling as much we do because we’re still producing too much in the first place.”
“It’s all linked” – Lidia’s response to my next question: how does Zero Green fit in with what’s happening with the wider world? Sunny’s sawing had stopped which seemed to give Lidia a cue to speak even more passion and conviction than before.
She continued to say that governments and manufacturers had ignored the same data for 30 years. Now, Extinction Rebellion is protesting and basing their arguments around the very same data. “But as well as activism, we have the power to make a change as consumers,” says Lidia, “until governments make the changes people ask for, they’ll seek out these changes for themselves.”
At the end of this inspiring passage from Lidia, she proudly concluded that Zero Green had become a meeting place for like-minded people searching for these alternatives.
In the new, bigger shop, Lidia looks forward to running workshops more regularly to help people become smarter at being greener.
But it’s not just the shop floor that’s become a melting pot of new ideas. Zero Green is sending positive change up the supply chain too. Off the back of Zero Green’s success, part-time artisans who would have occasionally gone along to pop-up market stalls are now regular stockers.
Other more established sellers used to pack individual items in single-use plastics. Now they deliver to the shop in bulk. Some have even changed their production methods because now they know – there’s a sustainable market for sustainability. It’s this positive knock-on effect, both B2C and B2B, that has put Zero Green in such hot demand for customers, the press and other businesses alike.
Our next question, we ask if there’s much of a difference in the level of convenience between Zero Green and the big supermarkets. Both Stacey and Lidia, in almost perfect synchronicity reply “the service”.
It seems Zero Green’s dedication to cultivating a different type of shopping experience is an antidote to the Amazon baskets and self-service checkouts of today. It’s an “old fashioned” way of shopping that’s mindful, not impulsive — focussing on reconnecting with food, products and people.
Stacey concedes that if shopping isn’t made convenient, then it doesn’t matter how mindful you may be, you’re not going to keep on choosing Zero Green for your weekly shop.
She used examples of regular customers that come to the shop: a family from Wales who drive over once a month and buy in bulk; or the old couple who buys just their flour, pasta and rice every week. Stacey was making the point that there’s a difference in happiness between convenience and feeling good about the way we shop. A choice that we all need to make.
This idea aligns with the Bristol Pound ethos, too. How – being conscientious your decisions as a consumer – can empower the community around you. Lidia remembers when setting up the shop becoming a part of the Bristol Pound was “a no-brainer”. Not just because of the ideals of a localised, alternative currency can help enrich the community Zero Green have become so a part of. In practice, it pays too.
Stacey sights how Zero Green have benefitted from having access to other businesses affiliated with Bristol Pound. By attending some of the Bristol Pound breakfasts, they’ve forged connections with suppliers and found an accountant to help with the books. She also mentions how handy it is to use their pot of Bristol Pounds (collected from customers using £B’s) to pay off invoices to Bristol-based businesses.
Before leaving, we asked what advice you’d give to someone looking to shop more mindfully. Lidia’s first tip was not to get overwhelmed. The second: go through your bins. You’ll start to see what are the products you’re using once but buying over and over again – and cutting out these products are a great way to start harnessing your power – as the consumer.