Sustainable business needs to be financially sustainable too

I’ve been thinking at lot about business and finance lately. My husband and I are changing our home loan over to a customer owned bank which doesn’t invest in fossil fuels or make other environmentally harmful investments. It also doesn’t profit gouge it’s customers like the commercial (shareholder-owned) banks do. But it still needs to make profitable investments so it can continue to service it’s customer base and offer affordable rates on the loans.

It may surprise you to know that I have a finance degree. Actually, I did one whole year of Actuarial Studies when I was 18 (I was a maths wizz). I thought that I wanted to have a high level career in finance and investment. It took me 5 weeks to realise that this wasn’t the course for me, so I switched at the end of the first year. (For those of you in the US, where the college system is quite different- we choose our specialisations when we enter university straight out of high school). In the end I studied finance, international business (only because I felt it was a safe bet for getting a job) as well Asian politics, and Chinese language (for the love of it). Then I did my Masters in anthropology and community development. Yes, it was an ecclectic mix!

I left university believing I wouldn’t give a second thought to finance and business. But here I am, thinking about them again. Because if we want any hope of having a sustainable alternative to the status quo, then we need to be creating sustainable alternatives that are financially sustainable too, and can support workers and owners to earn a fair wage and make a living. Even when we are working primarily for social and environmental impact, we still need to pay our mortgages and feed our families.

Sustainable living means consuming less, and not choosing bigger and more expensive. Riding bicycles or walking instead of using the car. Buying second hand furniture and clothing. Choosing a smaller house. Our costs of living are usually lower. So the financial needs and expectations of the people behind sustainable businesses and enterprises are usually lower. But they still need to earn a living. A fair wage for the work that they do, even when it is a passion project.

We have been conditioned by our exploitative and unsustainable economic system to expect cheap and free goods and services. We’ve talked about this a lot when it comes to clothing, but it pervades all aspects of our society. When you buy a cheap dress, it is your garment worker who is subsidising your purchase- you are not paying for the true value of the garment.  When you buy a magazine, the cost is much lower because advertisers pay for the privilege of your attention and subsidise the costs of the articles and photographs. When you use social media, these tools we value for connection are free because companies are willing to pay for your attention through advertising.

I have thought a great deal about this when it comes to tortoise & lady grey. This blog is the digital equivalent of a magazine. I could cover the costs of running it by selling sponsorship and advertising, but that doesn’t sit well with my view of how we could improve our economy. If I get sponsors, how will this impact on my promotion of intentional, sustainable consumption, which involves buying only what you need?

Completed body butter

I want to create beautiful content that inspires you to live well with less, and to live sustainably. To untangle yourself from consumerism. I do enjoy sharing products with you, but I only want to share products that are genuinely useful and sustainable, and I only want to share them so you will know where to find them when you need them. Not so you will buy now, buy more, and buy often. Sometimes I am gifted a garment from a label, which is a small amount of value that helps to reduce my cost of living. But I only accept garments that I actually need and will use, and for the most part I turn these offers down. It is so important for me to live my values. On rare occasions there is a sustainable product with an affiliate program, and I do participate in these so that I can earn a tiny commission if you buy something useful. But the occasional small revenue I gain from this does not come close to covering my admin costs, let along the value of my time.

Other than these occasional affiliate links, I have made the conscious decision to keep tortoise & lady grey free from advertising  and sponsorship. However, I spend 3-10 hours on each post, some DIY posts may even take much longer to craft for you. This time has value. With two little boys to take care of, and a freelance career to fit in, these hours I spend creating content for the blog are hours that could be spent with my children, or working for my clients.

I want to keep creating this content. I know it has a genuine environmental and social value. I also know that my content is high quality, but when I am pressed for time this quality can suffer. I don’t want it to suffer. I don’t want to write shorter articles, because I know you can’t unpack an issue in enough depth if you write too little. I don’t want to give up creating the DIY tutorials that help you to make as much as possible yourself, and allow you to rely on shopping even less. But this content requires a significant investment of my time.

Beeswax Wrap Finished

Think of tortoise & lady grey as a social enterprise. A business whose primary aim is to inspire and teach readers to live more sustainably. To have the confidence to make sustainable changes day-by-day. To not feel guilty about how far you have to go. To not feel overwhelmed by the work that is ahead of you. To feel confident that you, as an individual can make a difference. To know that you are not alone in choosing this path that is less conventional, and goes against all our conditioning.

If you value the lessons and the inspiration contained in these pages, and you appreciate that the site is free from advertising (and annoying pop ups), I would appreciate your supporting in making it financially sustainable for me. One way to show your support is to buy a copy of 6 Steps to a Sustainable Wardrobe, which is on special for $10 until the end of January.

Another way to support this blog is with a small monthly contribution. I have set up a Patreon page  where you can contribute to the costs of keeping this tortoise & lady grey free from advertising. Your needn’t give very much, just a small monthly contribution (which you can cancel at anytime if your financial situation changes). Perhaps just the cost of a coffee each month. Any amount above $1 is accepted and processed by Patreon. If I reach my first funding milestone of $300 per month, I will double my number posts each month, so I can bring you content more regularly. If I reach my stretch goal of $3000 per month, I will start a sustainable living podcast.

But regardless of whether I reach these goals, any amount will help to keep this site free from advertising. So we can have a greater chance of really living sustainably and buying only what we need. I believe that a sustainable economy is one in which artists, makers, performers and creators can be supported for their work. Where people can create value, and produce work that helps us live our lives better AND support their families. We shouldn’t need advertising or corporate sponsorship in order to produce work that helps us understand ourselves or live more meaningful lives. Creators should be compensated for their work, and people should have the freedom to contribute within their individual means.

If we shift our thinking about how value is compensated for, we can do away with the need for advertising entirely. That, for me, is the ultimate goal.

Are you with me?

If you appreciate this site being free from advertising and annoying pop-ups, you can help keep it this way by becoming a patron . You can show your support for as little as $1 per month here 


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  • Great to see you have Disqus! Finally getting around to reading this post and I whole-heartedly agree with you Summer that sustainable living should include achieving financially sustainability too. The older and wiser I get the less interested I am in making money that doesn’t fit in with my values. While I’m not particularly against blog sponsorships and advertising, I think there are better ways of finding an income. I think creators, artists, and performers contribute greatly to our society and it is my view that they should be fairly compensated too. I don’t believe that artists and makers should struggle because they are doing something they love. I also don’t believe that they should be content to work for free. Why should they? Great to see you trying to find another way to make what you do financially viable and in line with your values :)

    • Thanks for your thoughts Jen. So glad you agree. And just for the record, I completely understand why many ethical/sustainable bloggers do accept sponsored posts. It is certainly one way to be compensated for the many hours that are put into reseraching and writing about these issues. Elizabeth Stilwell of The Note Passer wrote very eloquently on the topic in her recent post No More Free Work.

      I just don’t want to put my energy to advertising and sponsored posts for this blog, when there are other things that I can explore which allow me to be supported for my work in a way that better fits with my hopes for how our economies can evolve.