An interview with our founder Heide on I Still Call Australia Home Podcast - Creating a brighter future for wildlife and our planet

Author: Heide Hackworth   Date Posted:7 May 2021 

Today I had the delight of talking to Felicia Rusher, who is the founder of one of our favourite stockists of Australian gifts you'd be proud to give  - I Still Call Australia Home.com®

Felicia shares my love of Australian animals, volunteering at Currumbin Sanctuary in her spare time, so it was lovely to be able to share the story of Earth Greetings with such a like minded wildlife carer and business owner.

You can listen to the podcast directly here, or on your favourite player by clicking one of the links below.


 

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Show notes:

Felicia: 

Hi, Heide. And welcome to the podcast. Thank you for joining us today.

Heide: 

Hi Felicia. That's my pleasure. It's always nice to chat to you.

Felicia:

Lovely.  For those listeners that don't know you, Heide, can you please introduce Earth Greetings and tell us a little bit about yourself and your company?

Heide:

Yeah, sure. Earth Greetings are a small business based in Adelaide, South Australia,  and I founded Earth Greetings in 2003. We've actually been going for 17 years now. So we are officially a teenager.  

So Earth Greetings design and produce mainly Australian made and inspired greeting cards, cards, and gifts, and our focus is on sustainability and it's always been that way. So we've really developed that into our core purpose which is to inspire people, to connect, care and celebrate which we do with our products whilst contributing to a brighter future for wildlife and our planet. So, yeah, that's still our goal and it's always been our goal - that’s just our way of putting it now … and that's what really inspires us to come to work every day.

Felicia: 

That's lovely. That's a lovely motto and value, and I know that you really live those values, so I'm excited to hear more about it. Great.  So before we get into that in detail though, can you take us back to before you started Earth Greetings and let us know what inspired you to start your company?

Heide:

Sure. Well, if I can go way back and probably showing my age a little bit here, but I grew up in the eighties,  in the Adelaide foothills. So I had a childhood that was surrounded by gum trees and creeks, and we had a really big backyard, which was just amazing. So I spent a lot of my youth outside. I mean, we didn't have the internet or phones back then or electronic games very much, so I spent a lot of time outside and, you know, it was pretty common to find lizards under rocks in the garden and mobs of galahs landing on the lawn. So I've just always felt really happy in that environment, I guess, being surrounded by nature and close to wildlife and animals. Yeah. So that, I guess that childhood was, you know, it was a really happy part of my childhood and it's a place I still feel happy today being in nature and surrounded by wildlife.

Heide: 

It's my happy place. So as I got older, like as a teenager,  you know, you become more aware of, I guess, some of the negative things in the world, I became more aware of how animals were being mistreated to make food and losing their habitat and human greed, I guess,  as an existence in the world. And that really troubled me. So I thought, well, what can I do? And I became really passionate about trying to live a life that doesn't cause harm to animals and nature. So like, for example, when I was 15, I announced to my family who were horrified that I was becoming vegetarian, and that doesn't seem unusual nowadays thankfully, but back then it was sort of quite radical.

Heide:

In the late nineties,  when I was in my twenties, I thought, well, I want to do something creative with my life and my work. And I did an arts admin traineeship in a book publishing company. So I ended up working there for a few years. And I guess the irony of that is it taught me a lot about how not to run a business, but it sort of taught me a lot of things about my business as well. So that's really where I learned about waste because I was seeing so much waste there, like nothing was being recycled and nobody really talked about sustainability. Like, it just wasn't a word anybody used back then. And then I was, I was just so horrified that no one in the office was recycling and I saw all these books being thrown away in the bin. And so I sort of thought, well, this is not a place for me.

Heide: 

At the same time I was learning so much about running a business that I still use today, like how to use accounting software and customer service. So that was quite a formative time in my twenties where I was working somewhere where I was seeing how I didn't want to run a business, but I was sort of learning a lot of skills that I ended up using to realise that I could start my business too. So yeah, I guess, yeah, that's going way back ... but the reason I started my own business is because I realised that working for other people,  I didn't have as much control over what was going on, so I could be a positive influence, but I couldn't actually dictate, you know, whether we were going to do recycling and the materials being used to create products, et cetera.

Heide:

Yes. So, I mean, maybe it sounds naive, but I really do believe that we could live and work in ways that didn't cause harm to the planet. And you know, I still have that dream. I mean, it didn't really matter what the product was or what I was doing. I just wanted to do something that was really having a positive effect on the climate instead of a negative one. Yes. So,  yeah, so at the time it was just as a hobby, I was taking photos of native flowers and I was making greeting cards for people. So I was just printing them out,  and sticking them on a card and giving them to people. And so many people said to me, you have, these are amazing photos - you should start a card business. And I just thought, well, that's ridiculous.

Heide:

Cause I, I had a pretty steady job at the time and you know, I sort of never really believed I could do it, but I also was feeling such dissatisfaction with my day job and I really wanted to do something more creative with my life. So the more I thought about it, I realised, well actually I am developing the skills to run a business, but I don't really want to do this unless I can do something that's really environmentally friendly and plays a really positive impact on the world. So, this is sort of going back to 2003 when I started to really just think, okay, well, could I run a card business that was using all recycled paper, non-toxic inks?  You know, because I'd experienced being in the publishing industry, I remember going into these print rooms and it would just smell so badly that I felt like I had to hold my nose because it was so toxic. 

And I thought, well, there must be alternatives to this. So I started to do some research about that and you know, back then in 2003, the internet was not the dense form of information that it is now. Like there was hardly any information.  I had to find printers and paper companies and I was asking printers things like, you know, how is recycled paper made?  Where can I get it? How can I make cards out of recycled paper? It's hard to believe, but 17 years ago, these were quite unusual questions. And the way that these places were responding was like I was the first person to ever even ask about them. And I just couldn't believe that. I thought, I can't be the only person who cares about this problem. It took me about 12 months. And then in 2004, I finally launched our first product, which was a little range of cards and they had flowers on them. I mean, at this time I still had another job. So I was just sort of trying this out as a hobby, you know, will this work?  So I had this little range of cards with  native flowers on them. And I think some wrapping paper as well. And I finally managed to find, it was like this 50% recycled paper, which was, at the time, told ‘this is the highest content of recycled paper you will ever get in Australia’. 

And it was really frustrating because I knew that in Europe you could get recycled paper. That was like a hundred percent post consumer waste. So I knew it was out there, but the printers in Australia said, well, nobody wants it. It's too expensive. Right. And it was like, they charge me much more, even for this 50% recycled, then they said, Oh, here's the quote for, you know, normal non recycled paper. And here's the quote for 50% recycled. And, you know, God knows what they would have charged me if I had to incorporate a hundred percent recycled paper. So it was so disheartening. Like every time I tried, I sort of had this idea that I wanted to reach and I couldn't quite reach it with that first range, but I thought, well, what I need to do is just do my best.

Heide: 

Like here is still a better alternative to what is out there. And I mean, at the time you had John Sands and Hallmark doing all their cards not on recycled paper and people were doing what they called stick-ons, which was like sticking bits of glitter or plastic or diamontes to the cards. This was the early 2000s haha. So these things were trending back then, but making them difficult to recycle as well. 

So here I am with this little range of earth-friendly cards and I would literally, myself, go into shops and say, Hey, look at this. Do you want this in your shop? It's earth-friendly and they'd just be like, well, how much are they? You know, what's the profit margin. Retailers just didn't even recognise the market for them. There was no green market, but, a few years later in 2008, for some reason, sustainability just took off.

Then, I don't know if it's because of the recession or what triggered it, but finally people were ready...  and I remember finding out something really interesting that there was a sort of a, I guess, a market that was defined by market researchers called LOHAS, which stands for people who live Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability [see more here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LOHAS

And all of a sudden these other green businesses seemed to pop up out of nowhere. And I sorta thought, well, finally, it's like the market has caught up with what I've been trying to sell that hasn't really been embraced until now. And really 2008 was the first time I had any, I guess, success with a product… that I was really, really proud of, and thought finally, like people are actually getting it now.

Felicia:

Yeah. That must've been a very big relief. Were you still doing this part-time and working or full time?

Heide: 

I remember when I had finally got a partnership with a distributor who distributed organic products. So they were, I guess back in 2006, they recognised that there was a market. Right. So they were selling things like health, food, and muesli bars. Right. Yeah. But they also sold Earth Greetings because health food stores were kind of branching out and realising that there's a market for gifts as well. I mean, nowadays that's really common and our biggest customers are now ecostores, but back then it was, it was really just health food stores that were, I guess, embracing the LOHAS market group. So we had this, I got this distribution deal in 2006 and then it really did start to take off then, because I think the product finally met the market.

Yeah, exactly. I mean, you start a business because you think here are all the skills I have, and all my passions, and you bring it together and you basically like creating a job that you love for yourself, and I'm sure you can relate to that Felicia. Like your love of Australian animals and yes, like that's your passion. Right. And of course, if you start your business, you create that around your passions. But for a business to survive and thrive, you really do need customers haha. So, yeah, so 2006 that happened, which was amazing. And then for the next couple of years, it just gradually grew.  But yeah, 2008, it just seemed like my business really took off. So at that time I was able to move out of my little home office,  sort of, you know, working around my housemates, which was pretty crazy,  into a basically I would call it a glorified shed, which was a shed with a little office on it, but it was perfect.

Heide: 

It was like, okay, I can employ a few people now. And I had about 150 square meters. I can store my pallets and get stock. And that was really exciting. And, also that year was the first really successful product that I produced, which was a pack of Christmas cards in partnership with a charity called Trees for Life. They’re a South Australian charity and they plant trees, their volunteers plant trees to restore habitat for wildlife and revegetate  bushland. So, you know, it's charity I've always known and loved. What we did in partnership with Trees for Life with this pack was a donation to them, which is the exact cost of planting a tree. So the business donates $1.65 per pack, which is the cost of planting a tree.

So we had on the packs, ‘Every pack plants a tree’, and people loved that. And I thought, this is great. Now I'm doing something that's really helping the environment. And, you know, I guess back then, I hadn't heard the word ‘Profit for Purpose’, but that's really what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to have a purpose in a business.  I knew I needed to grow, so I needed profit to grow and every business needs profit to grow, but I knew that I wanted to, to give that product out a significant amount of that out for purpose. And I thought this is a product that 100% recycled then as well, with plastic free packaging. So it sort of ticked all the boxes for being eco-friendly. And not only that, it was actually having a positive impact on the environment. So I think I really found my mojo in that moment. I thought, yeah, I'm like really making a positive difference now with this business. And after a few years of struggle, that really motivated me to keep going.

Felicia:

That's fantastic because you, I mean, business is hard anyway, starting from scratch, but you hear a lot of people who start businesses because they want freedom and lifestyle choices. And I think it's lovely to hear that you have had a real passion and purpose from the beginning. And even though, you know, business, people will tell you what you need when you start a business. If you're a restaurant, for example, you need hungry customers and you didn't have those hungry customers, and were still able to-  your passion saw you through the hard times, I guess if that's okay to say.

Heide: 

It would have been so easy to give up. And I certainly had some moments. I thought, am I the only one that, you know, wants this green product and is there any such thing as a green industry? And I don't know how I just sort of saw that vision for myself because I felt there's gotta be other people like me, you know, and there are now millions of other people that think that way. So It's been an amazing journey over the last 17 years, like to see people's attitudes shift and the younger generation who, for them sustainability is just a given, like it's just number one importance when they purchase anything. That's what they want. That's what they expect.

Felicia: 

Yeah. Well, yes to that. It's because of people like you asking the questions and paving the way really. 

You've expanded out of greeting cards now, though … did you always want to make different products or can you tell me how you made the decision to add onto your product?

Heide: 

Sure. Well look now our  range outside of greeting cards is still quite small, and there’s some good reasons for that.  One of the barriers is that I really want to keep making products in Australia. And the main reason for that is to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible. So when you ship and freight goods around the world, you're creating greenhouse gas emissions. And we know that, you know, we need to urgently address that globally. We need to keep emissions below 1.5 degrees of warming. And the last thing we want to do is contribute to that. So that's why I've always wanted to make Australian made products. And it's easier said than done really with paper products that are printed like cards, stationery, planners, and calendars, et cetera. We've got an amazing printer - carbon neutral - that understands our sustainability goals now. So that's good. 

But when it comes to a lot of other manufacturing, it's just not being done here. And so many things just aren't available here. So I've just tried to keep things pretty minimal in terms of product lines. So there's definitely strict rules about sustainability that we apply to taking on any giftware product. And that means that we just have a very small giftware range, but, you know, we have a few things that fit beautifully in with being sustainable and also being able to be at least partly printed here as well. Like for example, with our organic cotton tea towels and tote bags, you just can't get fabric like that made in Australia. It's just not available here. But, even though we bring that fabric in from India, it gets shipped straight to our Australian printer, and screen printed here in Australia because that part is something we can do here.

Heide: 

We're just not able to buy GOTS certified organic cotton tea towels and tote bags in Australia. We would if we could. Also pens and pencils - things like that. You just can't get them here. So there are limits on what we can get made here...  and that puts limits on, I guess, having a huge product range, but that's always been something that I've felt comfortable with. I think our customers know us for greeting cards, wrapping paper and paper products and, you know, hopefully people will keep giving cards. Otherwise that that could be a problem.

Felicia: 

Yeah!

Heide: 

Cards are still definitely our core product.

Felicia: 

Yeah. Okay. That makes a lot of sense. And I think there's, you know, it's very easy to say why isn't this Australian made or why isn't that Australian made? It's easy to say, but you make very good points that we all face in the gift business in that, you know, Australia has lost a lot of manufacturing capability. And certainly when you're trying to do things by scale and not just someone in their home, making something it's extraordinarily difficult.

Heide: 

Absolutely. And you know, I'd really love to see that change. And I think that the landscape has changed a little with COVID as well, businesses that were only doing importing previously and now looking to source products locally here in Australia, because everybody's been experiencing huge delays in shipments arriving, not to mention the recent Suez canal blockage, which was funny, but really sad too, because, you know, we're all relying on international deliveries. And I think people have realised this with food insecurity too, you know, where, when we rely on things being shipped around the world, there's a lot of vulnerability in that too. And it means that we might have to be patient at times when we go through things like pandemics, we just can't necessarily click our fingers and have everything we want. So, you know, I'd like to see more manufacturing in Australia. And really, I think what would be amazing is to really have that,  even though, yes, it will cost more, but as a business, I'd rather pay a little bit more and get a higher quality product and be able to offer that to our customers because I think people do see Australian made as higher quality. 

Heide:

I mean, what, what do you think Felicia, because you're focused on that in your business too?

Felicia: 

Yeah, I try. Well, it's impossible to have everything Australian made because of exactly the issues like there's no porcelain manufacturing or,  you know, there's lots of industries that we just don't have any more here and physically can't get products,  that are popular gift products from here. So yes, I agree. I would love to see more of it here. Absolutely. And I think the challenge, that I have is, you know, trying to keep it balanced, I try and keep an Australian made ‘something’ in every category of gifts that we have as much as I can. And then so people have the choice. And I think the challenge is people talk about the cost. And I think what is a little bit misunderstood with the cost from my perspective is just how much more it is...  and we sort of have run experiments over the years and maybe it's a bit like you with, you know, being back in 2003 and there's no hungry customers!.

We probably have Australian made right now, I think. And hopefully that will change over time because the differences in costs when we have the Australian made versus not Australian made on the site is always significant more than, you know, half more usually. And,  you know, the choice that most people make is not to pay that extra. We find, unfortunately,  even though the choice is offered, but we're all about offering choices, because like you, I think, you know, my view is you can do what you can and you've got to go slowly. It's not something you can change overnight. So we're very much about giving choice.

Heide:

I love that you'd do that and just put it out there and let the people decide. And I really hope it's a little bit like offering an eco-friendly product that might cost a little bit more. They already were saying back in 2008, when they were doing surveys and found this market called LOHAS - asking people ‘would they pay more for an eco-friendly product?’ and people, they wouldn't, but they would choose it if it was priced [the same]. So it's really tricky. It's not really, it's telling us people don't want to pay more, but they do want to have a choice. That's what they'll choose if they have the choice. Yeah. And they're saying that since COVID people are looking more for Australian made, I think it's a, maybe it's a trust thing...  and it's reliability, and knowing that they can get it as well. So interesting times at the moment, isn’t it.

Felicia: 

Hopeful for the future for Australia.  fantastic.  so we were sort of touching on before, when you're talking about your product range about the carbon footprint, and that's a big thing and your business is carbon neutral at the moment.  Can you talk a little bit about that? Because that's a really amazing achievement.  Can you help our listeners understand what being carbon neutral means to you and why it's important?

Heide

Sure. Well, I guess I'll go back to what carbon offsetting actually is and what that means and how you become kind of carbon neutral and explain how we do it a few different ways. You can really go through this journey either as an individual or even an event, or organisation, or a business like we do. 

Carbon offsetting means that you purchase carbon credits through projects that keep fossil fuels in the ground, or they might absorb greenhouse gas. You do this in order to offset the carbon carbon footprint that your activities have created. So it's saying, well, we did something bad, but we're going to make up for it. So, one of our goals here of course, is to contribute to a brighter future for wildlife and our planet. So we can't do that if we don't recognize that as a business and creating products, we will have an impact on the planet.

Heide: 

There are going to be greenhouse gases emitted. For example, when we freight those towels and tote bags here from India, that's an impact with the shipping. So what we want to do is recognise when we're doing our best, we can't get that put out here, but we want to actually figure out,  how much greenhouse gas is created in producing the raw material and freighting it here in Australia in printing it in, shipping it back to us in our existence, as a business, packing it into boxes, the packaging we use, the labeling we use, and then freighting it out to you, our customers, or,  you know, where it ends up. So all of that, there's a big chain and that chain creates greenhouse gas. So we talked about carbon, but when you actually get your carbon measured they measure all greenhouse gases.

Heide:

And these are, I think there's six and they're listed under the Kyoto protocol. And there are all these nasty things like carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride.[See more on Kyoto Protocol here] So I think I'm saying that right, nitrous oxide, the thing of course, carbon dioxide, all of these things are the gases that are causing our planet to heat. So we see more of these gases in the atmosphere, and that creates a layer and we get the greenhouse effect and the planet's warming up. So the last thing we want to do as a business is to be making the situation any worse.  So it is really important to us to offset those greenhouse gases we create. 

But before we do that, our environmental policy is to definitely first reduce the emissions as much as possible. So that means deciding not to import thousands of products from overseas, mainly sticking to Australian made,  only using recycled paper, we're running our business on solar power … we recycle everything and we reduce outgoing waste. And, you know, these things are all looked at when we get what's called a ‘carbon audit’. I can tell you a bit more about that.  So we want to really acknowledge and take ownership of the impact that we have. And this is a great way for a business to do something about it, because, you know, like I said, you can't create something without having an impact. We have an impact when we get out of bed every day. I know even as a vegan, I have an impact on land when I eat vegetables. There's no other way to get around impacts on the environment. So we need to be able to acknowledge that,  and carbon offsetting is great because we can literally pay for the greenhouse gases that we emit.

Heide: 

It's like a penalty. It makes us want to reduce emissions. So the way that we do that as a business is we engage the professional services of a carbon offsetter. There's now something called the national carbon offset standard. And there are actually finally some regulations about carbon offsetting, what it means and how you do it - and we’ve been doing this since 2008.

So thankfully, one of the things that came up that year was carbon offsetting and it was certainly the first time I'd heard about it. And I thought this is something we should do ...  and since then we've been working with a carbon offset company called “Carbon Neutral”. So what they do is they take data from us and they measure that data to create what's called a carbon footprint by the kind of data they get from our accounting software.

Heide: 

And it's derived from our expenses. Electricity bills, printing cartridges, paper from the office, the cars that our agents drive, and any cars that staff drive to work.  It's quite detailed. The other side of that is they measure the weights of all of the raw materials that are used in our products. And they can figure out from those weights, how many tons of greenhouse gases are emitted when producing products using those raw materials. So that could be paper or bamboo or, or organic cotton. All of these things have a footprint embedded in them. And then of course, we've got the freight of bringing those products into the country or across Australia, the printing, the inks, like literally it's full on. They go through it all with a fine tooth comb, but they do have all the calculators to figure out based on how much we spent producing a product, they can figure out with averages, you know, the embedded energy and the greenhouse gases that were emitted in creating a particular product. Then they crunch all the numbers, and at the end, they spit out how many tonnes of greenhouse gases have been emitted, and that's the amount we offset.

Felicia:

Right. Wow. That's amazing.

Heide:

It's really interesting actually, kind of like getting your tax audit done every year, but it's probably even more detailed and involved.

Felicia:

Yes. And I guess, cause you've been doing this now since 2008, is it? Yeah. You must have a pretty good idea what that's going to look like when you introduce new products or?

Heide: 

Yeah, that's right. I mean, it definitely stops me from, well, it makes me think twice about bringing on certain new products, knowing that the materials used are not something that,  you know, I would consider taking on because I think the carbon footprint is going to be too high. I mean, there's lots of other criteria about the materials we use. Is it biodegradable or a home compostable or plastic free?  So I guess there's a lot of other considerations apart from just emissions, but this is a really good way, I guess, to put a figure on it. And,  and you know, this process has a positive outcome as well, because the best part is at the end, you're given an option of where you want to buy offsets. 

Felicia: And so where do they administer the payment of that? Or do you decide how to offset that?

Heide: 

Carbon Neutral offer all these services, so as well as the audit they offer us some offset options. Now we could go and buy these carbon credits elsewhere, but we do it all with Carbon Neutral because they're amazing and we love working with them.  With the options they are,  basically there's a number of ways you can do it. There's projects that are really just designed to encourage people to emit less greenhouse gas. So for example, there's one that's been going for a few years in India where the community there were burning wood  in these really inefficient stoves and they introduced these efficient stoves, which meant that they were able to burn wood for cooking, but emit a lot less greenhouse gas from burning because they are more efficient. So for example, you were able to donate to that and buy offsets.

So that's just one way, it's basically like let's keep greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere and that's one creative way that you could do it. But what I decided, what I've been doing for the last few years and what I decided on was to pick a project that was in line with our values. And we know that we're losing so much vegetation in Australia, that we've lost 90% of our vegetation through land clearing.  This has caused more bushfires, wildlife  are losing their homes and we have a pretty shocking extinction rate for wildlife here in Australia. I thought, well, this is a great opportunity because they have this amazing project that Carbon Neutral actually started in 2008 as well, revegetating this massive area in the Northern wheat belt of Western Australia. So, it's actually been going for 20 years and it's directly funded by the purchase of carbon offsets from businesses like mine.

Heide:

It's  in agreement with the land owners, they plant mixed species for trees and shrubs then completely native indigenous to the region. And they're planting them onto graded farmland and it's really worth getting onto Carbon Neutral’s website [https://carbonneutral.com.au] and seeing these amazing photos of before and after this land. I mean, it was once richly reforested,  and they're replanting the forest and it's all mixed native species. Birds are returning to the land.  When you get a woodland happening, you get a forest floor. So you get insects, and when you get ground species, it's creating this beautiful wildlife corridor, but it's not creating it for the first time. It's restoring it. That was what was there before the farm land, you know, before the farmers came along and stripped it of life, like they're returning life to this incredible area. So it's been really amazing over the years to see these photos come in every year from Carbon Neutral, who say hey, look, this is how it's going.

It’s a huge area that they're revegetating and they've done 14,000 hectares. Their long-term goal is a hundred thousand hectares and they get all these volunteers out there and they're literally, they've got these giant digging poles and they're putting all these native species in the ground and they are directly doing that to absorb carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, which we know trees can do for the planet, but return homes to wildlife as well. So yes, it's a really exciting project and that, you know, I know there's other ways we can, that you can purchase carbon offsets, but for me, this project just ticks all the boxes for the perfect way for our business to do it.

Felicia:

That sounds wonderful. And it's not just about, like you said, it's the corridors for wildlife to get from A to B you know, where they go throughout the year as well, that we’re missing. 

Heide:

And they call this area of WA a biodiversity hotspot, like it's so diverse and you know, we're going to lose that diversity if we  don't bring the homes back native animals. It's just, it's a no brainer really.

Felicia: 

Oh, fantastic. Well, we'll definitely add a link in the show notes to that website with those photos, that sounds incredible.https://carbonneutral.com.au It's definitely worth having a look at. Yeah. And I can understand from your perspective, it's wonderful to be able to contribute consistently to a larger project rather than just sort of give bits here and there. And not really in that every, every bit is positive. It's nice to have a large, you know, as large impact as you can which is so inspiring. Fantastic. All right

Well,  so thank you for explaining all of that. I think that's really insightful and inspiring.  I'd love to talk also about being in line with your brand, which is all the stunning artwork that goes on your gift cards and wrapping paper and stationary,  which represents our native flora and fauna beautifully.  So I was just wondering when you commission artists to design a range or decide to get someone to produce that artwork, how do you, choose your artists and choose the artwork and things that go on your products?

Heide:

Yeah, well, look, it's always been, it's gotta be Australian native animals or plants.  and that's what Earth Greetings has always done. I mean, it's become really trendy now to draw native animals, but, you know, there was definitely a time when hardly anybody was doing it. So,  it's just been, I guess it came naturally to me at first because this was the world of nature that I loved.  I guess when I started my business, I was a huge fan of William Morris and the arts and crafts movement, and Florence Broadhurst, and I love their designs, but I thought, why can't we do these beautiful patterns with Australian native plants and animals? Like, why is everything so British or European here? You know, even the artists here were doing that. So I did all the artwork myself for a few years, but when I started to see artists using Australian native plants and animals in their artwork, I got really excited.

Heide:

I'd be flicking through a magazine and I'd see artists in there and I'd contact them. But of course, nowadays it's all Instagram. I see them on Instagram and I think, Hey, this is amazing. I'd love to work with you, but really, I guess that's the thread they have in common. And in the last couple of years, we've been collaborating with First Nations artists as well, which has been fantastic. People really love that which is really exciting and that's something that's brought a bit more diversity of what we do as well. And, another thing I know our customers love is colour. You know, like, I guess that's what brings everything together because you've got all these diverse artists and they've all got their own way of depicting a story in nature; and the first nations amazing stories in, in that art as well. But it's really that love of colour that sort of catches my eye when I'm looking for art.  I guess now we're lucky enough to have so many different artists that I'm always looking for, something a little bit different to bring some diversity to our cards as well, because I know that our stockists love something new, you know?  It's really incredible now, as there's some fabulous Australian artists that I see every day on Instagram and I think, wow, there's so many of you and, you know, I'd love to work with them all. But, yeah, I do try to find artists that fit with our values as well, and appreciate what we do and our sustainability.  

We often get emails from artists saying they'd love to collaborate with us because they really want to work with brands that use recycled paper and that are carbon neutral. So these people are people that I really want to work with too, because they love seeing their art on earth friendly products. Yeah we sort of find the right fit. I have conversations with us and it doesn't always,  you know, we don't always end up working together or they don't produce the art in the timeframe we need and things like that. But, you know, we've actually had a few artists that have been collaborating with for quite a few years now. And,  yeah, they just found the right fit and our customers love it.

Felicia:

Fantastic. I definitely understand where you're coming from as we share the values of having, we only sell things that have Australian natives on them. And that's one of our criteria too. And I, you know, I think it is very trendy now, but,  many years ago, and not that long ago, really, even when I started five years ago, it wasn't popular at all. And like you, I was always fascinated that we have all these hundreds of thousands of unique and incredible, incredibly beautiful and diverse species but we're putting, you know, red robins on Christmas cards and it's crazy. Yeah. I know it's everywhere and that is actually how it should be. So, you know, I think it's really wonderful that more people are using it. What's on our back door for to use as our muse. Yeah.

Heide:

Yeah, exactly. I mean, one of the things, one of the reasons I wanted to do it first, because I guess to draw attention to Australian nature and, and celebrate that,  yeah, again, it's one of the things that people didn't really appreciate at first, but now it's met its market. So, you know, people are hungry for it now.

Felicia:

Yeah. That's great. Yeah, that's good. Okay. So,  thank you for sharing that.  

The other thing I wanted to ask you because, and this is probably what we've covered in terms of the changing trends, you know, when you started in 2003, because I remember in that time, similar to what you talked about, the Hallmark cards and,  things having sticky on things and glittery things and not very recyclable and not eco-friendly that there was an attitude that back then, that there was something that was recycled, you know, it's that met lovely matte look that you have on your cards.  This is probably the glossy look, which is probably an indicator, non biodegradable, and not-earth friendly...  but then the glossy cards used to be really popular. And I think still to some extent are today.  whereas your cards in the, on the recycle and bio-degradable and a friendly, beautiful paper,  are all made here - that look,  it wasn't on trend. So is that, has anything like that ever been a challenge for you?  Or if you had to make compromises around anything like that?

Heide: 

I think the challenges around having a product that looked really earthy and earth-friendly, 10 years ago, even just that challenge isn't really with us as much now thank goodness.  But yeah, back then it was really trying to convince retail stores to stock this product. One of the biggest barriers too, is that I've never used plastic cello bags for our cards.  And that was something that kept coming up and I just kept putting my foot down! I kept getting told, well, we would stock your cards if they're in plastic sleeves. And I thought one plastic sleeve for a piece of card, like that's a ridiculous waste and there's no point printing something on recycled paper and then putting it in a plastic bag.  And cello bags aren't made of cello. They used to be, but nowadays they're really made of plastic.

I mean, there might be some biodegradable options now, but it just seemed like an unnecessary wasteful thing to do. So one of the first barriers is really like, you know, selling this card naked. It was such a radical thing that there was no cello sleeve on it. And, you know, I'm so glad I stuck with that. And I think it probably has influenced the industry a little bit because now even some of the bigger card companies don't use plastic bags and, you know, consumers are demanding less plastic and less unnecessary packaging. So that's been an amazing shift.  But yeah, definitely our cards have always stood out as looking really, really different, but thankfully people love that matte look now. And I think gloss is definitely out. Yeah. That's been a nice shift.

Felicia:

Yes, that's true.  So I guess that customer behavior is changing over time as well, which we've sort of talked about people being better educated.

Heide: 

And like I said before, the younger generation, now they just expect brands to have a sustainability policy and have that responsibility and they demand that. And I think that's amazing. I think that's a generational shift that's most welcome.

Felicia:

I know my nieces at school, they have to do projects and go to the supermarket and find three things that have unnecessary packaging on them - not the most difficult assignment and a great one to get them thinking. ... and other things that we've talked about, you're having offsetting and the carbon neutral project in Western Australia,  to create, you know, habitat and vegetation and bring back the natives that have been taken off the land, but you also have a “10% for the planet” (more here:https://www.earthgreetings.com.au/treading-lightly/) ongoing initiative as well. Is that separate or do you kind of combine those things?

Heide:

That's definitely separate. So what we give,  in terms of what we give to charity, that's a separate amount to what we give to carbon offsetting.  So with our 10% for the planet, what that means is that it's our commitment to giving at least 10% of our profit to charity, but we actually are giving a lot more.  It's just sort of, I guess, with a business, I don't want to claim or make any promises that we may not be able to keep, because even if business wasn’t going well, at least 10% of profit is something that we can definitely do. And I really want to build on that.  But yeah, that's really our promise and that's what we do each year. And it's very much focused on charities and not-for-profit organisations that are in line with our values of contributing toward a brighter future for wildlife and our planet.

So there's lots of amazing charities we could give to, but we do focus on charities that have the same goals that we do.  So a lot of them are involved in habitat restoration, which does indirectly help native wildlife. Some of them are directly helping wildlife, for example, they're bush carers and they rescue wildlife after bushfires, or,  for example, the koala hospital here in Adelaide, where they have trained veterinarians constantly helping native wildlife. Like koalas that have been attacked by dogs or been hit by cars. So it's really important to us to keep that focus, and it's been fantastic to see even what that can achieve over the years.  

We've actually become a perpetual sponsor of Trees For Life too because what they do is, you know, planting trees, it sounds so simple, but, you know, revegetating our landscape. That's just something I'm so passionate about. It brings back animals, you know, it undoes some of the damage that we've done as human beings and, you know, and it helps the planet overall by reducing carbon emissions. So that's what they do. And, they told us actually recently when I went and had a meeting with them that since 2008, with our support, they've been able to plant over 50,000 trees. Wow. So, you know, sometimes I find my job challenging, but then I imagine these 50,000 trees and think, well, hey, you know, we did that.

Felicia: 

Yeah. Offsetting all your carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions. Yeah. Yeah. It's incredible. Heide, something you must be very proud of. And it's very inspiring. I'm sure for a lot of people listening as well.

Heide: 

Oh look, this is why I get out of bed in the morning and come to work every day;  because I think that, you know, it's still something that I'm passionate about. I love animals. I love wildlife.  I'm lucky enough now where I live in the Adelaide foothills, to have cockatoos on my lawn every day and be surrounded by native animals. I can go, you know, I can walk 10 minutes and I'm in the bush and there's koalas living in my neighborhood, but I'm also constantly aware of how close I'm living and encroaching into their land. So it's something I delight in, but I guess I feel a bit guilty about it. So, you know, it's really tough to exist at the moment, aware of all these problems we’re causing as human beings, but if I can do something just, you know, it's so easy for us to donate that money and it has such a big impact because it's gradual and over time and it's something I've built into the business. So it's really something that motivates and inspires me and my team every day to keep going, do what we do.

Felicia:

That's fantastic.  so not all of us are as far along the journey as you are Heide - unfortunately.  Do you have any simple steps you can recommend,  that our listeners can take to be more earth friendly?

Heide:  Yeah. I think everybody knows about recycling, creating less waste, avoiding plastic, eating less meat. And we know these things have a positive impact, but I think trying to do everything perfectly is really overwhelming, you know, and I try my best too, but I have days where I think, Oh gosh, I'm just not going to be able to do this perfectly at the moment. I might have to buy something new.  

And you know, rather than feeling overwhelmed by that, I think I'd advise listeners just to take small steps. And it's what we do every day in our habits that we take up every day that make the biggest difference. And the other thing that I would say is to try and be a positive influence on others,  because what I've learned over the years is that people learn by mimicking others behaviour. So it's really easy to get on social media and tell people off, and there are brands getting in trouble for this too, for using takeaway containers and coffee cups for example.

But really the best thing you can do is to bring your own takeaway container or coffee cup, and then show people how easy it is by doing it. And then other people will join in. And then it's easier for everyone. You can't have an impact by just criticising people. You've got to actually demonstrate a positive action and that's the way people will go, Oh, that's not that hard, I can do that too. 

Felicia: That's excellent. 

Heide:

And I think that's what really - that's the biggest way to make a difference. And I mean, I try to do that too, because being a vegan, you're really open to criticism from people. I don't even tell people that, I just I'll cook them a beautiful meal and I'll eat in front of them and they'll say, Oh, well, I'll have, you know, I'll have what she's having! I just try to inspire people with my actions rather than lecturing people about theirs. That works for me anyway. Yeah.

Felicia:

Kill them with kindness, but yeah. Positive, keep it positive. I think that's positive. 

Now I've got a sort of, depending on your view,  a not-so positive question, but you know, it's, it's 2021 and we're in COVID times. And so I think it's, you know,remiss of me not to ask any questions about that because it's obviously impacting businesses in very different ways. And I guess, because as you mentioned, you’re not importing and most of your products are made in Australia; you know - there’s not much impact from that perspective - but have there been challenges you've faced in the last 12 months or so because of the global pandemic?

Heide: 

Yeah. Although we've been extremely lucky here in Adelaide. We've only had a couple of,  lockdowns, but obviously March, 2020 was really scary. I mean, I basically had to send everyone home. I had one person working in the warehouse alone packing orders,  which was really difficult for everybody. You know, I think all of us suffered a little bit on a mental health level. Like it was, I think that was the scariest part for me is just the uncertainty of, well, how long is this going to go on for,  you know, how do I keep everyone in a job? Like that was quite scary if you know, worst case scenario, I'm going to be running this business on my own or something like that. Like it was just, we've got, I've got a team. We had a team of, I think, eight or nine at that time …  and  yeah, I had to put people on stand down. And we just stopped getting orders from our wholesale customers because as you know, many shops had to close and one by one, all our customers were shutting their doors and I thought, Oh my God, like that's our income just shriveling away. So it was very, very scary, but,  you know, to my amazement I reckon by May, 2020 things started to pick up and we actually ended up having an incredibly busy time.  I guess the pivot that we made a little bit was realising that if a shop is shutting down, like who are our customers, like who are we left with? Who can we give value to here?  And it was definitely online stores like yours, and some of our really good eco stores that run online. And also we realised that people were starting to buy directly from us like personal shoppers, which has never been a huge market for us, but that really grew because people were stuck at home.

And it also made me realise, Oh my goodness, we've got a core product that people really want right now. They can't be together, but they can connect by sending a greeting card. So that was really interesting realising that. And I guess it made me take a really different look at our business and what we're doing and how we can still be relevant. So, I opened up a little pop-up like on the website called Kindness Store. And I know kindness now sounds a little bit ubiquitous, as it was a word that was being bandied around at the time. But I thought that was a really nice thing that people were talking about kindness in this time when everyone was feeling really isolated. So, on the Kindness Store I put things that I felt people would find really helpful and convenient while they're in isolation, like hand wrapped little gifts for people where we hand wrote the card, and packs of cards that they could send to their friends and family that they were missing.

And we started to sell postage stamps because we realised that it was really hard to buy postage stamps at the time we thought, well, how are people going to send cards without postage stamps?  And of course, as we know, couriers and Australia post where saying, Oh my God, it's, it's busier than Christmas at the moment everyone was sending parcels. So I guess, yeah, it was just so bizarre. I mean, it was definitely not business unusual at that time for us, but yeah, we've, we've definitely grown and come out of what seemed like a really terrifying position at the time. 12 months later, you know, we still think about COVID. I mean, our workplace has never been so clean haha.  But it's really made me appreciate the fact that we sell cards and how relevant they've become to people and how relevant they still are after, you know, a couple of hundred years of existence. 

Felicia:

Yeah, that's true. That's a really lovely, lovely thing. And then is that probably your biggest silver lining out of Covid? 

Heide: 

The silver lining for me, I guess, is business resilience and understanding how we can have that, and knowing that we can keep that into the future. So I think, I think we've come out of it a stronger team as well, like just realising, you know, how isolated people can feel. And I think we all really appreciate being able to come to work and be together in the same building. Again, it's been fantastic and we've been very lucky here in South Australia that we haven't experienced that isolation, the length of difficulty that has been experienced particularly in Victoria and New South Wales and obviously other parts of the world still going through that horror. So I think, I feel very lucky, you know, it's been,  it's been difficult, but certainly not as difficult as it's been for others.

Felicia:

Yes. Oh, that sounds lovely.  and in terms of, I guess you've covered this, but are there any other changes in the business you've made besides the daily cleaning routine and, hand sanitisers everywhere?

Heide:

Yeah, actually I brought in a bit more of a focus on really wanting to keep our team here mentally and physically well. And that's always been important to me, but I guess I've made that a little bit more official here. So all of our staff have two 20 minute wellness breaks each week. So we have Wellness Wednesday where staff are encouraged to join in a group meditation session, or they can do a little bit of stretching and yoga or go for a walk. And then we have Flexy Friday where we do a little bit more of a physical session. We might do silly aerobics or yoga, or just go for a walk, and one of the staff has a beautiful dog Jasper she brings in, we might take him for a walk. I think it's really made a difference and, you know, I think it's so important to take care of our mental and physical health at work. And if we do that, we can be more resilient as people, to get through things like pandemics a little bit better if we build up that resilience.

Felicia:

That sounds lovely. It's another positive impact you're having on the environment around you, which is great.  And so what's next for Earth Greetings?

Heide:

Well, at the moment, I'm in the midst of working with an amazing First Nations artist ...  and we are designing a beautiful planner for 2022, which is going to be full of colour.  So because planners are so fiddly, that's quite a focus for me at the moment in terms of design.  Now also working with another artist to do something really different for Christmas this year.  And we've also not, yeah, I can't say it's under wraps at the moment. It's something different / fresh for the  year. I've got three new artists that we're launching card ranges for in July. So there's a lot happening at the moment. I can't really say much more than that, but yeah, all will be revealed in July. If your listeners want to keep up with what we're doing, if they subscribe to our newsletter, we put all of our new products in there, so they can hear about those as they come out.

Felicia:

It's given us enough to be pretty excited about that. So I'm sure we'll make those links in the show notes too, for them to do that. That sounds fantastic. And we always love Christmas here and I still get excited because we just love Australia on Christmas ranges as much. We can't get enough. 

Heide: 

Absolutely. Absolutely. It's definitely going to be lots of Australian natives of course, but really beautiful this year as well… and the artist who, I can't say who it is yet, but her and I often joke about putting on a Michael Buble Christmas album to get us in the mood because when you're just designing a Christmas range in April and May, it can be a little hard to get into the Christmas spirit, but I think we've done it.

Felicia:

Yes, I'm the same. We started doing a lot of Christmas videos and things, and I do a lot of illustrations for that. You do need a little, a little something to get you going - our Christmas tree that grows up very early. Yeah. Like soon, like in May. Well, the end of may. Yeah, exactly.  and we have a lot, we've had a lot of your beautiful Christmas decorations in the past too, with your bamboo animals....

Heide:

Yeah. The bamboo Christmas tree decorations! They've always been really popular, so they’ll be back. And,  you know, I'm at the moment actually, perhaps this is something your listeners might want to let me know about, but where was, I was trying to think of new Australian animals, different Australian animals we can make, so let us, let me know which Australian animals would you like to hang on your Christmas tree? And they may well come to life.

Felicia:

Oh, how exciting. So that sounds great. So where can our listeners find out more about you besides I'll put the links to your newsletter, but where else?

Heide: 

On our website www.earthgreetings.com.au - and we're pretty active on Instagram and Facebook.

So 

Earth Greetings Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/earthgreetings

Earth Greetings on Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/earthgreetings/

Earth Greetings on Pinterest:https://www.pinterest.com.au/earthgreetings/

We are on Twitter. If you want to find us there, which is earth_greetings, because someone pinched our name on there - that happens. We're also on Pinterest as well.  Which is cool. We like to post things that inspire us there as well as some of our products as well. So yeah. 

Felicia:

Have you got a Tik Tok account yet 

Heide:

Don't have a Tik TOK yet, but you know, I think we might have to jump onto that train at some point, but we're having some fun with reels at the moment. So what's keeping us busy.

Felicia:

All right. Well, thank you so much. It's so inspiring to hear your point of view and what you've done with your business over, you know, since 2003.  It's really fantastic.  Before we wrap up, I'd really love to do a quick fire round with you just to get to know you a little bit better. Okay. Yeah. Sure. Okay. So lastly, just ask you five questions and you just let us know your answer. 

So I'd love to know what's your favorite Australian animal and why?

Heide:

Oh my goodness. So many to choose from, but definitely koalas. My God, I just love koalas. I mean, they're vegan. They hang around in trees all day. What's not to love.

Felicia:

Fantastic.  Vegemite - yes or no?

Heide:

I like Vegemite -  but it's gotta be spread real thin. Yeah, no thick Vegemite. No, that's bad.

Felicia:

What was the first concert you went to?

Heide:

Oh gosh, Australian concert.  This is probably showing my age, but I was actually at the first, ever “Big Day Out” in the 1990s. There were so many amazing international bands there, but I remember Nick Cave just blew the cobwebs out of my young mind. I reckon I might've been about 18 or something. And it was just like, wow.

Felicia:

You're bringing back memories.  What's your favorite Australian biscuit?

Heide: 

Well, it's going to be an Arnotts biscuit, right? I think some of them are still made here. Probably the only one I would still eat occasionally if I go to a party and someone brings, you know, some snacks would have to be Jatz because I know they're accidentally vegan, which is good.  And I quite like them with Vegemite on them actually. 

Felicia:

And you said like you live in a really stunning place there, Heide, but do you have a bucket list place to visit in Australia? 

Heide: 

Look somewhere I've never been and I've always wanted to see is the Great Barrier Reef....  and I get so sad when I hear about the loss of that reef - cause I think I've got to see it before it disappears, but obviously we don't want it to disappear.  It's a big symbol of what we need to save in Australia.  And I've always been such a land girl. You know, I love bushland and I love living inland, but I really want to see an underwater wonder because I think when we see these wondrous places, we are really inspired to protect them. And I'd really like to have a bit more of a connection with what's going on under the oceans. Cause I know it's so important that we protect the oceans as well as the land. So yeah. Great Barrier Reef.

Felicia:

Sounds good. And I'd love to see underwater animals on cards and things as well. Yeah. Fantastic. Sounds good. 

Well, thank you so much for joining us, Heide. I really enjoyed talking to you today and I'm sure our listeners will also get a lot out of all the information you've given us. I'll make sure we link all those links in the show notes and also link some of those other carbon neutral websites and things you referred to.

Heide:

That's my pleasure, Felicia. And you know, I do have a blog right on the website too, where if listeners want to find out a little bit more about what we do to help animals,  and the environmental side of, of the business and learn a little bit more about how I started the business,  that's there on our website as well. So thank you.

Felicia: 

So they can navigate to the blog from the homepage? Okay, perfect. And we'll put the link as well.

Heide:

Yeah. It's under, under ‘About Us’ [in the footer]. You'll find lots of informational pages on our website.

Felicia: 

Fantastic. Thank you so much. It's such a pleasure. Thank you for coming on the podcast today, 

Heide: 

It's been really good to talk to you, Felicia. Thanks.

Show links:

Earth Greetings Website:https://www.earthgreetings.com.au/

Earth Greetings Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/earthgreetings

Earth Greetings on Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/earthgreetings/

Earth Greetings on Twitter:https://twitter.com/earth_greetings

Earth Greetings on Pinterest:https://www.pinterest.com.au/earthgreetings/

Treading lightly - more on Earth Greetings “10% for the Planet” Initiative -https://www.earthgreetings.com.au/treading-lightly/

Charity - Trees for Life:https://treesforlife.org.au/

More about LOHAS:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LOHAS


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