Sustainability for craft businesses

A mission impossible?

Apr 20, 2021 by Irene Vermeulen

Implementing sustainable practices must be very hard for craft businesses, some say. Don’t you need huge investments, hectic auditing and certification, and a CSR manager running around with spreadsheets and checklists? Craftscurator believes small manufacturers already have the most important skills and characteristics to become a sustainable business. Here are 5 reasons why.

Ethical practice
Craft businesses often already work according to ethical principles. In many cases, this is their reason for being in business. It also means they look at the market from that perspective and look for like-minded partners. Their concept and position in the market is based on sustainable values. As a small business, they have to be flexible and resilient anyway and are therefore better suited to improve ecological and social practices in their production process.

Products for the people
Craft businesses often have an excellent feel for consumer needs, even if they do not always know how markets operate. In their business, they put people first, and that also translates into attention for the end consumer. Many of the small and medium sized businesses craftscurator works with started with a single product, and a team of skilled people to manufacture it. Over time, they develop their concept by understanding how consumers relate to it.

Care for the planet
Craft businesses are rooted in their communities, and often committed to using local resources, and keeping their environment clean and workable for future generations. The climate crisis has put environmental sustainability centre-stage. This means businesses have to look at their material use, their production process and their footprint. Often there are practical ways to reduce the use of chemical, water or electricity, which also means production cost is reduced. Companies are taking small but meaningful steps in greening their process.

A process, not a checklist
Craft businesses have the ability to be flexible and fast to deal with developments in the market. As small and medium sized enterprises, they can experiment with new materials and techniques and allow for trial and error. They understand it takes time to improve ecological and social practices in their production process, so they see it as a step-by-step journey. While implementing sustainable practices and getting feedback from the market, they will find out whether formal certification is needed for their business. Meanwhile, they measure impact, and learn how to provide transparent information on sustainability for their stakeholders.

Sustainable business models
There is no point in working on production practices or developing the market unless the business is sustainable – read profitable. Entrepreneurs need to have insights into income streams and the performance of different product categories. They need to have a clear idea of the market and understand the entire value chain. This also means looking at new and alternative business models, specifically those that focus on collaboration in the chain. But first and foremost, it is about understanding how consumers and buyers apply sustainability, to understand opportunities in the market and making improvements for people and the planet.

Sustainable Design
The Sustainable Design methodology Craftscurator co-developed with Kees Bronk in 2013 for CBI, is now being applied in various CBI export develoment programmes, running in Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia among others. The methodology focuses on identifying ‘green’ opportunities in the market, after which environmental and social improvements are made, in a very practical way. Step-by-step, throughout the programme and using feedback from the market, these companies become ‘greener’ and communicate their sustainable values. Updates on how these craft businesses develop their green concepts will be shared on this platform.

For craft businesses interested in hand-on guidance in applying and marketing sustainable values in the European market, contact Irene to learn more.

Craft business using natural fibres
Viet Trang, Vietnamese exporter
Various Vietnamese exporters
in the Sustainable Design showcase in 2015
South African exporter The Wren Design
Now a B certified corporation
Angel Felting at Ambiente 2018
Provisional member of WFTO
Mungo, South African textile mill
now with GOTS certification
Sustainable basketry
from various Vietnamese suppliers
Mongolian manufacturer Munkh
using local and sustainable yak and cashmere