Bringing Business to Life: 1 Tree Cards

Since the first Christmas card was sent by Henry Cole in London in 1843, the sharing of cards at Christmas time has become a popular festive tradition – with one billion Christmas cards sold in the UK alone each year. Ahead of the festive season, Kelly Green spoke to Becky Kijima, co-founder of 1 Tree Cards, about why Brits send out more greetings cards than any other nation on earth, and how 1 Tree Cards is amplifying the love sent through cards to have positive effects around the world.

What inspired you to launch your business?

During our first 8 years together my wife and I volunteered for different nonprofits around the world and one particular experience, while we were managing an animal sanctuary in Thailand, inspired 1 Tree Cards

The sanctuary had no money when we fist took over and so after working all day we spent the nights trying to fundraise. We were also running an online business which was funding our stay and picking up the slack where donations were lacking. The contrast between the two activities really hit home for us – people were happy to spend a tonne of money on products but asking for donations to do good was an uphill struggle. That’s when we knew we wanted to start a business that mixed purchasing power with helping a good cause. 

After moving back to the UK, we noticed that Brits have a little bit of an obsession with cards. We actually send the most out of any nation on earth! We also saw the potential environmental and social changes that could be made within the industry and so we decided to try and be a part of that change by creating eco and LGBTQIA+ inclusive cards that give back to our planet.

Why do you think the act of giving and receiving cards, especially at Christmas time, is so meaningful?

I think giving cards has become more important than ever. We are now technically more connected than at any other time in history but what we’ve gained in convenience, I think we’ve lost in quality. Despite social media and direct messaging, it’s being reported that people are feeling more isolated and lonely, especially during the festive season. The act of giving a card takes us back to a time when things were that bit more special. From taking the time to select the perfect card to personally hand writing it, and that warm feeling that people get from receiving them, cards give a slower, more lasting connection than a quick message on the internet.

What are your sustainable priorities for 1 Tree Cards?

We look at every aspect of our business to see where we can take steps to not only lessen our own impact but also have a net positive impact on the world. That’s why each of our cards comes with the planting of one tree and a seed token inside which grows into bee-friendly flowers. Using recycled paper is very important to us, since we think it’s a bit silly to cut down trees when we already produce more waste than we know what to do with.

The new standard in the greeting card industry is to use paper from sustainably-managed forests. This is a definite step up from the alternatives which could come from anywhere (illegal logging sites included) but we believe that we need to have a closed loop system for our waste.

There are lots of products which have to be made from wood or virgin paper that should come from sustainable forests, but when it comes to cards, we believe they can and should be made from recycled materials. Printing is also something that can be damaging to the environment which is why we’ve gone with a printer that uses renewable energy, as well as vegan inks and the most eco conscious printing processes.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in building a sustainable business?

I think that our main issue has been keeping our costs down. Eco-friendly materials and processes are still not the norm and do come with a higher price tag. Coupled with the tree planting and flower seed tokens, that increase our costs by 3-5 times. It’s important to us to make our cards as accessible to as many people as possible price-wise as we wanted to make easy for people to choose our cards over those that aren’t planet positive. This was especially tough when we first started out but now that we’re growing, things are getting a little easier. 

Something else which has been difficult is trying to be as eco-conscious as possible but also having to compromise in some areas. For example, while all of our retail orders go out without packaging, we do offer compostable sleeves to our stockists and around 60% still buy these. The sleeves are still single use, take resources to manufacture and can end up in landfill where they can create methane. For those who are not ready to shed the packaging, they’re a definite step up from plastic but they’re not ideal, and we’ve struggled with that. However, we are constantly looking for better alternatives and have something in the pipeline for next year, which we think will work a lot better!

What advice would you give to anyone hoping to launch a sustainable business?

Do as much research as possible! Trying to be sustainable can be a minefield and companies might be more interested in sales than being truly sustainable. Also, don’t be scared to reach out to other sustainable businesses. Being a part of both the eco and vegan scenes, we find that businesses within these sectors are a lot more co-operative rather than competitive and we’ve found that rather lovely. 

We feel that it’s really important to have an open and honest relationship not only with our customers but also with our ‘competition’. We always take spare envelopes and compostable sleeves to trade shows and have managed to change the minds of other card businesses to choose more eco-friendly materials. If you’re going into an industry that’s not already centred around sustainability, I’d really encourage anyone to spread the message.

Which other sustainable businesses have inspired you?

We LOVE food, so naturally sustainability in that area is very important to us. One Planet Pizza have definitely inspired us. Their pizzas are not only delicious but they are much more sustainable than ‘normal’ ready-made pizzas, even down to their packaging and printing. Plus they are generally just great folks to be around who really help the community. 

Happy Maki is also an inspiration – Japanese food is our favourite and we love that they plant a tree and feed a child with each of their wraps. And we can’t forget cheese! Kinda Co. make incredibly fresh cheeses all in zero waste packaging – we always feel like we’ve travelled back to the olden days and are having something special when we treat ourselves to their cheeses. 

Our stockists, many of which are eco/zero waste/fair trade retailers, are also an inspiration to us. It’s so amazing to see them flourishing and creating positive change within their communities.

What have been your biggest milestones and triumphs until now?

We had a successful pre-launch on Kickstarter which was a big milestone for us. Since then we’ve had lots of smaller triumphs mainly based on tree planting and stockists. At first we were getting excited about being in 10 stockists, then 50 and now we’re approaching 100 and each little milestone is a big boost! 

Tree-wise, we planted 10,000 trees in our first year and then doubled that a few months later – things are really starting to snowball now. Another personal triumph for us was getting stocked at Somerset House. They’re so progressive and showcase such a diverse and inclusive range of artists so we were a little star struck when they jumped on board the eco-card train!

What are your plans for the future of 1 Tree Cards?

To keep growing and plant as many trees as possible! Our big dream is to hit 1 million trees – it will take some time but we’re confident we’ll get there.