Sustainable. Sustainability. These words have become synonymous with a descriptor for someone (a person) or something (a business) that is actively striving to be sensitive to the needs of the environment, although the word is clearly used in other contexts as well. Dictionary.com defines the word as an adjective in its secondary definition as: “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.” Sustainability, as an adverb, is defined the same.
Personally, the concept of environmental stewardship and striving to incorporate environmentally sustainable practices into my life and business is an important value and action in my life. Professionally, as an Herbalist and someone who uses herbal medicine and healthful food to support my body’s health, sustainable farming practices and sustainable harvesting of wild plants, is of critical importance. In fact, I was originally drawn to herbal medicine, because of my deep love and respect for this planet Earth and her wondrous and abundant plant life and landscapes. Much of this has arisen from the feeling I get when I am immersed in nature, and how much joy and calm I experience when in nature, whether it be a city park, sitting in my yard, or deep in the wilderness where not a human-made sound can be heard. Inherently, by consuming plants for their healing properties, we are connecting to the Earth herself.
Many people do not consider how trends and popularity of certain herbs and plants can dramatically effect the harvesting of them in the wild, potentially wiping out native populations, or dramatically reducing their numbers. Examples include Echinacea, which is a prairie plant and whose population has been dramatically reduced in the wild. Goldenseal root is a major one, because it is more difficult to grow in cultivation, and its price as a result is quite high. Many herbs are also not grown in an environmentally aware manner, and just like food crops, can be grown in poor or contaminated soils, watered with contaminated water (heavy metals and the like), and grown using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. These practices are not sustainable, because the soil and chemicals can be drawn up into the plant and taken up by the consumer’s body, not to mention further adding to the chemical load in ground water and streams.
As a result of my commitment to sustainability in my own life and in my business, I choose to only purchase “organically-grown” or “sustainably wild-harvested” dried whole and powdered herbs, tinctured herbs, essential oils, hydrosols, and carrier oils from my vendors. It goes beyond that, of course, because quality of the plant material matters significantly as well, but that is for another article. I am working on buying more of my herbs from growers/farmers I personally know and can see for myself the practices they are using, and of course, I see the quality of the dried herb material that I receive.
In other vendor practices, I choose to purchase from suppliers that are local (less shipping) as much as I can, use sustainable and/or organic growing or sourcing practices themselves, and I have brought in products that promote re-use and can replace disposable products, like sustainably-grown bamboo utensils, stainless steel tea ware (to promote loose-leaf instead of tea bags and boxes which are just that much extra packaging), glass smoothie jars, to-go tea mugs, and bamboo essential oil wipes that are not individually wrapped.
In addition, I also package our tea blends in cellophane bags made from plant cellulose rather than plastic, and tie them with raffia ribbon, both of which will break down when composted in a city compost and will eventually break down (hopefully) in a landfill. We offer paper bags for packaging up your bulk herbs, and are happy to fill your own glass or metal containers that you bring in with you. I choose to use natural cleaners in my shop and home, those that will not negatively impact my health or my dog’s (many of you know Abby!), my staff, and of course my customers when they breathe the air. These products are safe to rinse down the drain and also do not do harm when inhaled, or when absorbed through Abby’s paws or human bare feet at home. I also purchase paper products that are made from post-consumer recycled paper (including our printing paper, paper towels, and even toilet paper). I use long-lasted LED light bulbs at Herban Wellness to reduce power use, and recycle these light bulbs and any batteries we use. We almost exclusively re-use packaging for our own direct shipments to customers, pass on our packing peanuts to other shipping businesses so they get used at least once more, and most of our vendors use the corn-derived packing peanuts that will dissolve when exposed to water. We also collect any used and clean plastic bags, plastic packing bubble mailers, and styrofoam packaging we receive and take it every other month to a special recycling event in Kirkland (“Styrofest”).
I am always looking for more ways to contribute less to waste, especially of plastic. Recently, I saw Office Depot was offering Scotch tape rolls that were made partially from post-consumer plastic. Hey, that’s a small step, but appreciated! We also use any scrap paper exclusively to take notes, outside of our own personal notebooks for formulas or communication between staff members, instead of sticky notes or other “new” paper products. And of course, we separate and clean our recycling, and I also personally take buckets of composted food and tea waste home to put in my Yard Waste bin. I have requested a compost bin at my commercial building, and the city of Kirkland complied for free, but people kept putting trash in it, so it ended up not working well.
Hopefully this list will help you better understand how we strive to be environmentally sustainable in our practices at Herban Wellness. I am always striving to do more! If you have any suggestions, please do let me know and if it is feasible, I would love to uplevel our practices. I also hope that perhaps you will be inspired by this list of our practices, that occur behind the scene, but are a small part of the way we contribute to a healthier planet, that at this point, needs every little bit it can get.