We often do interviews at Life Goggles. We like to feature eco-friendly people, pioneers and start-up businesses. A long-standing friend of ours is Nigel’s Eco Store but apart from a few emails we haven’t spoken to Nigel Berman himself. So it was great to put some questions to him and he didn’t disappoint, giving us a long but fascinating interview. And the man can juggle by the looks of it. Enjoy.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to set up an eco business in 2005?
I trained as a chartered accountant with KPMG in London after leaving university. On qualification I took a couple of years off to go travelling round South East Asia and Australia, came back a bit disorientated, but with a broader mind, and some new ideas. I started a magazine – Insight Network – to communicate what I was finding out. After four years I felt like a change and freelanced as a writer for a couple of years – for magazines like Maxim, She etc, and in 1997, after inspiration from a friend, launched a new free monthly magazine, in Brighton only – New Insight – initially covering mind body spirit and the environment, but later expanding more into arts and culture.
Within a few years the name changed to The Insight and it grew into one of the leading independent freebies in Brighton. I also repositioned the company as an environmentally responsible magazine publisher. In 2005 I brought in an investor, who began to move the company in a new direction – but my heart was elsewhere – I had already set up Nigel’s Eco Store a year earlier and had gone from working on it in my spare time, to part-time, and decided to devote myself to it full time, and left publishing in April 2006.
Nigel’s Eco Store was launched at the beginning of 2005, and was inspired by an article in the Independent about the top ten green household products. During research I discovered a lot of really innovative products – both energy-saving, and also design-oriented. I wanted to show that being green didn’t necessarily have to be a compromise, that there is eco-friendly stuff out there that is attractive, aspirational and desirable – things that I’d be happy to have in my own home, because they look good, and work, whilst minimising impact on the environment.
And that shows that there is a possible positive future on the other side of current challenges, such as rising energy and food prices.
Were there any particular challenges setting up an eco-business?
Probably the main thing is that back then, there were a lot less products available, and the ones available were not very well known, so demand was not as high as now, but otherwise, the challenges were the same as for setting up any business. I started small and it has grown organically.
What standards do you set for the products you sell?
When choosing products for our store, these are the main criteria that we consider. First off, I have to like it! It has to inspiring, functional, stylish, and of course eco friendly in some way – could be it’s energy saving, or in the materials it is made from. Here are some of the criteria that we use:
Low Transport Miles
Low Carbon Footprint
Who are your competitors? Other eco-businesses or ‘regular’ retailers?
Both really – it’s a growing market and there are lots of small companies out there doing something similar – an increasing number in fact. Larger companies and regular retailers are also beginning to see the eco market as one worth being in – but they tend to move much more slowly.
What changes have you seen in the market and environmental world as a whole since you started?
Awareness of green issues and green lifestyles has grown massively, especially in the last year or so. Even a couple of years ago people had no idea what we were on about – now everyone has heard of something about the environment and climate change – there’s a huge amount in the media now.
There are also a lot more products coming to market that offer solutions to environmental challenges.
Is it easier to source environmentally-friendly products these days?
Yes, very much so. Mainly produced by smaller companies – from energy saving and water saving products, to recycled stationery, natural cleaning ranges, to bamboo clothing and furniture.
Where do you see the market going?
The market is growing rapidly– total sales of ‘ethical’ (include fairtrade, organic, eco) is growing four times faster than household expenditure and is worth £25 billion a year (source New Consumer 2006). The new generation of products will fall into two areas I think: products that are energy efficient – either using alternative sources of energy eg solar, or running on much lower energy than currently; and products that are made from eco efficient materials and that have considered end of life use.
Who are you customers?
Our customers vary – men and women from all over the country, of all ages – people who want to live a more eco friendly life, or who want to choose something that will make a small positive difference.
One bugbear at Life Goggles is environmentally-friendly products in unenvironmentally-friendly packaging – is that a problem you face?
Most of our suppliers are addressing this problem – so these days lots of products arrive in cardboard packaging rather than plastic.
You sell eco-friendly things but how eco-friendly are you in the office and at home?
We’re pretty good at the office:
• We do not own any company vehicles, and instead use a car club car when necessary and travel by public transport, bicycle or by foot for 90% of journeys.
• Paper re-use and envelope reuse, including using paper printed on one side for draft printing or for internal documents.
• Green procurement where possible for office materials – eg all paper recycled, environmentally friendly cleaning products etc.
• Use mugs / glasses for tea/coffee/drinks rather than disposable cups.
• Separate out recyclables and recycle locally.
• Turn off PC monitors when not in use.
• Turn off PCs and network printers every evening.
• All lights use energy efficient and energy saving lightbulbs.
• Water saving devices are used in toilet cisterns to cut down water used in flushing.
• All electricity is purchased from Good Energy, a green electricity provider.
Likewise at home – we only have low energy lightbulbs, buy electricity from Good Energy, try not to leave anything on standby, use an eco kettle so we boil only what we need, turn the thermostat down, and generally switch things off when not in use.
Why do you have your own blog and do you enjoy writing it?
Most of my working life has been about communication, and media – from editing and publishing, to writing, and even film (I was one of the founders of a Brighton-based film festival).
Apart from finally learning how to use this exciting medium (the internet), if I analyse it I feel I am communicating about the environment and new ideas, but in a different way to before – so the blog is a natural extension of that. It also serves as a place to talk about more general eco themes than we can communicate through the shop, and also to hopefully increase traffic to our site.
Check out his blog and his shop of course at Nigel’s Eco Store.