All around us there are businesses small and big headed up by inspiring women. Some work online, some work in a physical space, some work during the days, some work during the nights, some work alone, some work together: the more we share, the more we can learn from each other. And the more we learn from each other, the more we can teach the ones following in our footsteps. May these women inspire you as they inspire us.
Today on the blog we talk to Sieske, a fellow eco business owner who has some rather cute work colleagues… Enjoy!
Sieske, or as most people call her Sies, is a medical pet carer in London. She spends most of her working days walking dogs, doing home visits with sick, elderly cats whose primary carers are away on holiday and taking care of animals in their “fourth age” otherwise known as their end of life. She travels solely by e-cargo bike and tries to run her business as ethical and sustainable as possible. Sies has an eclectic background, in veterinary nursing and international, environmental development to currently being an entrepreneur and yoga teacher.
You are our first freelancer whose main work is outside! Was running an ‘outdoor business’ a conscious choice?
It was definitely on the list of demands when I did a 180, career wise! After being a veterinary nurse for ten years in the Netherlands and then working in international development for a few years after that, I noticed that, even though the work allowed me to travel loads and see the world, I was still mostly sitting behind a computer in an office. A few years back, in early spring I was sitting in my office seeing the sun shine and the trees blossom and I remember thinking to myself: what am I doing in here?! That following weekend I was cycling through Vondelpark in Amsterdam, seeing the dogs being happy and being entirely connected with their surroundings and nature, and I realised I wanted to be out there with them, too… I used to work for a dog walking service when I was a student for a couple of years and I remembered it to be such a fun time (and I was super fit as well!). That’s why I decided to stop sitting behind a desk writing reports and get back to nature. I knew that all the other things I wanted to do beside the dog walking would be a good combination, as long as I got my daily fix of cycling, walking, dogs and fresh air.
Your business is very environmentally friendly. Can you tell us in what ways, and why you decided to run a green business? Was that always your intention?
For me, being green and having as little negative impact on the environment, has always been a way of life. Sure, I had my stint of hyper consumerism for a few years whilst growing up, but I was raised by very environmentally conscious parents. To be fair, I don’t even think my parents would call themselves eco-warriors; but the things they did were just the things that “you do”, like composting, recycling, never wasting anything and cycling everywhere. In 2020 you could be an Instagram-influencer with an attitude like theirs!
So, after seeing the wastefulness of the pet industry (just think about all the plastic bits and bobs a veterinarian uses in one consultation!), and working on climate change adaptation in developing countries, I knew that if I had my say, the approach would be so much more environmentally friendly and conscious. I know it’s difficult to keep your environmental foot- and paw print small, but everything you use and do can be scrutinised in order to make the most sustainable decision.
As a business, I use compostable and biodegradable poo bags, a green energy provider for my pedal assisted cargo bike, vegetarian and organic dog treats, I wear an ethical and where possible recycled uniform and my electronics are refurbished.
You have been environmentally minded for a long time, as well as very interested in societal change: whether it’s gender equality or animal welfare. What changes have you seen around you or with your clients in the past few years?
I think, and really do hope, I don’t come across as preachy towards my clients, but I don’t make it a secret that I believe in a more compassionate and greener world for both human and non-human animals. There are many ways I try to nudge people to get there, but mostly I just write (and get people to read) about the choices I’ve made in my day to day business, whether it be the use of compostable poo bags or how to positively tackle “problem behaviour”, hoping it will plant a seed they will one day sow.
The biggest change I think I’ve seen is people taking up cycling more, especially with their canine friends and kids. All the dogs I take care of are very comfortable sitting in the cargo box of my bicycle (made to transport kids and then altered to secure dogs for their safety). In fact, most of them happily jump into the box, even when they happen to bump into my parked bike and I’m nowhere near! Most of the dogs have been transported like this since they were young pups, but some have learned to not fear or want to chase a bicycle at an older age. One of my dogs, Fred, is very scared of being out in central London traffic by foot but feels super confident being in the box – to her it feels like being in the safety of her own car. She now even gets super excited when she is allowed to jump out and run next to the bike on quiet stretches of bike routes towards the park! It’s my Dutch background of transporting dogs (and kids) this seemingly odd way, that has made them comfortable with it and is now emboldening doggy parents to get out and on the bike with their dogs either in a basket or running next to the bike in the safe areas where this is possible.
Another welcome change I’ve seen is the change in diets for both cats and dogs. Many people are now choosing to feed their pets a more species appropriate and often organic diet, which is better for the individual pet and the environment.
Your business is purposefully small. What are your reasons for this, and its benefits and/or downsides?
The first two years of being an entrepreneur I was working really hard to grow my business for it to be regular enough so that I could take holidays without financial stress. When I finally reached that goal and started to get more requests than I could fulfil myself, people kept on telling me to hire somebody. So, I started looking around, did a few trials with some great people, that were just “not a second Sies”. I had sold clients an expectation of quality I felt I could not provide by proxy. But I also felt I needed to expand in order to be successful. I was wearing myself out by saying yes to everything, but also by spreading myself too thin and stressing out when I couldn’t give the quality I demanded of myself. At one point my partner made me listen to an episode of the Hurry Slowly podcast where guest Paul Jarvis was talking about why “more isn’t better” and there’s beauty in staying small. This resonated with me so badly, that I decided there and then to not become a manager of other people, but stick to what I knew and did best, which was caring. And that I couldn’t give the best care possible, if I tried to give it to everyone who asked and if I didn’t put the care for myself first.
Over the years I’ve tried, failed and tried again to narrow down the types of patients I can take on for special care and the number of dogs I can walk daily without wearing myself down. I’ve also scaled back to a four-day workweek to allow myself to rest a day extra both physically and mentally, which is really necessary as a carer.
Working less means there is a cap to what I can earn in a month, but it also means I have more energy left at the end of the day to give to pets and patients, friends and family, and most importantly, my cat Lewis (oh, and myself …).
It strikes us that many ethical and eco-friendly businesses are run by women. Do you have any thoughts on this?
I was just reading the Women’s Environmental Network’s Feminist Green New Deal in which they state that “There needs to be a shift in the narrative […] which focuses heavily on how jobs in construction and technology can help make us greener. We need to start recognising that care is already a low carbon sector and investment in care is key in tackling gender inequality.” (Source: https://www.wen.org.uk/2020/05/19/femgreennewdeal/)
I think women are more tenacious when it comes to researching and being conscientious in feeding their family or making other choices that concerns them, like apparel and personal hygiene products. Historically, care is the domain of mainly women, both paid and un-paid so they see what is needed and what can change in the sector and on the personal care market – and they’re sticklers enough to actually go and make that change happen!