To counter this, I started walking local pups. Originally a lockdown project, DogBoxx has become a full time job for me and my recently hired assistant.
I have always been environmentally conscious; at home, my husband and I do our best to be low waste and plastic free. It was an automatic choice to bring this ethos into the decision making surrounding setting up DogBoxx.
Southwark Park is a 20-30 minute walk from most of my dog clients. By speeding up this journey, the dogs get a full hour to run about on the grass. As well as the environmental impact, a car or van is expensive to manage in Zone 1, and challenging with parking and traffic restrictions. A cargo bike then seemed like the obvious choice.
Two years later, I was at capacity and looking to buy a second bike and hire an assistant. Local initiative support came from Team London Bridge, who part funded the second bike as part of their project to put more cargo bikes on the road and reduce carbon emissions from local delivery vehicles.
Six months after that, my assistant and I walk up to 20 dogs a day and cover ~250km between us each week.
Part of being low waste is being a careful consumer, so all the equipment: leads, clips, towels, blankets, toys, bowls... are quality second hand. The bikes are lined with the old front door mat from my co-working space. Storage in one of the bikes is made from an old letterbox cage. The sunshades are made from an old beach chair.
Conscious choices have been made with consumable items: biodegradable poo bags, locally sourced treats in paper bags and a paper free office. Used tennis balls come from a sports club where they get a second life before being ripped to shreds.
There's still room for improvement of course. The two bikes burn through brake pads and tyres. Any thoughts on sustainable solutions for these are welcome.
Before I started the company, I was an eco-conscious consumer, trying hard to live a zero waste life. Translating this into a business context was through a process of trial and error, and at times involved making some concessions.
Poo bags, for example, seem so wasteful; even the biodegradable kind. Initially I collected the dumped free newspapers from outside Bermondsey Tube Station and used those to pick up poos. As my client numbers increased, this became more and more time consuming and everything was covered in newsprint.
I now use biodegradable bags from a sustainable company.
Looking for funding in Southwark has been really rewarding. The borough has a proactive approach towards reducing carbon emissions, with improvements to cycle lanes and parking. There are even special parking spots for cargo bikes. Team London Bridge champions local business' use of cargo bikes to replace vans or motorbikes for local deliveries. Their part funding of the second bike has been really supportive and welcoming.
Looking back, the times when things have gone wrong are when I've rushed the expansion of the company by taking on too many new clients at once. Dogs take a while to acclimatise to a new situation, and introducing too many newbies to a walk at one time makes life very hard for everyone.
My advice would be to resist the temptation to rush and space out the client intake. This not only makes everything calmer and safer, but gives you more time to make considered decisions surrounding which clients are best to pursue, and which ones aren't the right fit.
In terms of sustainability, learning to be creative with your approach (eg: trying endless different second hand storage options) versus when to prioritise safety (buying new seat belt clips) has been an important lesson.
Moving forward, I would love to find a more sustainable way to maintain the bikes. Currently there is not a UK manufacturer of cargo bikes or their parts, so my bikes are imported from Denmark. We get through a lot of parts as the bikes are used so intensively. It would be great to find a way to reduce the carbon footprint on parts and to find a way to recycle old tyres and brake pads.
Reduced waste/landfill using second hand equipment.
Low impact on consumables: biodegradable poo bags and dog snacks in paper bags.