Celebrating inspiring women: Heather Lesley

We love sharing the stories of women from all walks of life, who are changing the world for the better everyday.

Today we’re celebrating Heather Lesley

Heather Lesley is the Founder of Eco Office Supplies.

1. Tell us a bit about your story?

Back when it was almost impossible to find green cleaning products in the supermarket aisles, my hubby and I co-founded one of Adelaide's first green commercial cleaning firms. It is standard practice for office cleaners to supply bathroom and kitchen consumables and implement waste management solutions as part of the cleaning contract – so naturally we sourced sustainable product options for our cleaning clients.

We originally thought that our cleaning business would service a 15-30km radius from our home. But once we promoted recycled toilet rolls, tree-free hand towels and natural hand wash and dishwashing liquid on our website – we started to receive enquiries from people all around Australia wanting to get their hands on our “eco office” products. There was clearly a national demand that wasn't being supplied.

Our research uncovered a range of excellent products including recycled stationery – but there was no one-stop-shop in Australia where everything could be sourced. Actually Australia was a bit behind the eight ball compared to the US and the UK where green office supply retailers have been established for decades.

We trade-marked the Eco Office® brand to bring everything under the one umbrella. Back then, we pretty much lead the way as Australia's first office supply store to specialise exclusively in sustainable options. Pretty soon our product sales eclipsed our cleaning service. Thanks to the internet – our sister company, Eco Office Supplies, was born and went national almost over-night.

Our new website makes ordering that much easier for our clients. Customers can save their favourite products, review past invoices, place an order and track courier deliveries from the 'My Account' section of the website. The whole system is integrated not only with our accounting software but also with our freight broker to provide the best possible price for the delivery of each order based on our client's location.

2. Where do you see sustainability factoring in to your work?

Our business was established to make a difference. In the beginning it was as much about educating people about the alternatives as it was about product delivery. We found that our prospective clients were basically doing the same research about the green credentials of each product category and so we decided to publish the 'Green Office Guide' as an informative e-catalogue. We promoted it as the essential buying guide for Aussie workplaces wanting to research sustainable alternatives, compare prices and 'make the switch'.

Some clients choose to focus on just one area. Maybe it's their bathroom consumables, stationery, catering, cleaning products or implementing a waste management solution to separate landfill from recyclables. It's been really heartening to see so many organisations adopting the best practice in sustainable purchasing of everyday office requisites.

3. Tell us specifically about what office initiatives you have undertaken to minimise your carbon footprint and maximise the well-being of your clients and staff?

From day one, we wanted our environmental footprint to be as small as possible. We aim to be very transparent and publish our Environmental Policy on our website. It lists all the things we do in our workplace to truly 'walk our talk!'

Our waste management strategy is very simple. Nothing is thrown away that can be reused or recycled. We have posters up that clearly explain the do's and don'ts about what to put in each colour-coded bin.

And of course, your order won't arrive in pretty boxes branded with our logo – because every carton that comes into our warehouse is reused to dispatch orders to our clients. From a recycling point of view our whole business model is all about 'closing the loop'.

Over 1.5 million tonnes of paper is kept out of landfill every year by recycling in Australia. It just makes good sense to buy back the products manufactured from our recycling efforts.

4. What obstacles, if any, have you faced in your journey?

Establishing a business, particularly when you are trail blazing with no existing models to follow, is challenging for sure. Being the first to market has both advantages and disadvantages.

When you are starting out, banks, large manufacturers and freight companies won't give you the time of day. I had to keep reminding myself that “everyone begins at the beginning”.

I can remember our bank manager reviewing our business plan and saying “It sounds like a great idea. But if it's such a great idea why isn't someone else already doing it!”

There has been so much change in the last 5 years – not just with the general acceptance that “green is good” but also the uptake of internet shopping and confidence in cloud computing. I think our timing was perfect.

5. What inspires you to lead a life, and a business that is better for the planet?

Personally, I find it deeply disturbing that we live on this planet as though it were an infinite resource. We lose sight of the impacts our decisions have both now and for future generations. Creating awareness of these issues and providing easy solutions for time-poor people that care about our environment is what Eco Office® is all about.

Our clients inspire me every day. Every person who has made a conscious effort to seek out a better way to live lightly on our precious planet. Our clients have shown such gratitude to have finally found us after a long and frustrating search for greener options. It's like we were born into existence by the private wishes of many. It's the reason we exist!

6. Do you have a message, or a final tip you would like to share with our 1 Million Women community about living a more sustainable lifestyle?

More than 80% of the enquiries we receive are from women. Both business owners and employees.

No matter what our role it's important that we never underestimate our ability to instigate and implement cultural change in both our home and our workplace. Encouraging your manager to set up a recycling waste station and/or a sustainable purchasing policy at work is a fabulous way to make a difference. Sometimes all it takes is one passionate person who cares deeply to lead the way. That person may well be you!

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