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Rachel Watkyn founder of The Tiny Box Company © Rachel Watkyn

How sustainable swaps at home made me a Dragons' Den success story and earned me an OBE

Eco-entrepreneur Rachel Watkyn tells her story 

April 30, 2024
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Rachel Watkyn impressed Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis on Dragons' Den in 2008 and now turns over a £10 million profit thanks to her eco-friendly businesses. She has just received an OBE for Services to Sustainability. 

In the world we live in today, it's easy to get caught up in consumerism and status. It's everywhere. It's marketed on our commute to work and it's with us on our lunch break as we scroll through social media.

Everywhere you look, something is telling you to keep buying more. I think most of us can relate to the overwhelming feeling of not wanting to miss out. But if you let go of the need to constantly have the next best thing, it's easier to find happiness. I see consumerism as a sugar high. You get that initial rush that feels exciting, followed by a huge crash leaving you wanting the next trendy thing to give you another fix.

Rachel Watkyn posing with her OBE for Services to Sustainability© Rachel Watkyn
Rachel Watkyn posing with her OBE for Services to Sustainability

Making sustainable swaps at home 

My interest in sustainability stems from when I was growing up. When I was younger it never crossed my mind to buy a bag at the supermarket because it cost money, so you took your own. This was also a time when vegetables weren’t wrapped in plastic so when it was introduced, it felt foreign to me and never became familiar.

These days you're hard-pressed to find fresh fruit without some kind of plastic packaging around it. Because of this, my husband and I have built sustainability into our home 'culture'. We try to shop at farmers' markets as much as possible. This allows us to support our local businesses and offers more organic options without all the chemicals and plastics. My husband will reuse water used to cook vegetables for broths and soups, rather than boil a new pot of water.

I don't always get it right. I love seeing new, shiny things and find myself being stopped by my husband before I can click "check out". He'll ask whether we really need that and why we'd need something new, when what we’ve got still has a useful life.

It can also be tricky when you're working full time and convenience is the only option after work. If you're looking for ways to start living more sustainably, loo roll that's wrapped in paper is a good start. Small ways of bringing more sustainable practices to your everyday life can start when the time comes around to clean out your wardrobe. Any piece I no longer use goes straight to my family in Norfolk. It’s got to the point of keeping them in mind when I find something new to ensure it can be used after me.

We recently had our septic tank serviced (glamorous, I know!). The engineer asked us how many people lived in our house and was shocked to hear it was only two because it was so clean. We only use biodegradable paper and eco-cleaning products. Sometimes you don't realise the impact you’re having until someone highlights it in a positive way.

Rachel Watkyn is the founder of Tiny Box Company a fully sustainable packaging company and Know The Origin © Rachel Watkyn
Rachel is the founder of Tiny Box Company a fully sustainable packaging company and Know The Origin which allows consumers to make sustainable choices

The small changes are what snowball and lead to huge impacts in our carbon footprint – usually without us realising. As long as we keep consuming, nothing will change. As a society, we need to keep putting the work in and making a stand by not buying everything wrapped in plastic. I could call out the fast fashion gym shops where everything is packaged in layers of plastic that serve no purpose, but have never been reduced.

Creating a sustainable business

Most tea bags come in plastic, which will still be around in 300 years. Just think - a family of four can consume almost 500 cups of tea a month and those tea bags will still be here when we're long gone. When I started in sustainable packaging back in 2008, I was told it would never be mainstream. The entire concept was ridiculous to many people, including the Dragons. I was ahead of my time.

My passion for sustainability is not what only created our business, Tiny Box Company, but it's also what drives our business. I believe in reusable soap dispensers and towels in the bathroom. We switched the lightbulbs in our warehouses to low energy and if we don’t need the lights on in the office, we keep them off.

I was awarded an OBE in the 2024 Honours List for services to Sustainability, but this recognition wasn’t for me. It was for our team, who put in the work every day to live as sustainably as possible. I wouldn't have been able to do it myself. If 100 people are walking away from the office at night and making a small, more sustainable change at home, it’s the other people in their lives that start introducing it as well. Suddenly, we've got 400 people changing their habits and this snowballs to create the change.

Rachel Watkyn one of Dragons' Den's most successful female candidates © Rachel Watkyn
The businesswoman impressed Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis on Dragons' Den in 2008 and now turns over a £10 million profit

SUSTAINABILITY: 8 simple sustainable swaps to make for an eco-friendly home 

In the past six years, I've had five operations. I do believe that without my work and my sense of purpose, I could have easily become lost in my health as opposed to focussing on the bigger picture. In many ways, it saved me mentally. When you're doing something you’re passionate about and when what you're doing is bigger than you, you stop worrying about all the little things in life.

Eco Entrepreneur Rachel Watkyn is the founder of Tiny Box Company a fully sustainable packaging company and Know The Origin which allows consumers to make sustainable choices on household goods, activewear and gifts based on their personal values.

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