Tearing down the barriers to sustainable shopping

One Cherry is a number of digital projects that have been developed by young entrepreneurs funded through The Environment Now programme backed by O2 and the National Lottery’s Big Lottery Fund through the Our Bright Future programme. It is managed by the National Youth Agency.

There are many ways to view how technology, business and sustainability can fit together and complement each other. We now live in a time when consumers are increasingly looking for environmentally friendly alternatives to reduce their climate impact. But people are fickle, and while they may prioritise a greener option, the smallest hurdle could keep them stuck in their ways. Let’s say Joe Bloggs is happy to buy packaging-free tomatoes, but if it’s not available at the shop down the road, will he be bothered to go somewhere else?

There is an opportunity in almost any problem or challenge that we face today. So we can start questioning whether technology and an entrepreneurial approach might help us make sustainable options more convenient and accessible to everyone. This is just an example and Green Great Britain Week should hopefully inspire some entrepreneurs to think about where these opportunities may be hidden, and how they might create products and services that cater to customers’ fast-changing priorities.

The global fashion industry creates more emissions than the aviation and shipping industries combined, making it an example of an industry towards which attitudes are rapidly changing. The trend of fast fashion, in which companies make low quality, cheap clothing as quickly as possible to be worn only a few times, is something people are becoming more aware of and are keen to avoid.

Many of us love charity shopping, for the great causes it supports and the ability to find a hidden gem, but charity shops are also environmental heroes, enabling people to buy clothes second-hand instead of new. Unfortunately, as the rest of the high street retail industry has moved online, charity shops and other second-hand shops have failed to follow on due to the lack of suitable tools allowing them to do so. This means that while Joe Bloggs might be happy to buy his shoes or a jacket second-hand, the thought of spending hours traipsing around local shops searching for size 6.5 brogues, or trying to arrange a meeting with someone on Gumtree to try on a second hand jacket on, may result in him buying brand new one online instead.

The team at One Cherry spent over a year researching, designing and building what we believe is the best solution to this problem.

The challenge turned out to be much more complex than it first seemed, requiring a platform that works for both customers and second-hand shops with constantly changing stock of unique items, limited space and often staff members who are not confident with technology. But the reward is huge - we created something that both shops and their customers absolutely love using. Many of the shops we work with have tried using eBay or other existing platforms, and it is an unbelievable feeling to hear from the managers: ‘One Cherry is much easier to use than I expected’ and then see the volunteers in their 60s using it. The customers are happy too, since now they can find second-hand items they want, that are in their size and available to buy online. We are already looking at how we can use the same approach for furniture, household items, books and other things that are sold in the shops.

When the team first started we were all students at the University of Edinburgh, motivated by tackling the unutilised potential of local charity shops. Balancing our work for One Cherry with university - and dissertations for some of us - was certainly challenging. But the hard-work and perseverance always pays off: university is now behind us, we have launched with two shops in Edinburgh and have many more in the pipeline. We’re hoping to have a large range of shops on board with us around Edinburgh very soon, before moving to other cities across the UK.

Being motivated by an environmental cause can be challenging, but our experience of running a green start-up has been very positive as it opens up a whole world of support. This can come from industry professionals, who offer guidance to help us achieve our goal, or from the numerous funds dedicated to supporting sustainable start-ups, such as The Environment Now (a collaboration between O2, Our Bright Future and the National Youth Agency), who were the first ones to believe in our vision and have helped us get to where we are today. Similarly, being a young team opens up additional funding and training opportunities while also creating some difficulties such as having to take additional care to earn the trust of the people we work with. It’s been an exciting journey so far, and the opportunity to make an impact around the UK and beyond is keeping us excited for what’s to come.


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