Fiddleheads' Award-Winning "Green" Eco Policy and Practices
"Fiddle with a Conscious": Our Environmental Promise, by Rhiannon
No, not all “green” businesses sell alternative tech that reduces consumption, nor are all massive environmental offenders starting an office recycling program. Fiddleheads proves even innocuous enterprises doing little perceivable harm can be an environmental steward.
In an industry slow to adapt over 450 years, Fiddleheads (operating for years) has earned a sparkling reputation as the green business innovator behind “The Planet’s first Green Violin Shop” since the new millennium. Fiddleheads created an enviable niche market, though admittedly I wish to see all businesses see the vast benefits of “greening-up.” I am far from becoming complicit in my actions and strive daily to tweak and improve every facet of my business and personal green lifestyle.
The time is ripe to raise our standards to a more environmentally conscious level and work diligently to reduce waste and pollution in ways such as:
Materials & Manufacturing • Green Packaging • Efficient Home-Based Operations • Vehicle & Travel • Eliminating the Commute • Rhi-duce, Rhi-use, Rhi-cyle • Rehoming Violins & Instruments • Saving Paper Going Digital • Education & Advocacy
These eco-friendly efforts lead to Fiddleheads and owner Rhiannon Nachbaur winning the first "Green Award" in her former town's Business Excellence Awards in 2007.
The award criteria required the honoured business "acts in a responsible manner in all environmental issues, demonstrates a commitment to green space and workplace enhancements and employs significant efforts in waste control measures, air quality improvements and reduction in water or energy consumption." [Read Press Release]
Fiddleheads was recently chosen as one of three finalists for the current Environmental Leadership Award and Small Business of the Year in her city's 2021 Business Excellence Awards (winners announced October 2021).
Materials & Manufacturing
Every product Fiddleheads sells must pass my stringent criterion: source and safety/sustainability of materials, construction methods start to finish, product packaging (much of which was eliminated), and shipping logistics.
Protecting Our Forests, Animals and Waterways
Fiddleheads only sells instruments handcrafted with zero old-growth woods (maple/spruce are thankfully in plentiful renewable, new-growth supply). A violin is made from ~70 wood pieces so eradicating use of old-growth and endangered species is considerably impactful. Most makers maintain private wood lots, reducing raw materials transport and guaranteeing ethical harvest.
Violins are made from renewable natural resources and are relatively innocuous, save from extinct woods and materials like ivory, which we never use.
Remaining strains of Brazilian Pernambuco wood are threatened/endangered, thus Fiddleheads customers are being transitioned from wood bows to more durable and longer-lasting carbon fibre alternatives. Our popular "Astute" wood/carbon hybrid bow utilizes 95% less wood than a traditional bow.
As for preparation of these woods, inefficient preparation shortcuts such as kilns are cut out; all woods are naturally cured over time, which creates a better instrument and cuts hundreds of kilowatt hours of electricity use every year.
Quality Means a Lifetime of Use
In selling quality products, Fiddleheads keeping cheap, disposable instruments from breaking and ending up in landfills. Unlike items that are more costly to repair than to replace, ours are all worth investing repairs and replacement parts.
For example, I chose to stock a shoulder rest that is not only comfortable and ergonomic, but it is also made in a way that all parts can be replaced when they wear down. Fiddleheads is one of the only violin shops selling replacement parts for the Bon Musica in order to keep waste out of our landfills. I also purchase them direct from the manufacturer in Germany to reduce transport miles between distributor chains and keep costs down. I have used the same Bon Musica, with a few parts replaced, since 2002 and it's still going strong!
Some components in violin making can be harmful to living things and our planet, such as poly (plastic-based) varnishes or paints (used on cheap instruments). Our instruments utilize minimal chemicals, eg: no plastic varnishes, only those made with slower-drying natural resins and plant-based oils.
For instance, all my bows are finished with biodegradable, genuine horse hair rather than synthetic (plastic) hairs, the latter of which take hundreds of years to break down. We also only commission and sell instruments that were made without plastic-based varnishes and other yucky substances.
In products where chemicals are impossible to avoid, peg compound and our cream polish, we sell formulas that have as few toxic substances as possible. We are also diligent in sharing material lists from manufacturers. In the case of rosin, which is made from purified tree sap or pitch, it is from a natural source but should not be ingested.
I also encourage customers purchasing our electronic tuners/metronomes to switch out the one-time use batteries to rechargeable batteries and recyle disposable batteries at a depot near their location.
Helping the "Little Guy"
I commission my instruments from small workshops, family businesses and home-based luthiers rather than large scale factories and mega-companies. The health and safety of workers in large-scale operations tends to be abysmal and the product quality also suffers each time the operation is scaled-up.
It really is in everyone's best interests that Fiddleheads takes our business to vendors who are doing things right and deserve our support.
Green Packaging: An Extensive Project
At the beginning many of Fiddleheads products arrived at my studio surrounded by non-biodegradable materials such as styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap in shipping and clear plastic bags on strings, bows and cases. I implemented a Green Policy and put focus first on something that bothers many of us: wasteful packaging and shipping.
Packaging is carefully honed to limit use of superfluous materials and void space, reducing amount of raw materials, minimizing transport volume/space and fuel, and saving everyone money. Strategized padding and packaging has seen only 2 violins damaged of over 2000 shipped in recent years; an unattainable 0.1% "spoilage" rate for most businesses, espeically those shipping fragile items.
I started out purchasing violins from various distributors but soon began to develop my own product lines. By commissioning my instruments, bows, cases and more I am eliminating the many layers of price markup from exporters, importers, distributors and other excessive middlemen.
Timing/shipping of all inventory is tactically planned to calculate for CO2 and other waste offset. Shipping direct also means my products are not being sent from warehouse to warehouse several times over before getting to me. The fewer stops a product makes before it gets to you, the less of a negative impact it has on our environment.
Timing/shipping of all inventory is tactically planned to calculate for CO2 and other waste offset. Calculating locations of key hubs, the types of vehicles used and their operating capacity, and the overall logistics factors determining Canada Post is more efficient than private couriers.
When I am placing large inventory orders from overseas I use sea freight (shipping containers) then long-haul trucking on pallets (less packaging needed) from the port to my studio. Likewise, for large shipments within North America, I use a trucking company for delivery rather than a courier. Yes, these methods take longer, but they far more efficient fuel-wise than air services.
Sea shipping delicate items comes with sacrifices; timing construction in manufacturing and shipping for narrow windows between varnish-damaging humidity, glue-melting heat and wood-cracking cold. I have the scheduling and layers of logistics down to a science.
Training Our Vendors
Fiddleheads asks all our suppliers and makers refrain from using eco-unfriendly materials when shipping to us and our customers whenever possible.
For instance, Fiddleheads eliminated the superfluous cardboard Bon Musica packaging in order to fit them into our padded parcel envelopes and save on volume taking up space in delivery trucks and save on shipping costs. As another example, I purchase strings with the request they be shipped without wasteful packaging and instead in one large reusable baggie whenever possible. This sees a massive reduction of at least 1,000 string envelopes and the corresponding shipping weight annually.
Vendors and makers have followed my lead in packaging, shipping and changes to product design after seeing for themselves the difference these suggestions and requests/requirements made to the bottom line and environment.
As a leader in the green small business I am contacted frequently by inventors and manufacturers seeking direct input on their eco-friendly product designs, such as an entrepreneur who wrote to me in as they prepared for a “Dragon's Den” televised venture capital meeting pitch. I've also "mentored" other small and home-based business owners, providing expertise as they transition to a more conscious green business scope.
Biodegradable and Recycled Materials
On Fiddleheads' end we pack fragile items in biodegradable and recycled materials. We made the choice to ship nearly all items in renewable paper products with paper tape, which are easily recycled in most communities, and use minimal plastic that has limited options for recycling. Our envelopes do not have plastic windows, our bows ship without plastic bow sleeves, and we reuse packaging materials wherever possible.
When we do use plastic or foam, it is almost always reused packaging from an inbound inventory shipment or we obtained it from sources where it would have been thrown away otherwise. I ask our customers to follow in kind, recycling or reusing all packaging whenever possible.
Dunnage or void fill was planned with much care and thought. We use renewable materials like paper, which is recycled, and crush it into crumbled dunnage ourselves in order to cut down on shipping in large amounts of fill. Similarly, we fill our own air cushions using a special machine, which spares us shipping in space-hogging boxes full of air.
The air cushions we use are not made from so-called "bio-plastics," which really only breaks down into microplastics at best and cannot be currently recycled into new objects. The clear plastic in our air selected cushions can be recycled with most cities' film plastics and converting into new items such as park benches and decking. In using air cushions, we are eliminating a lot more packaging materials as most of what takes up the bulk is, literally, clean Canadian air.
Unlike Amazon with their huge nearly-empty boxes containing single tiny items, at Fiddleheads you will never receive a skinny bow or a tiny rosin in a huge full case sized box with mostly padding inside. To cut down on wasted fuel, space and expenses in shipping, we use the appropriately sized box for the items and put personal attention and care into how they are packaged.
Efficient Home-Based Office & Studio
I began my Canadian teaching studio in 1996 and many times since I've reassessed my choice to teach from home rather than renting and traveling into a studio off-site.
Running a home business means no daily commute, being with my children when they have needed mom on sick days and after school, flexible and extended scheduling to catch up on emails and phone calls, and only one building to maintain: thus a smaller carbon footprint and far better prices for Fiddleheads' customers.
Fiddleheads' location from 1999 to 2015 was optimized for peak efficiency as I explored many avenues for efficiency on all levels. Insulation was added everywhere possible as well as installation of all new windows and doors. For heating I began purchasing renewable natural gas via methane capturing at my city refuse site. This methane was already being released, so burning it efficiently saw it used as fuel rather than as a greenhouse gas. (Methane is 25 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas).
My family subscribed to an organic produce delivery service which delivered to our door and were mindful of the impact of all our cleaning supplies and the amount of packaging on everything we purchased.
As replacement or upgrading is required, I choose models which used less electricity and contain safer materials. Even my printers are selected for models with less toxic inks and recyclable cartridges. Other environmentally-friendly products are purchased as they become available and only as needed from ethical sources that work to protect our environment and their workers.
These measures have mostly proven cost-effective. For example, for years my heating and electricity combined averaged $1500 per year in cold Canada, while most surrounding homes paid double this amount and were vacant during the day.
More Recent Optimizations
Fiddleheads' current larger, newer family home and studio space accommodates the responsibly-growing business and my family with our added optimizations such as:
- Smart home features: Timers, apps, cameras and a robust security system (such as alerts if doors/windows are open and losing heat/cool air)
- Automation: Watering and temperature/humidity systems, all using rechargeable batteries
- Insulation: Upgraded for climate and sound
- Windows: Argon-infused for heating and cooling savings
- Appliances: All Energy-star
- Lighting: All-LED, indoor and out with smart use of timers
- Air filtration: Especially important with an increase in forest fires
- Composting: Soil-based and curbside collection with a city pilot project
- Xeriscaping: Replacing lawns with bee-friendly local flowering species for water conservation
Each of these steps sees a significant reduction in waste. For example, nearly half of average homes' carbon footprints stem from electricity use, with a 6% global average to lighting alone. In swapping out 130+ incandescent bulbs, our bi-monthly hydroelectricity bill dropped nearly 50% and saw a 2 year 40% ROI.
Vehicle & Travel
An overwhelming majority of harmful CO2 emissions and air pollution is created by ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles. To lessen my family's and business' carbon footprint I've made the long-term investment toward high-efficiency vehicles since 2005.
February 2021 - Present
I upgraded to an all-electric 2021 Hyundai Kona, which is the very vehicle that delivers your orders to the post office! The Kona electric boasts a whopping combined city/highway 144 miles per Canadian gallon gas equivalence and is 5 times more efficient than the gas-burning model the of the Kona. It is rated to travel 390 to 595 kilometres on a single charge (depending on various factors like outside temperature, climate control, terrain, amount of regenerative braking, driving mode, and average speed).
British Columbia doesn't use coal or nuclear sources in our power grid. The province is powered with hydro-electricity so our electricity consumption carbon intensity emissions (rated by weight of GHG, or Greenhouse Gasses) are extremely low. For instance, our Albertan neighbours to the east produce 990 grams (2.2 lbs) of greenhouse gas emissions per kilowatt hour, whereas BC produces under 12 grams!
My "little red electric wagon" produces only 2-3 grams (1/10 of an ounce) of GHG per kilometer! Compare this to a 2018 Ford F150, with emissions at 256.5 grams (more than half a pound) of GHG per km and you can see the tremendous impact this makes. [Calculate your area's greenhouse gases: Canada - USA]
As for costs, our BC and Canadian governments sweetened the deal with $8,00 in purchase rebates and BC Hydro credited me $700 for the Level 2 home charging station installation.
My husband, impressed with my vehicle and the difference it will make to our planet and pocketbooks, simultaneously purchased a sporty little white 2021 Nissan Leaf with extended range: we have an EV "fleet"! Both vehicles combined have a carbon impact of only 1.9% (not even two percent) of that of a single truck!
December 2015 - February 2021
After ten years and nearly 265,000 km (165,000 miles) on rough terrain and temperatures with my 2005 Prius, the engine was on her last legs. I upgraded to a 2012 Toyota Prius V (averaging 45 Canadian MPG) to accommodate the tall folks in my family and my rise in large orders going to the post office. This dear vehicle saw us getting to nearly 190,000 km (118,000 miles) before I rehomed it.
December 2005 - December 2015
I took the eco plunge with my first hybrid car, a 2005 Toyota Prius. My annual gasoline consumption was instantly less than half of on my previous vehicle (1998 Honda CRV), and I averaged just over 50 miles per Canadian gallon! In meticulously tracking my fuelups, mileage and road/weather conditions as factors for efficiency, I calculated that I eliminated at least 4 metric tons of CO2 per year in using the more efficient vehicle compared to its predecessor.
The savings in gas from no longer driving the CRV literally paid for the Prius' purchase price over 10 years of gas savings!
Since 2001 I have avoided air travel and opted to make a roadtrip of my long distance trips whenever it was feasible. Flights are booked with carbon offset credits. I also enjoy biking and purchased a used electric-assist bicycle to manage the steep hills that would otherwise impede frequent rides.
I kindly ask that lessons and shop customers please turn their vehicle engines off while waiting outside Fiddleheads. 10 seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it, so it's not just good for the air quality and devastating climate change, it's also good for your wallet.
Eliminating the Commute
As mentioned above, I made a conscious and well-planned choice in 1997 to work from a home studio as the pros far outweighed the cons. The only remaining issue that fell under my green scrutiny was multiple 240km (144mi) round trips to Kamloops for orchestra rehearsals once I returned to my symphonic career in 2011. Driving a hybrid car wasn't enough and I knew I. needed to live closer to my music once I was invited to play in two other Kamloops orchestras.
Thus in 2015 I prepared a formal Business Relocation Plan with the assistance of Venture Kamloops and moved to Kamloops, BC, to eliminate the 3 hour round-trip drive to rehearsals with three orchestras up to 5 days per week. It was a momentous undertaking but drastically reduced my vehicle/travel footprint and saw an estimated 4,500+ pounds of CO2 eliminated from our skies each concert season!
The move that autumn also facilitated improvements to shipping operations and logistics from a hub city for highway, railroad and the proximity to Vancouver (less distance for long haul trucking from the Port of Vancouver for imports) weighed in heavily for reducing a shipping footprint (distance, fuel used, wear on roads and vehicles).
The move greatly benefitted my family in all the other amenities the larger center has to offer for our quality of life: more support services for my Autistic kids, stronger arts and sports communities, and a full-fledged university are all within a 7-minute drive of our home! And I'm home right after a rehearsal ends, so my family life doesn't suffer in my absence.
Ideal Seasoning Environment
A major added benefit to the new headquarters location is how Kamloops is in an ideal and rare climate that results in optimized* curing and maturation for my instruments. The region’s naturally arid state is ideal for curing/drying instruments without costly added machinery or wasteful energy use.
*It is prudent to avoid purchasing a violin from super humid southern states (Georgia, Florida, etc) as we have encountered and heard about many problems from those instruments after a few years. [More info here]
Rhi-duce, Rhi-use, Rhi-cyle
I've painstakingly recycled all items that come into my home and business, even before recycling them was an option in most cities.
All my adult life I have kept hard to recycle materials like batteries, styrofoam and electronics in contained storage until a speical recycling event came through my town once a year. When I was on holidays or visiting family in a larger city with more recycling options, I brought such materials with me to see they were dealt with appropriately and not just tossed in the dump.
Recycling is more mainstream and easier to do thanks to curbside bins, but some items still aren't accepted. Thus I've scoured the web to find sources for recycling of other items such as office pens/biros, hygeine razors, and even candy bar wrappers!
Always the goal is to elevate beyond recycling: Reuse!
Home and studio furnishings are often repurposed items other people were going to throw away. I've become quite skilled at reupholstering damaged furniture, rewiring old lamps, and removing rust from and restoring countless other items for reuse and donation to those in need.
The "fast fashion" textiles and clothing industry is causing significant environmental harm, so I strive to purchase all my clothes, including my formal symphony wear, used and repair items to extend their life. The fancy red dress on my about us page? I purchased that second-hand!
Sometimes I get creative with my reuse of objects and materials, such as turning heavy poly strapping used on inbound shipping pallets into whalebone inserts for my Baroque orchestra costume's waistline! It's fun to see use out of things that most people would simply throw away without findiing creative ways to see it staying out of the landfills.
Items I no longer want but still have life in them are taken to non-profit thrift stores or donated to women's shelters. I take worn garments and scraps to a textiles recycling bin a 5 minute e-bike ride from my home. According to my city's website, each resident discards about 37 kg of textiles annually, which results in about 3.4 million kg of waste that can be avoided with this new program.
On a business and personal level I support various circular economy initiatives that keep items and resources in use. I help salvaged materials discarded by one party being put into use by another, in the classic "one person's trash is another person's treasure" paradigm. I have also arranged community recycling and selling events.
I strive to participate whenever a government initiative asks for feedback on programs such as community gardens (less transport of fresh produce from far away), curbside composting programs and food banks (less lost nuterients loss and eliminating methane from landfills), and biking/electric car initiatives (reducing CO2). I have also volunteered with various organizations to promote environmentalism on small and large scales.
My most recent new role in this area started in 2020 when I took over as the Administrator for my local "Freecycle" group, "a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) free stuff and thus keeping good stuff out of landfills."
Rehoming Violins & Instruments
Waste is waste, but there is nothing more tragic than a musical instrument being discarded or neglected.
Violin Society Instrument Bank
In 2003 I came up with an exciting vision to offer workshops and instruments for free to players in need and created the non-profit group, the Shuswap Violin Society. [Shuswap is a region in the southern interior of British Columbia, so named by the Secwépemc people whose land we acknowledge here.] The organization also had a generous scholarship fund and held many community-building concerts and music events.
My favourite project for maximum impact was the instrument bank which, inspired by the Canada Council for the Arts Instrument Bank, received violins and other instruments by donation and loan from the public then lended them to people of all ages for free based on financial need and aptitude/promise.
After the birth of my second child I retired from running the group. The nearly 20 instruments were donated to the regional school district/community orchestra where they are still played to this day, and all funds went to the local Arts Council toward future grant programs.
Keep the Music Alive
It's discouraging to think how many people just throw away old sheet music (and musical instruments!) when they can be put in the hands of an eager musician. For years Fiddleheads has participated recycling directories, accepting old music books, instruments, cases and other violin-related items as well as LP records and tapes. I've helped pianos find loving homes rather than going to the landfills or just sitting out in the rain. I gotta say, moving violins is a lot easier than moving pianos...
I've also passed countless boxes of sheet music, books, student grade strings and a variety of other musical instruments on to other teachers and local school districts. Strings Magazine featured Fiddleheads' charitable giving and instrument recycling in their article, "A Season of Giving," in the December 8, 2014 issue.
When I remove cheap factory-grade steel strings from student violins to replace with superior strings, I save these strings rather than toss them and see that they are donated to school programs as spare strings. The teachers always appreciate this since kids tend to break strings accidentally.
All used strings, many of which contain tungsten, silver and even gold, are recycled at a program in Seattle when I'm down that way. I welcome customers to send me their old strings and I will see that they are properly recycled. [See our strings recycling info here]
If instruments, bows or cases are damaged in shipping, I see that they are turned into unique art projects or their component parts reused to repair other instruments. I took a broken old violin and turned it into a fun and unique duct tape violin, which gets a lot of laughs at my studio.
Digital Saves Paper
I'm of the opinion we should save the wood given to us by trees for paper and houses!
Less "Tree Slices"
Most of the Fiddleheads office is almost entirely paper-free, save for paperwork backups for income tax purposes (death and taxes are unavoidable). Emailing invoices and statements to customers, using digital devices reading sheet music, and keeping records digitally or printed 4 pages/side, sees a paper consumption reduction of 1 ream weekly, amounting to saving a calculated 3.12 whole trees every year.
I ask all vendors to email catalogs and invoices to me to save them money and reduce the burden of lettermail in the system. Signing and saving documents in digital formats within the office also keeps paper and toner usage down considerably. It's much easier to locate files with a computer search than digging through huge file cabinets, which also take up a lot more physical space in larger buildings, adding to our carbon footprints.
As for music itself, with the exception of a few top titles I adore, I use digital sheet music both arranged by me and public domain music scanned by other musicians then for my students, often emailing it to them so they can print it at home as needed. As for paper sheet music, I don't photocopy reams of music and only print off pieces as needed, always double-sided, or use a tablet so that printing is eliminated entirely.
In past years I produced an multi-page newsletter which had a student and community readership. Originally several hundred paper copies were printed each month, but I later posted the "Fiddleheads Gazette" online. This saved on printing, paper usage and postage for wide distribution. The digital version also allowed the Gazette to be experienced in full colour, which was far more ecologically responsible in electrons than in print.
Education & Advocacy
In order to better understand better environmental practices I have become a member of and donor to groups and societies which promote environmentalism and humanitarian efforts. My student recitals' admission has been by donation of cash and non-perishable food items for local food banks.
I have also maintained a lending library of books and other resources on the topic of environmentalism for decades, and this library is always expanding. Additionally, I lend out music books in general to reduce the number of items people purchase and use for a short amount of time.
In recent years I have converted much of my personal reading library to the audiobook versions of the titles, which I enjoy while I'm packing up your order to ship or when I am working on this website. As much as I adore seeing colourful book spines on a shelf, it's just as rewarding freeing up physical space for more oxygen-producing houseplants!
Are you familiar with the old adage about "teaching a man to fish?" We donate funds to causes which aim to educate people as we thinks this is the best way to promote change towards a healthier humanity. Fiddleheads also supports the Wikimedia Foundation a few times a year, which provides "free access to all human knowledge" to citizens of the world. My family has also sponsored children in third world countries.
Lastly, I am current on many environmental issues and contribute financially and sign petitions with various campaigns such as water and habitat protection, lobbying government on all levels to improve recycling and high-tech manufacturing techniques, and seeing more vigourous and effective net-zero agreements with regards to climate change, to name a few. [See Charitable Giving page]
Going Green Pays for Itself
Regardless of one's thoughts on climate change and environmental science, it can be agreed there is logical reasoning behind efficiency in general. It's just plain good sense to be less wasteful in a world of ever increasing demands on our resources and inhabitable space. Plus, being friendly to the earth is also friendlier to our finances.
A growing number of our customers are on board, as Margaret S. in Comoz BC shared in 2007, "I nominated your business for the green award. I did so NOT because you're nice, but because you are truly one of the very few business people who gives a sh*$."
Our Green Policy attracts conscientious customers from around the world. It feels good to make a living in a way which is also helping other people realize their personal "green" lifestyles, both environmentally and financially. I have countless personal examples of this principle in action and how it has been a major factor in the betterment of my family's life. I only hope these efforts can be a motivation and inspiration to you and your family.
We are all in this together!
Thank you for shopping with Fiddleheads Violin Studio!
"Fiddle with a Conscience.”