I often get surprised and “how do you do that?!” reactions when I tell people running a zero waste blog is my full-time job. So I thought I’d cover Green Indy’s history, how I actually make money from a zero waste blog, and a few tips and tricks for those who may be interested in doing the same.

green indy’s history

Green Indy began in February of 2017. I started it to be the resource I wish I’d had when I started zero waste (ie. not someone with money and resources in New York or California). It became my full-time gig about a year later in January of 2018.

I got to that point quickly because:

  • I’ve run a successful blog before. It was nowhere near as popular as Green Indy has become, but I ran a travel blog about living in Russia for about 5 years. I used affiliate links, people contacted me as a Moscow tour guide, and even got a small book deal from it. It also gave me insights into how to use social media, design websites, stay consistent, and all the other million factors that go into maintaining a site.
  • I started the blog as zero waste exploded. When I started zero waste in 2015 it was pretty new. When I finally took my journey online in 2017 the topic didn’t have the kind of attention it does now. I got in early before the zero waste online arena became super saturated.
  • I found a niche beyond zero waste. By focusing on practical, accessible zero waste and community-building and long posts, I made Green Indy different. My site is different from the hundreds of other sites with same old ‘recommended zero waste stuff’ lists over and over. If you’re not unique, your site will quickly be lost in a sea of other content.

Green Indy’s growth in the past 18 months or so (17K followers across social media and 30K views monthly) is not typical. I’m surprised by how fast it’s grown and I don’t know that it’s a good model to look at. I got very lucky, which is obviously not something that’s easy to replicate.

how I grew Green Indy totally organically

How I actually make money from a zero waste blog - Polly Barks

Green Indy grew organically. I never paid for an ad until early this year, and even then I’ve only spent about $25 total testing small ads for specific events.

Here are three things I think were most integral in Green Indy’s growth:

  1. Posting consistently, whatever that means to you. The quickest way to grow is by posting strong long-form content consistently. Not only will you build trust with an audience (who wants to stick around on a blog with just three posts in the last year?) but you’ll make Google happy by showing that you’re an active site. I committed to posting twice a week for the first eight months or so to build up an archive of posts.
  2. Choose two or three places to build your online home. Don’t stretch yourself too thin over social media. Choose your main platform plus a social media spot or two and be done with it. If you try to post everywhere all the time, you’ll burn out. Choose the online places you enjoy and stick with that. I have the blog, e-mail, and Instagram. (Plus a basically dead Facebook page.) That’s it.
  3. Interact constantly with your community. At the start, I committed at least 30 minutes daily to getting on Instagram and Bloglovin’ to read, research, and interact. I got my name out there, met people from all over, and learned new things in the process! Get with your community! To me, this means two things. First, interact with the people already in the zero waste community. Search through hashtags, comment on blog pots, and learn/share with the people around you. Second – and what a lot of people miss – is interact with your secondary community that isn’t yet interested in zero waste but is related to you in some way. Don’t box yourself into a narrow niche.

And as a bonus tip, which I didn’t include since it’s a tough one: swipe-up links in Instagram has been a huge traffic driver. My main social media goal was to get to 10K on Instagram so I could add links to my stories. Now I’ve achieved that, I’ve slowed down a lot on trying to grow it and am using IG organically in ways that I enjoy.

Want to start your own blog? Be sure to check out this post on starting a carbon neutral blog with GreenGeeks! (FYI, I’m an affiliate because they’re awesome!) Using the internet eats up a lot of resources – GreenGeeks helps mitigate some of that by investing in carbon offsets as part of their services!

so when did you start making money?

Green Indy became a full-time income around January of 2017, 11 months after starting the site.

I decided when we moved to Lafayette (October 2017), I would give myself 3 months to go all in and make the site my full-time job before I looked for another job. I could earn about $12-12.50/hour here in the high-stress, high-risk field I was in before. So I wasn’t missing out on a whole lot of income to be honest. I decided that $1,200/month was the number. (My paychecks averaged around $600 before, so it’s not a huge cut.)

I got close enough to the number in the 3 months that I felt comfortable going full steam ahead! Some months I make a lot more, some months are much lower, but I feel good about it since I really love doing this. Writing and teaching zero waste also doesn’t carry the same burdens of my previous jobs.

Yes, I have a spouse. Blog income covers all of our expenses. His job as a cook is leftover for savings.

how I make money from green indy

I’m not going to put exact numbers as it varies widely month to month, but it’s enough that I exceed a $1,500 threshold almost every month.

Sponsored posts

I charge brands for sponsored content. This means my blog functions exactly like a magazine: most of my content is written by me on topics I’ve chosen. Every so often one of those pages/posts is an advertisement. (You can see an example here – they’re clearly marked.)

Many people are surprised to hear that, because I don’t do much of it. In August I received 19 unsolicited e-mails from companies wanting to advertise on Green Indy (that doesn’t count the other 10+ absolutely trash e-mails I delete immediately). Guess how many sponsored posts went up this month on the blog or Instagram? Zero. That being said, I made deals behind the scenes for future months with brands I’m excited about working with, but it’s a very slow, selective process.

The takeaway for potential bloggers: once you start blogging consistently and start getting bigger, you will be inundated with offers. Raise your prices to weed out most offers, only work with companies you truly support, and remember that taking money from any and everyone is a sure way to destroy your brand.

How I make money from a zero waste blog - Green Indy Blog

affiliate links

If you don’t know, affiliate links are special links that – if you buy through them – Green Indy gets a small slice of that profit at no cost to you, the buyer.

I have different networks that I work with but the big one – surprisingly, maybe – is Amazon. I’m lucky to be in a position where I don’t need to rely on Amazon’s prices anymore. But for a lot of my budget-minded readers (or those of us in small areas without sustainable shopping options), it’s the most accessible company. Most of my readers think long and hard before making that purchase, and that many others go outside of that link to find a non-Amazon alternative. I also link to eBay and several other niche sites like Azure Standard.

Anyway, a long-winded way of saying I make a small pittance talking about the products I really love and think my readers would find value in if they have nothing they can substitute at home or at a second-hand store.It’s important to me to have that caveat in every post where I recommend new items.

The takeaway for potential bloggers: affiliate links are a slippery slope for ethical bloggers. Think long and hard before recommending that your readers purchase something – and make sure a deeper understanding of zero waste and sustainable consumption is included.

digital products

My big giant goal is to move away from physical products completely. I do this by offering e-books, webinars, and challenges at different prices. I definitely don’t make enough to sustain myself on this stuff alone – I’ll need tons more traffic for that – but I hope to build that side of the blog up at some point.

The takeaway for potential bloggers:  non-physical products are a great way to share your knowledge and earn some income too. To make enough money to sustain yourself, though, you need to charge a lot for it or have a huge, engaged audience.

How I actually make money from a zero waste blog - mobile

taking zero waste IRL

This is where what I’d call the good money is. By that I mean, you can potential earn more and move away from selling things. Here are a few ways I do this:

  • self-hosted workshops. I love these, even though all the planning, ingredient-gathering, and everything else relies on me. Read more about hosting zero waste workshops here. You can expect to make anywhere from $5-50/person for a typical workshop (depending on the topic), but longer, more intense workshops can cost hundreds of dollars.
  • workshops with organizations. these range from free workshops with the local food bank to small businesses or groups, to major workshop events with universities. Profits from workshops can range from $5-10/person up to (for me) almost $1,000 when arranged by larger organizations.
  • speaking at events. sometimes organizations don’t want a hands-on workshop and instead just want a straight presentation with a Q&A. Prices for this range majorly; it depends on the organization, number of people, and the amount of prep time it takes you to get ready.

That all being said, doing stuff like this is hard. It takes a lot of planning, can be inconsistent, and you really need a reputation behind you before you get started on appearing IRL.

The takeaway for potential bloggers: I always advocate for taking zero waste away from online and into the real world. It’s better for you as a brand and your community as a whole. It does take time and effort to get taken seriously as an expert.

is it ethical to make money this way?

Some people scream and cry about paying ethical writers or that zero waste figures shouldn’t take money. That’s totally fine, but I have zero problem with getting compensated for doing this work and leveraging this platform I’ve built.

Here’s the thing: if I don’t make money doing this, community projects don’t get funded.

In the 8 months Green Indy has officially been a part of the Lafayette scene, I’ve hosted 11 workshops or events (most free), given away 10 low-waste homelessness kits, 7 menstrual cups, rescued hundreds of pounds of food and given it away, started (and stopped) a bag share program, and more. None of that happens without the income from this site meeting my basic needs and then some. It also doesn’t happen when I work in an emotionally-draining, anxiety-inducing job.

I can’t bankroll myself any other way, so I feel very good about it. I’ll continue my community-driven desire to earn and live well until we figure out how to dismantle the capitalist system once and for all.

More questions about the daily grind of a blogger or something else you want to know before you dive into the online world yourself? Drop them in the comments below!


Polly

An online resource here to help you break down the complex issue of zero waste into simple, actionable steps.

14 Comments

Tyas · September 4, 2018 at 10:39 am

Thanks so much Polly for this great and honest article. Your blog has inspired me so much that I wanted to bring the message of zero waste does not to be expensive back home in Indonesia where we have lots of issues in waste management. And to be honest, I do think it is ethical to make money this way cause you are not only making money but passing the knowledge to people. Keep doing your awesome work ❤

    Polly · September 4, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    Thanks so much for the lovely comment, Tyas! Best of luck sharing your experiences in Indonesia, sounds like you’re doing great work!

Elizabeth · September 4, 2018 at 2:59 pm

Thank you for your transparency, it is very refreshing! I really appreciate your blog and find it to be a great resource. Can you write a bit about why you stopped the bag share program?

    Polly · September 4, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    Thanks! And yeah, the bag share program was stopped (paused?) because it wasn’t what the community needed. The people who had just forgotten bags didn’t want to take them and the people who actually needed bags wanted to keep them lol my plan is to probably mass produce some cloth produce bags and hand them out to people to keep. More effective!

Erin Rhoads · September 5, 2018 at 1:18 am

Polly, you are a breath of fresh air!

    Polly · September 5, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Ahh thank you, Erin 🙂

    Natalie · September 24, 2018 at 6:06 pm

    I’ve always wondered if zero-waste bloggers make money. Paris To Go shared a glimpse this past week. Personally I had no idea she was a professional blogger so I appreciate the transparency as it does help though I don’t quite understand what she does. Erin, have you shared a blog post to similar to Polly? Btw I love your book.

      Polly · September 24, 2018 at 6:37 pm

      I know Ariana works SO hard in different capacities, but she’s honestly just fabulous for a living lol. I don’t believe she would class herself as a professional blogger, although I won’t claim to speak for her.

      Erin Rhoads · October 25, 2018 at 7:02 pm

      Hey Nat, no I have not shared a similar blog post because I don’t know if anyone would get much out of it! I’ve never set out to make money from my blog and compared to Polly, I make so little! But enough to put back into my initiatives like Plastic Bag Free Victoria and Zero Waste Victoria, both are community education and advocacy groups. I’ve always blogged on the side and wouldn’t consider it a full time job so haven’t actively looked for ways to monetise in any way – everything has come my way by dumb luck. I have two affiliates (Etsy and Biome) who approached me because I was sending traffic to their websites and they offered to compensate me. Per month I earn $150-$200 dollars from affiliates and this is what goes back into Zero Waste Victoria until that is up and running as a not for profit, which should be soon! I have done one paid instagram post and no paid blog posts. On two occasions I have been gifted products for review. I’m strict when it comes to doing any type of collaborations with brands/companies (I have 12 questions a brand must answer regarding supply change before i’d even say yes!) and I also try to keep it local to Australia/NZ. While I don’t make much money from my blog I do earn a comfortable amount of money from talks and this can range from $50 to $1000+ if it’s a larger company. Then I have a book which I have no idea what I will earn from that! Whatever I earn from the book will give me the flexibility to not go back to work yet as I have planned once my son turned two and build Zero Waste Victoria into something and I want to run the Zero Waste festival again. Ok this reply is pretty much a blog post! Thanks for the kind words about my book too.

Treasure John · September 19, 2018 at 4:25 pm

Thank you so much Polly, for existing! I don’t know how I found you but I am glad that I did. I receive your emails, and become so happy to see your name pop up… your content is so practical and easy to read. Question: What platform do you use for your blog?

    Polly · September 20, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Wow, thank you so much! Appreciate it! I use WordPress.

Susan Crawford · September 30, 2018 at 9:49 pm

This is such an amazing blog Polly! I am so glad that I found this! Who knew being a zero waste blogger could make you that much money? I wish you the best of luck in the future!

stivesara · October 28, 2018 at 4:28 am

Hello Polly,
Great ideas. Thanks for sharing.Your website is AMAZING! I have just started out myself and hopefully this will help me a lot.
Thanks
Sara @99 Extra Income

    Polly · October 29, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks so much!

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