Why is it important for my startup to be sustainable?
Consumers are becoming more and more concerned with Corporate Social Responsibility. Nowdays, you can’t just set up a business without considering the impact that your business is going to have. If you don’t, you’re missing out on a whole target market and opening yourself up to criticism and competition.
Businesses can have a huge influence in battling climate change, and it’s time to act, as we only have 11 more years until climate collapse becomes unavoidable, according to the UN. Your customers know this, and you should too.
Moreover, legislation is being pushed to encourage eco-responsibility and low-impact solutions for products and packaging. Soon, all businesses, new or established, will be forced to consider this, whether they wish to or not. Your startup has to be ahead of the curve if it wants to survive.
The eco-business sector is hugely popular market that will only continue to grow. If your new business considers its environmental impact from the very beginning, it not only ahead of new market regulations, but also opens an important niche for environmentally aware consumers.
As this article from BusinessGreen says, boycotts have gone up by 123 per cent from 2010-2012; if consumers consider you irresponsible, they won’t buy your product. You are making sure your products are palatable to these consumers, but, helpfully, without excluding customers who are less concerned with the impact of their spending. It might even get this second group thinking about being more responsible – and creating even more consumers in this niche!
Establishing your eco-business doesn’t have to be difficult. Even though it might seem daunting to consider every part of your supply chain, new materials and options for responsible procurement are appearing all the time.
Being eco-friendly can also reduce your costs. If you encourage customers to use their own reusable packaging, or create a circular system where packaging or products can be returned and reused or recycled, then you won’t be constantly paying the costs for these items – only for them to be thrown away. Often sustainability means pushing against excess – which will always reduce your costs as a business. For a startup especially, this is key.
All the changes below are essential to consider when creating a new business with sustainability at its core, rather than for simply creating a transparent marketing ploy. It’s easier to implement these changes from the beginning, but if you own an existing business, then it’s also important to consider making these changes in order to reduce your impact, for the planet as well as for your customers.
Remember, sustainability and success go hand-in-hand, and profit does not have to be at the expense of the planet!
Our 10 Top Tips for a Sustainable Startup
1. Design a product that solves an environmental problem
There are many, many market opportunities for products that solve environmental issues that are created by conventional products. Think: alternatives for single use products, products with reduced impact and emissions, or products free from plastic and excess packaging.
Look at your own life, and observe which areas produce a lot of waste, use a lot of fossil fuels or other unsustainable resources, and produce the most emissions; you can then use these to think about what products or services would be useful in your own life. For example, make-up brand Love the Planet created mineral make-up that is delivered in paper envelopes, as plastic-free make-up is very difficult to find.
2. Consider your product’s end-of-life
If you produce physical products, where do these go when your consumer is done with them?
For the most responsible products, this end of life should be a long way off and products should be designed to last. Obviously, it’s also more sustainable to use one thing for a long period of time than to constantly use up and replace a product.
Although it encourages customers to buy less often, they are obviously willing to pay more for a longer lasting product. Longer lasting products are more financially attractive to consumers, meaning that they are more likely to buy again or become an advocate for your brand.
At some point, though, your product will no longer be usable. How will these leftover materials be disposed of, recycled, or reused? This should be a key consideration in the development of an environmentally-aware product.
If you are creating your product from a material that could be recycled, such as metal, think about whether this is actually likely to happen and whether there are systems in place to allow this.
Consider taking responsibilty for the waste produced, like having your own closed loop recycling program or offer a trade-in discount. IKEA, for example, is looking into taking back used furniture or running a ‘lending’ scheme to prevent furniture from going to waste. If this isn’t a feasible option, it’s also a great idea to put clear instructions on how to recycle your products on the products themselves.
If you are considering a material like so-called biodegradable plastics, take a look at this article on why this might not actually be that sustainable. Instead, focus on natural materials that can fully compost or biodegrade in natural conditions.
For example, ordinary dishwashing sponges and cloths are made of plastic and therefore go to landfill when they are used up. To address this, Loof Co. creates a large range of brushes and pot scrubbers made from natural materials like loofah plants and coconut coir, that are all fully biodegradable.
When developing a product, you should ask: when your product is finished with, can it biodegrade or be recycled?
3. Brand it green
You’re trying really hard to make a difference – tell your customers! Look into stamps that show your products are plastic free, fairtrade, biodegradable and make it clear that your startup is investing in a circular economy and a responsible supply chain.
This only works when you really are making a difference. Many companies are trying to leverage environmentally aware consumers by ‘green washing’ their products and presenting them as more environmentally conscious than they really are. This will inevitably come back to bite any businesses which present their products as more green than they actually are – not only do you damage your brand’s reputation, but you also risk lose the trust of your consumers permanently.
They might say their packaging is biodegradable, but consumers are beginning to realise that this might mean the packaging breaks down into microplastics, and only in certain conditions.
Transparency and focus on environmental responsibility should be implemented at all stages of business, which is why it is important that startups focus on this from the outset.
Consumers are losing faith in huge corporations that don’t take accountability for their impact, meaning small business startups are more popular than ever.
Focus on communicating to your consumers that the planet is at the heart of your business model and will not be compromised for the sake of profit.
4. Look for green business grants and awards
Being green might mean that you can access more funds and make your startup more attractive to investors. Barclays offers a special green loan scheme to help businesses fund sustainable projects and your investors could also get special tax reliefs from the UK Government for funding you as a green business.
As for grants, get in touch with local organisations and councils to explore options in your area, as these are often location specific. This article also suggests contacting local energy or water suppliers, as well as local councils to ask if there are any loans you might be eligible for. If you don’t ask…
Finally, there are many awards open to businesses who are making an effort to be more sustainable and reduce their impact. There is the BusinessGreen Leader’s Award, The Guardian Sustainable Business Award as well as local awards run by councils or communities for local Green Business of the Year. Organisations are very keen to award hard work in the growing eco-business sector.
5. Be paperless
From the outset, realise that physical paper marketing is no longer essential for a startup, or at least should be as limited as possible.
That’s why we specialise in creating great websites, social media profiles, and online marketing plans that can advertise a green business more effectively than flyers ever could. Environmentally-conscious consumers aren’t going to buy from your brand if you produce a load of disposable flyers without a thought for their impact.
However, it doesn’t stop there. You also need to think about the impact of that your business’ online presence may have. The servers that run your websites and other online platforms, use a huge amount of energy, and this is only growing, according to this article from the Independent.
That’s why all Twenti’s hosting is fuelled by green energy, using renewable sources, and not fossil fuels. A green business shouldn’t ignore the fact that their website can also have a negative environmental impact unless they mitigate this.
However, if you do have to produce any paper marketing, think about making it low impact – such as MOO’s recycled business cards made from waste cotton.
6. Procure responsibly
So, your product solves an environmental problem and can biodegrade when the consumer is done with it. That’s great. But where did it come from?
Your supply chain should be transparent, with no hidden ethical or environmental costs. This means fairtrade products and factories, no chemical-heavy processes, and sourcing locally wherever possible. If you do have a large carbon footprint from transporting goods, look into using electric, sea or train travel rather than air freight, and into carbon offset schemes, like tree planting.
So, wherever possible, source raw materials and create products locally, and use plant-based alternatives to chemical processes, such as plant-based dyes and inks.
Make the sources and processes that have gone into creating your products easily available, and be proud of, rather than keen to hide, your supply chain. For more, have a look at this article from Commercial on responsible sourcing.
7. Avoid animal products
If you can create any of your materials or products out of plant-based materials, rather than animal-based ones, then do so. Plant-based materials always use less of resources like land and water than animal-based ones (although be aware that some crops, like cotton, can be over-farmed and use a lot of pesticides).
If you think about the land and water that goes into growing the feed for sheep, then goes into keeping the sheep alive, and then processing the wool, then the resources that go into growing and then processing the cotton are always going to be less. As a bonus, this also means you can expand your target audience to include those who do not use animal products.
Of course, man-made plastic-based products are also an option but these aren’t great either. The fossil fuels that go into making plastic are obviously a finite resource, and plastic materials are unlikely to have a positive end-of-life experience.
Ideally, you should procure responsibly and choose organic, fair-trade, plant-based materials for your products and services.
8. Go for a green office – or work from home
If you have an office space or warehouse for your team or services, then make sure this is as green as possible.
Make sure you use energy and water efficiently. There are many ways you could do this, such as energy efficient LED bulbs, to low-flush toilets. You could switch to 100% green energy, or install solar panels on your premises. How about avoiding animal products, or buying only second-hand furniture or electronics?
All of these changes will add up to an office that backs up your claim of an eco-aware business and makes you more attractive to your target market.
However, an even more eco-friendly option would be to allow for remote working, which means the (environmental and financial) costs of another building or of commuting aren’t on the company’s hands. As working from home is so cheap, its the ideal option for an environmentally aware startup.
9. Be transport aware
Travel might seem like a necessity, but avoiding it is one of the biggest ways a business can reduce its impact. Allowing employees to work remotely, or only come into the office a couple of times a week, would greatly reduce your overall footprint as a company.
If this isn’t possible, provide encouragement, or incentives, for employees to take public transport rather than drive, or even cycle. You could also use an app like the ones listed here to set up a carpool for your commute.
Alongside the daily commute, think also about business trips. Can these be avoided or reduced? Would it be possible to go by train rather than fly, as Friends of the Earth recommends? Could you combine business trips to different places to reduce environmental cost?
If you have any company vehicles or distribution services, see if these can be made greener. Electric vehicles could be one option, or even delivery via bike, through your own employees or through a third party like Deliveroo, for food delivery by bike.
10. Ditch the packaging
This is probably what most people think of when reducing their impact as a business, and it is hugely important. This is because packaging is nearly always single use, and thrown straight in the bin. It’s also often completely unnecessary.
Many new green businesses that are springing up at the moment actually focus on delivering a product without the disposable packaging, as their main business idea, such as Loop, a startup which will deliver branded products in reusable containers that it will then reuse over and over.
Therefore, it’s important to design your product around reducing packaging or offering another sustainable solution. Like Loop, this might include returnable and reusable packaging, or, like in many coffee shops, an incentive for customers to bring their own containers.
If you do need to include some form of packaging, make sure it is low impact. Your customers might be able to reuse it themselves, or it could be both made of recycled materials and fully recyclable or compostable.
However, bear in mind that not all waste that goes to recycling is actually recycled and that ‘compostable’ or ‘biodegradable’ packaging might not be as responsible as we might assume.
Lush runs its own packaging recycling scheme, and customers can earn a free product if they bring back five containers for recycling, to make sure that their packaging really does get recycled.
Make sure you don’t just look for certain trending words, actually think about where the product will go and what will happen to it.
Go green with Twenti
If you begin your startup with environmental awareness – and these tips – in mind, your business will be leading the way in responsible consumerism and is better set up to face the challenges of the future. At every step of your business model and product design, keep in mind the impact that you will have on the planet.
When it comes to getting your startup online, check out our options for making sure your online presence is as green as your values. Look at our options for paperless digital marketing to keep your business zero waste.
We also offer eco-hosting for websites. Many businesses don’t realise that the servers their websites run on use a lot of energy – some estimates suggest average sized websites with 10,000 monthly page views generate approximately 2 tons of CO2 emissions every year – which is why we only use 100% green and renewable energy for our servers.
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