How Aspiring Entrepreneurs Can Prioritize Sustainability
If you are a business owner, or thinking of becoming one, it’s important to understand you have responsibilities. While there will be familiar elements such as finances and employee welfare, one of the areas receiving increasing focus as of late is entrepreneurs’ sustainability obligations. After all, industry is one of the key contributors of potentially harmful waste products, including 23% of U.S. greenhouse emissions. If our society is to make an impact against the irreversible effects of climate change, entrepreneurs need to step up to the plate.
This doesn’t mean to say all new businesses need to be geared toward green innovations. Rather, entrepreneurs must keep sustainability at the core of their business operations. When planning and running a company, you need to create a strategy that, at the very least, makes certain your activities have a minimal — though, preferably, no — negative impact on the environment. Even when profit is a driving force of what you do, eco-friendly business practices need to remain a priority.
It’s not always clear how best to approach this, so we’re going to take a closer look at some primary areas you can be focusing on to make a good start.
One of the main areas where you can maintain sustainability as an entrepreneur is in your material choices. It doesn’t always seem this way, but you do have control over whether elements you welcome into your business are sourced or manufactured using eco-friendly methods. This is helped by the fact that green alternatives for items are more readily available than at almost any other point in our post-industrial age.
Your approach here can include:
- Raw Materials
When your company is producing items from scratch, consider the sustainability of the raw materials you are using. This isn’t just from the perspective of whether they can be recycled after use — though it is important. Rather, consider the methods of harvesting the raw materials. Obviously, recycled and reused paper or wood is better, but also look at whether the company is involved in a replanting scheme to replenish responsibly. If your raw materials are grown, is a crop rotation method used to put less pressure on the farmland, and are they avoiding the kind of expansion designed to harm the local ecosystem?
Even if your business doesn’t directly manufacture anything, you can still prioritize sustainability in your packaging materials. Avoid utilizing plastics — these create pollution in their production and don’t biodegrade to any significant degree, and there is still some question over how effective so-called biodegradable plastics are. Instead, seek to use alternatives made from cornstarch, mushrooms, seaweed, and recycled cardboard. Your attitude to this is important, too — even green materials take resources and energy to produce, so utilize them sparingly.
When prioritizing sustainability, it’s important not to just look at your product, but also your day-to-day practices. Many areas can be problematic from an environmental perspective yet have little to do with how items are made, and more with how a company functions and what staff behavior is prevalent. As such, it can be wise to commit to a full audit of operations to ascertain what aspects can be improved.
If you’re in the eCommerce industry, it’s worth noting fulfillment centers can be particularly problematic in this regard. They are huge operations, with a lot of moving parts, and it can be easy for sustainability to fall by the wayside. As a leader in this kind of organization, it is worth exploring measures that can improve your sustainability practices here. Automation in warehouse operations, labeling, and packaging can reduce wastage and improve efficient energy consumption. Data analytics software in inventory management can also highlight areas of inefficiency, and allow you to optimize processes. In essence, human managers collaborating with technology can streamline operations for maximum sustainability.
For smaller businesses, there are low-budget but effective actions to maintain sustainability here, too. Replace your light bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives, and make certain equipment such as computers and break room refrigerators are Energy Star approved — this is the government-backed program to help consumers identify energy-efficient products. Though, more importantly, you need to set up protocols for your staff on their equipment use. Make sure they turn off tools or lights not actively being used, teach them to be mindful of heating and air conditioning consumption, and encourage the use of cloud document sharing rather than wasteful printing.
When you’re committed to starting a sustainable business, you also need to understand you don’t just have responsibility for your own practices. Rather, the choices you make in your professional relationships also need to reflect a stringent focus on having a positive impact on the planet and those who live on it.
Make careful choices about your suppliers and engage in an open dialogue with them. Talk to their leadership about how they fit into the future of sustainable products, and what efforts they are making to minimize their negative impact. Don’t be coy about employment and material sourcing standards, either — ethical behavior is a core aspect of sustainability, and you need to make sure your company isn’t connected to businesses that shirk this.
You don’t have to approach this in a combative way, rather treat it as a collaboration in sustainability. You’re working to help each other to make vital improvements. Over the next decade or so, there is likely to be an increased emphasis on businesses adjusting their practices to make a difference in the world, alongside utilizing technology that allows for more flexible and environmentally-friendly practices like virtual offices. Take the approach your discussions and sustainable activities are also useful ways to prepare your respective businesses to stay relevant and meet the changing demands of consumers.
As an entrepreneur, you have a responsibility to adopt practices that aren’t harmful to the planet or its population. Much of your approach should revolve around taking time to consider your options — the materials you use, the activities in your organization, even your supplier relationships make a difference. By remaining committed to reviewing activities and adjusting accordingly, you can maintain a culture of sustainability throughout your company.