How startups can have a green approach

Two people stand in front of a wall that is covered in small green plants, they are each placing a plant on the wall.

writer icon Kim Gerlach     Daniel Funes Fuentes   |   Sustainability     🕐 21. Aug. 2018

Sustainability has developed to be more than just a buzzword in recent years. Corporates and bigger businesses engage in sustainability practices, resulting in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Following an EU regulation, all companies above 500 employees were mandated to report on their sustainability activities by 2017.

The Scandinavian market is more value-driven than others. The demand of consumers continues to increases towards doing good. How can a startup face this challenge while being focused on growth and scalability?

Going green is a dynamic process 

First things first, sustainability is a process and not a fixed goal. This rule counts for all sorts of organisations, corporations, public or civil sector. Sustainability as such is the strategy towards a positive impact on people, profit and planet simultaneously.

Startups have the ability to make strategic decisions on their green journey from the inside out. Nevertheless, they need to be aware that the sustainability audience is indeed a critical one. Going green can be a unique selling point, but it should be done with values at the forefront of every choice.

Kaffe Bueno is based in Copenhagen and has implemented sustainability holistically. Alejandro Franco, one of the co-founders states cynically, 

“If you’ve been anywhere in the world in you’ve probably noticed, unless your name is Donald Trump of course, that the state of our planet is begging us to think green. Furthermore, thinking green can actually save you costs, increase margins, expand your revenue streams, create jobs, and even reduce emissions.”

What startups can implement today
Activities that can easily be implemented start at the core of your organisation. Many actions, such as recycling, usage of energy-efficient light bulbs, reducing the amount of paper, and cycling are some of the things that a startup can do. 

With more than 500km of bicycle paths for the city of Malmo, every 4th trip into town is made on a bicycle. Malmo is just at the doorstep of one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, Copenhagen.

Further activities a startup can easily change in the core of the organisation is to watch the social setting around it. How can we give back to our direct surrounding? Many established corporates dedicate a certain amount of days per year to pro bono work.

The online magazine Huffington Post offers employees three paid days each year to volunteer to serve in their communities. Startups can offer volunteering opportunities with vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the youth, or new arrivals. Other occasions are joint team building to volunteer together and strengthen their own culture.

A Stanford study found that volunteers live longer and happier than people who do not, and a study in 2013 at the University of Exeter Medical School confirms that volunteering is connected to lower rates of depression. A sustainable investment in the human resources of every startup.

Sustainability in 2018
To fulfil a strategic approach, a look beyond the core is needed. Startups should reflect on the value throughout the value chain, whether they have a product or a service. 

Are the suppliers and middleman ensuring fair living wages? Can the startup support a good cause with every service bought or donate a percentage of their revenue? Can the production become more circular and create less waste?

A sustainable value chain is a crucial aspect of today’s demands on transparency. Organisations should know their stakeholders and their ethics. Luckily, this is a simple matter of asking about their sustainability strategy.

How to communicate your green approach
There are multiple ways of communicating your efforts. The corporate approach is the mandatory annual sustainability report. This document requires intense working hours and detailed knowledge. Therefore, startups can make use of other frameworks.

A first trial aims to identify matching sustainable development goals. The United Nations have formulated 17 goals, so-called Sustainable Development Goals, that need to be reached by 2030.

Another approach may be the concept of circularity. In some cases, a startup may be able to accept products after their consumer lifecycle ended to recycle them.

Franco explains, “We discovered a whole new world of opportunities after looking into what lies inside the by-product of the most consumed yet wasteful beverage in the world: coffee." 

"You only use 1% of it when brewing your cup, 99% is mistakenly treated as waste. We use this “waste” as a resource by up-cycling it into products that benefit human and nature’s health.” This year, the three co-founders will launch a beauty line based on coffee oil. 

No matter which approach suits a startup best, one must remember that exaggerating one's efforts can result in reputational harm. Above a competitive advantage, an increasing number of Business Angels and investors are showing interest in impact measurements and sustainability practices.

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