Why Sustainability Should be at the Core of Your Business or Startup
In case you haven’t heard… climate change. Need I say more? Between rising temperatures, increasingly frequent “natural” disasters and the unforeseen, terrifying consequences of everything from ocean acidification, alterations in rain and agricultural outputs and the inevitable waves of climate refugees seeking asylum, the world is in for a wild ride.
But you know all that already.
The thing is, equally large changes are underway in the hearts and minds of consumers as people shift massive amounts of purchasing power toward bettering our world and their children’s future. Never before have we seen such monumental shifts in public perception, outcry and action as we do today.
There are climate “revolutions” and strikes in the streets on a daily basis. More and more individuals (especially youths) are radicalizing as climate defenders, many more going vegetarian or vegan to cut back on meat consumption and greenhouse emissions. And then there are the Teslas and electric cars, startups pushing for a circular economy and a real emphasis on buying local.
People are putting their money where their mouth is. The massive uptick in electric car sales is just one example.
Many consumers are even willing to pay more for eco-friendly options.
But there is a problem. There are only so many truly sustainable options. And generally speaking, they’re more expensive. Sure, the cheaper option is only cheaper because it doesn’t take into account carbon emissions, but when you’re living in the developing world (approximately 85% of the world’s population) or struggling to stay above the poverty line, the last thing you can afford to think about is how “sustainable” your meal was or how pollutive the kerosene lamps that keep your only light on at night are.
There is a basic minimum standard people must have in order to live and be comfortable. Think of it like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Before your basic needs are met, you can’t afford to worry about little things like emissions.
That means fighting climate change requires cost parity. It means that buying the electric car or lab-grown fish or a carbon-neutral cute sweater needs to cost the same, and thus be produced and purchased at a much more massive scale. It means we need a shift, and not just one caused by carbon credits and taxes.
We need businesses willing to step up and be first. We need more sustainable startups and businesses that temporarily reduce their profit potential as an investment in the future. But this isn’t just about the future of the planet, it is about their future as well. Businesses that put impact and sustainability above pure profit don’t have to be worse businesses. In fact, they can (and often are and will be) better and more profitable businesses than their conventional counterparts.
If that seems counterintuitive, let me explain.
Perhaps the best example for this phenomena is Patagonia. The company renowned as the king of outdoor sports and cool styles is actually one of the most engaged climate supporters out there. Not only are their products incredibly sustainably sourced and produced, they’re also reinvesting tons into preserving our world — 1% of their total sales, which top $1B each year.
And it is working… because people love brands with a true mission. We all want to be part of a team, and Team Planet sounds pretty awesome.
To get consumers to engage with and buy/promote your brand, there is something you should know. People wear/buy brands for one of three reasons: either to show off, to identify with that brand’s team/ideal (and there is a lot of overlap between those two) or cost/convenience.
For example, you wear a Rolex to flaunt your success and wealth — why else spend (waste) $10k+ on an overly heavy timekeeper when my phone already knows it’s 6:15am?
Or maybe you’re a Nike guy or gal and want people to know you “Just do it!” and train really hard. Are you all in on Apple? You probably either like their stance on privacy or want to be one of the cool, creative kids.
See what I am saying?
We buy brands to say something about who we are and what we believe in. We buy brands to aspire to our ideals.
And what better ideal is there than saving the planet? That would make you a “superhero,” but without the silly tights.
Which comes back to why startups and businesses should have sustainability at their core.
While the world is changing very quickly, it is only going in one direction. Outside of certain high profile news anchors paid millions to pretend they think climate change is a hoax, you are either part of the massive majority who “get it” and are onboard with real science, or you’re probably watching conspiracy videos on Youtube…
And one of those has a much larger customer base and discretionary spending. And they want to buy things they believe in.
Which comes back to you and your company.
What makes you stand out?
What do you want people to associate your brand with?
Because eventually outdated and “backwards” become REALLY uncool.
And that is just from the customer perspective. What about yourself and your employees…? There is a reason so many people are dedicating their lives to climate activism, which is almost always unpaid. They believe in the mission and are willing to sacrifice.
Well, for a scrappy startup looking to bring on the best people but unable to compete with the ridiculously high salaries offered by Google and Facebook, that’s a pretty great recruiting tool.
”You can either go help Facebook depress more teen girls and sell more ads, or you can help us change the world. It’s up to you.”
I know what startup I’m joining, even if it means eating Ramen and struggling through nights of coding, endless work and fighting to keep the business afloat. Why? Because it matters, it gives me a sense of purpose.
And that is the wildcard that more and more businesses are employing and need to employ in their business. What is your purpose and how do you help your customers and employees get behind that purpose to push your ship forward?
Because times are changing and a rising tide (excuse the inappropriate climate pun) lifts all boats.
And if you need help with this, this is what I do best. Reach out and let’s see what we can do growing your impact-driven startup/business!
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About the author
Matt Ward is a multiple exit entrepreneur, growth and strategy consultant, startup advisor, ex-tech investing and futurism podcaster, and occasional angel investor looking to join a venture fund, startup studio, or top accelerator in Zurich, Switzerland to promote and invest in world-positive, game changing entrepreneurs. If you are interested in learning more about me or possibly working together, please feel free to reach out here: