Home Green & Social Entrepreneurship HOW TO BUILD A SUSTAINABLE START-UP


by Lola
A plant growing from golden coins and hands around it watering it and caring for it

As I started working on building my business from the ground up, I found myself thinking about a thousand things: my business idea, the financial risk I am taking on by striking out on my own and founding a company, the effort involved in committing to such a brand new adventure, and the stress and anxiety involved in branching out into the unknown…

Believe in what you do & do what you believe

All of these thoughts are bouncing around in my head constantly. But I also find myself drawn to the passions that motivated me personally to found a sustainable start-up in the first place; my drive to make the world a better place, to focus on achieving more impactful sustainability and to inspire others to cling to environmentally friendly principles. It was clear to me from the beginning that whatever I start and wherever my company ends up, it would need to be somehow involved with promoting climate protection and sustainability.

Often we tend to think of sustainable companies as those who are designed, built, and marketed to manufacture and sell green goods and services that are environmentally friendly at some level. 

However, in my opinion that’s only one part of the equation. 

A sustainable business is not defined by the nature of the materials being produced or sold, but also on the manner in which they are produced and distributed. That means that any company could be sustainable (or at least more sustainable) regardless of the types of products or services it sells.

Being a sustainable business is more than making green products

Making your company eco-friendly should not be rocket science, nowadays there is enough information and plenty of experts out there that can guide you. Having said that, it is also true that it can be overwhelming and confusing if not careful. 

First we need to have the willingness to become a sustainable business, and to define what does that actually mean for us. Don’t expect to solve all problems at the same time and to do it perfectly because most likely you will not succeed. Instead, start by defining your intentions and your goals, from there, apply some careful thought and planning and only when you are clear on those you can start implementing.

That is the process I am trying to follow as I develop my green start-up, and below are the five factors that I am keeping in mind.

Five factors to consider for a green start-up

  1. A Code of Conduct (CoC)

Building an ethical code of conduct into your company’s business model is one of the best ways to signal that you and your team are committed to being environmentally friendly and socially responsible at all levels. 

Your code of conduct should govern all areas and aspects of your business and hand down clear expectations about how your company will conduct itself and its products in line with environmentally sustainable practices and models. 

Your code of conduct can also highlight your commitment to investing in environmentally friendly or green foundations or initiatives within your community, creating a strong foundation of environmental caution that stays with your company throughout its professional life.

Moreover, you can (or should) set the same level of expectations in your CoC for your suppliers and partners, making sure everyone is aligned on values and practices.

  1. UN Sustainability Goals

If you’re not sure how to build or migrate your company over to sustainable principles or policies, consider taking a look at the UN Sustainability Goals. 

Designed and released by the United Nations, these are seventeen Sustainability Goals designed to encourage more companies to move towards green practices at local and international levels. Some of the larger or more abstract goals like ending poverty, ending hunger, promoting gender equality, providing clean water access, and peace and justice might feel hard to enact on a start-up scale, but remember, you’re not being asked to solve each of these issues, you’re just committing to pursuing them in whatever way feels most practical or right for you.

  1. Business Standards and Behaviors

Photo: Business Standards – 2 business men in the background and notepad 

The Code of Conduct represents your values & beliefs framework. After that, setting out an environmentally-focused code for how your business or start-up will operate on a daily basis is the next step to ensure environmental honesty and sustainability throughout your company. There are plenty of regular replacements or green-savvy business behaviors you can implement in your company on a regular basis.

Consider for example how to reduce electricity consumption, swapping out business travel or office meetings for virtual meetings, or keeping your regular office gathering carbon-neutral. Other options are going paperless as much as possible, trying to only use recycled materials in your office, and of course maintaining your own robust recycling program.

  1. A Green Culture

By implementing mandated business standards and behaviours that emulate important sustainable ideas, you can begin to lay the foundation for a green culture in your own start-up. A green culture goes beyond just setting out a list of rules or procedures that you expect your company or your employees to follow. 

A green culture is how each stakeholder lives day by day, almost subconsciously the company values around the climate and the environment, a culture where employees bring in food in reusable containers and where suppliers have been vetted for ethical workplace management and sustainable product manufacturing before you begin using them. 

With a green culture, every member and every part of your company can be entirely sustainable, and you can trust that everyone will be working to carry out your green mission because they feel a part of it.

  1. Social Responsibility

Green cultures are also socially responsible cultures. Concern for the environment is almost inherently tied in with issues of social justice. You can’t claim to be a green company because you recycle if you are selling clothing made in South Asian sweatshops, just as you can’t claim to be an equal-opportunity employer because you employ both men and women if you avoid employing people of multiple ethnicities.

Issues of social justice such as ethical and fair wages, access to shelter, food, and clean water, and equal opportunities to pursue education and vocation are all as essential to building your sustainable business, because each of those issues is also interconnected to issues of the environment.

It is hard work but it is worthwhile!

In summary, designing a green startup requires deep thought and concentration as well as strategic planning and business operations. You need to address both climate justice and social justice, sustainable practices and sustainable supply chains. With careful and committed work, you can develop a thoroughly green and sustainable start-up model that transitions into an eco-conscious business smoothly and efficiently. 

In my case, I know that I need to work hard and be persistent, I know that in teaming business and sustainability not all will be 100% perfect, and like it happens with old couples there will be friction and the need to compromise. Yet any small steps toward sustainability in business, as in private life, will already be an improvement and can make a huge difference, so let’s go for it!

What is your own experience with green companies? Would love to hear more about it!

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