Sustainability is all the rage today, partly due to the pandemic which drove home the extent to which we’re all interconnected. It changed everyone’s priorities and accelerated the disenchantment with profit-obsessed tech companies.
Some have an increased appreciation today for essential workers and services that aren’t profit-focused, a greater awareness of how we interact with nature, and an elevated concern for social justice. This has driven the adoption of sustainability in all its forms — environmental impact, social justice and individual wellness.
According to the 2021 Global Sustainability Study, 85% of people altered their purchase behavior towards more sustainable goods in the past five years, and 60% now say that sustainability is an important purchase factor. Consumers expect businesses to match their values, showing a rising preference for ethical brands that are climate-friendly, supportive of social justice causes and champions of diversity.
What does it mean to be a sustainable entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurs are by definition creative, outside-the-box thinkers. Sustainable entrepreneurs apply this innovative thinking and business acumen to solve issues in their environment, community or society. At the same time, they run their businesses according to sustainable values, like helping employees improve their mental health, hiring for diversity and encouraging remote work.
Related: What Does a Sustainability Chief Do?
Being a sustainable entrepreneur is good for your business as well as for the planet. Younger consumers are committed to sustainability, and they make up a growing percentage of the market. To keep hold of your customers and drive revenue in the long term, you’ll want to maintain a sustainable business that corresponds with consumers’ personal principles.
Gen Z and millennials constitute more and more of the workforce as well as the consumer population, and they are not in it just for the paycheck. They want to work for a company that shares their standards, supports their mental health, and offers a job that does something to improve the world around them. By appealing to this desire for meaning while providing a healthier work environment, sustainable entrepreneurs stand out as preferred employers, making it easier to hire top talent.
Investors also prefer sustainable business concepts; the vast majority of investors from the U.S., U.K. and China are saying they prioritize companies with “good sustainability strategies.” With investors, customers and employees all searching for businesses that have a positive impact on the environment, entrepreneurs have plenty of good reasons to choose sustainability.
Entrepreneurs who champion sustainability don’t always find it to be easy, having to balance resilient business practices within a context of sustainability. Here are four tips to help make that process easier.
1. Make mindful decisions about business relationships
A business’ sustainability is only as strong as that of its least sustainable business connection. Vet suppliers and distributors carefully — don’t end up like the many brands who spoke of sustainability but were shamed for using forced labor. Instead, use purchasing power to support other sustainable enterprises.
Likewise, it’s tempting to accept any would-be investor since every entrepreneur needs capital, but sustainability requires research. Investigate the origins of their funds and check that they don’t rank poorly for ESG. By vetting your partners, you’ll build a sustainable network that you can be proud of.
Related: What Is Sustainability In Business?
2. Seek expert help
It can be tough to win contracts with big corporations when you’re a small company, especially if you’re charging more because of your ethical business practices (like avoiding sweatshop labor).
Fortunately, mentorship can make a big difference. There are business heavyweights who are happy to teach you what procurement departments are looking for and share tactics to help your bid succeed. There are organizations that assist social enterprises to solve strategic business challenges and integrate into corporate supply chains. Look for these kinds of guides to learn the best ways to score the contracts you need.
3. Forge sustainable connections
Serving as the sole sustainable business can be exhausting. Partner with local sustainable entrepreneurs to build a sustainability-focused community of business owners. You’ll also be more capable of finding sustainable suppliers, buyers, manufacturers and other strategic partners when you know your neighbors.
Entrepreneurs can achieve more by working together rather than going it alone, and working as a group draws more people towards sustainable business practices. Form a collaborative, supportive business ecosystem that will assist with sticking to sustainable principles.
4. Build a healthy workplace
Your employees are a vital part of your success. You need them to uphold your values and ensure that no corners are cut. Plus, you want to attract minority talent not only as a symbol of your commitment to social sustainability but because diverse teams bring more creativity and drive innovation.
By investing in your employees, seeking out diverse workers, and establishing transparency in your business decision-making, you’ll gain a reputation as a healthy workplace and attract more people who prioritize sustainability — setting up a sustainability flywheel that pays for itself.
Related: A Leadership Roadmap for Sustainability Success
Sustainable entrepreneurship is the future
With consumers, employees and investors all looking for sustainability, being a sustainable entrepreneur is edging towards “must-have” territory rather than being “nice to have.” When you prioritize employee wellness, invest time and effort to construct local networks, find mentors to guide you through, and research your business partnerships, you can fulfill your sustainability dreams, make a difference to your environment, and at the same time build a profitable business.
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