Starting a business is about creating value. Creating value involves making a sustainable contribution. If the business is going to last, then you must think about its sustainability from the startup.
Beliefs and Values Make Sense
Your belief system and values will be at the heart of the enterprise. It is vital to be clear what they are and to be able to sum them up. This statement will be your business lodestar, or the guiding principle that you want the business want to follow.
Without this firm direction, your business will be soon off track and put survival at risk. Business startups are notorious for not lasting. One third will not last two years; after four years only half the startups will remain; at the end of six years only four out of every ten startups will still be in business.
Sustainability Is Good for Business
The Sustainable Business Institute calls business sustainability, “the opportunity for business to improve its profitability, competitiveness, and market share without compromising resources for future generations.” More than that, sustainable business practices will
- improve customer loyalty and acquisition rates,
- consume fewer resources and improve operating costs,
- insulate from risk of tightening regulations,
- enhance business reputation and employee attraction,
- facilitate faster decision-making through clearer criteria.
Sustainable Business Practices
Take a look at the list below and produce your own, under the headings of Ecology (the natural environment that you operate in), Equity (the social environment upon which your business depends for its survival) and Economy (the financial and commercial environment in which your business continues to trade).
- Ecology: reduction, recycling, recovery;
- Equity: fair employment, fair-trade, fundamental human rights;
- Economy: product integrity, positive performance, principled profits.
Start As You Mean to Go On
If you say to yourself at the outset, “I’ll attend to sustainability later”, chances are high that you never will. From Day One, or even before, a business startup has to concentrate on conserving resources. If your ‘burn rate’ of cash (whether your own or someone else’s) is too high, your business will crash.
It is the same with other criteria. If you compromise on your ethics, you will trip your business up sooner rather than later. If you take a devil-may-care attitude to waste, if you fail to maintain the highest standards of integrity or even if you are not clear about what is acceptable behavior inside and outside the business, you will risk expensive and time/money consuming disputes.
Your Reward Is Other Than Money
The return on your investment should include a financial one or you will not survive at all, but you will gain far greater reward s from the satisfaction of striving to meet your higher goals and making a contribution to the greater good. Creating something new of value and seeing it producing results will result in satisfaction much greater than wealth. To be regarded as wealthy may be an embarrassment, but to be recognized as the founder of a successful and value-driven business will be rewarding in itself.
Independence, satisfaction and self-esteem all play their part in the creation of rewards for the entrepreneur, but the sense of making a contribution in the wider world will be greater than any of these.
Entrepreneurs Are the Sustainable Vanguard
The small enterprise and especially the startup are less likely than big business to be pulled to answer to the conflicting demands of many different constituencies. Entrepreneurs are often the vanguard of real progress in sustainability because they can apply their principles much more readily than the multinationals. The entrepreneur can work more immediately than the activist, because he is doing the business, not having to convince someone else to do it.
This places you as the entrepreneur in a privileged position whence you should be exercising responsibility to do good through doing business. There is every reason both pragmatic and principled to be doing well and good.
Opportunities in Sustainable Business
Entrepreneurs are almost by definition innovators. They innovate in product and process, very often being mold-breakers by using disruptive technology or through fresh approaches to the value and delivery chain. Frequently, startups can jump into these new fields more nimbly than existing businesses.
Many opportunities for sustainable business are being taken up and there continues to be vast potential in fields including fair-trade, nanotech, naturals, organics, reman, renewables, social enterprise, wireless. All of these areas are specially appealing to values-driven entrepreneurs.