Building a sustainable startup: How to do it and why it matters

sustainable startup

Read on for insights from our recent ‘Startups and sustainability’ webinar, hosted by documentary filmmaker Liz Courtney and featuring Canva sustainability lead Jared Ingersoll; Blackbird head of impact and operating principal Kate Glazebrook; and AWS global sustainability business advisor Luke Hargreaves.

Starting a business in 2022? A rise in ‘conscious consumerism’ means a strong core value of sustainability could be critical to your long-term success. 

In a recent webinar, entrepreneur and documentary-maker Liz Courtney sat down with Jared Ingersoll, sustainability lead at Canva, Kate Glazebrook, head of impact and operating principal at Blackbird, and Luke Hargreaves, global sustainability business advisor at Amazon Web Services. 

In this wrap-up, the panel discusses the various ways startups can benefit from a commitment to sustainable values, and how to build your business around them. 

It’s all about shared values

Creating your startup with a deeply embedded commitment to sustainability is a smart move. For one thing, it could make or break your ability to secure investments, win contracts and form partnerships with a growing number of climate-conscious government agencies and organisations. 

Customers, too, are increasingly looking to purchase from companies that share their eco-friendly values. 

“The concept of circular businesses is basically going to be defacto as quickly as the next ten years,” Ingersoll says. “Right now, it’s kind of okay — you can get away with being a traditional-style business. But it’s not going to work for the new generation. They’re much more savvy, and they can find out on the internet exactly what you do.” 

The same goes for attracting talent. In a fiercely competitive employment market, younger people in particular believe in “the importance of working for purpose-driven businesses”, Glazebrook says.

If you’re looking for more insights into what sustainability means for startups and actionable advice for your journey, watch our startups and sustainability webinar in full and on-demand here.

How do you eat an elephant?

You don’t need to have a perfect framework and 100% sustainable strategy fleshed out from the get-go. Hargreaves’s advice? 

“Do some reading, talk to peers in the industry – similar to how you would start any other business-based function – but don’t be afraid just to jump into it,” he says. “As long as you’ve got something, you can work with that. 

“It’s kind of like learning a new instrument — you don’t just pick up a guitar and start playing it. You have to play a note, and then another note, and another note, and then you start playing a lot better.”

Even asking a few simple questions can be an excellent launchpad, Ingersoll says.

“Sometimes rather than trying to find the right answer, we just start with the right questions. And that question could be to your team: ‘What do we know in this space?’ 

“Chances are there might be someone that would go, ‘I’ve read an article…’ and then a conversation is started.”

Your commitment has to run deep

Nobody wants to be accused of ‘greenwashing’, so your sustainability goals must be integrated into your business strategy, Glazebrook says. 

“If you’ve not woven your sustainability goals into the way that you want to build the business, there’s a real risk they’ll get lost somewhere along the way,” she warns. “And particularly if you’re a fast-growing company with a lot of priorities on your plate.”

Her suggestion is to start the conversation and let your values guide you. Then, as things progress and the path ahead becomes clearer, you can start to bring in specific tools, roles, targets and objectives. 

Hargreaves agrees that incorporating it into your strategy is important. But, at an even more fundamental level, he believes having a culture of sustainability is key to your long-term success.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast, we all know that,” he says. “If you bake that stuff in really, really early – as in, it’s part of the culture of your particular business – then everything else comes out of that. 

“Your strategy comes out of that, your hiring policies come out of that, your overall world outlook comes out of that. The branding of your business comes out of it. It just all begins from there. So, you have to be very specific in what cultural direction you are starting off with.”

 NOW READ: Key takeaways from our webinar: How to build, launch and scale your startup

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