Startups and sustainability: Tips, tricks and tech hacks

startups sustainability tips

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.

In a recent webinar on startups and sustainability, entrepreneur and documentary-maker Liz Courtney spoke 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 (AWS). 

This second wrap-up of their discussion delves deeper into the panel’s insights, including where to start, tech tips, and getting your board on board. 

Start small, with one core element

Glazebrook’s advice is to start by looking at one core element of your business, and asking: how could we be more sustainable in this area? 

If you’re a SaaS platform, for example, speaking to a company like AWS, or your cloud-computing provider, could make a sizable impact at a relatively low cost, she says. For other businesses, it might be a case of switching shipping methods. 

“There’s a massive difference in the carbon cost of air freight to sea freight, and if it can work with your timeframes and your supply chains, you might find that singular decision makes a huge difference,” Glazebrook says. “It has for at least a couple of our portfolio companies.” 

The challenges around finding more sustainable practices will be unique to every business and industry, Ingersoll says, so bear in mind your journey will naturally include some trial and error. 

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.

Leveraging tools and tech

When it comes to creating a more sustainable startup, building on cloud-based technologies is a “no-brainer” for Hargreaves. 

“The stats that come out show you’re running at almost four-fifths a lower carbon footprint just through that scale and density,” he says.

He also suggests building apps or tech products in regions that are 100% renewable and offset — for example, Oregon, USA — and then deploying them to your target market in other areas. 

Finally, opting for utility-based consumption is not only more eco-friendly, but more cost-effective. Like turning the lights off when you leave a room. 

“I think when dad used to say that to me it was about the power bill, but it has this effect of also saving energy,” Hargreaves says. “And we know that the greenest energy is the energy you don’t use.

“There’s a huge corollary between economics and sustainability – and my personal view is that the tipping point that’s been happening over the last few years has a lot to do with the economics of it.”

Getting your board on board

Another important part of your sustainability journey is getting, and keeping, everybody on the same page.

“We suggest even for small-scale startups that an agenda item at least once per year is on sustainability, and that there’s somebody in the team who’s responsible for that,” Glazebrook says. “Putting it on the board agenda even just as a ‘by the way’ means everyone on the board knows we’re going to do this at least once per year. 

“That signalling effect, which then causes at least one to two more hours of work ahead of that board meeting to say, ‘Well, what are we actually doing in the sustainability space?’ That just triggers the opportunity for action.”

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes

Mistakes are just opportunities to grow and develop, Ingersoll says, and trying to cover them up usually doesn’t work very well. On the other hand, being open about your missteps has its benefits. 

“If you’re sharing the mistake or your problem, you start to gain not only integrity in your journey, but pretty much guarantee someone in the room will go, ‘Ah, I’ve thought about that. I can help you’,” Ingersoll says. “That collaboration in tackling climate change is an awesome thing.”

Long-term, it’s better to be seen to be striving for sustainability, even if you occasionally fall short, since the next generation of consumers will be far less tolerant of climate inaction. 

Or, as Ingersoll puts it, “Taking anything other than an aggressive position on making the world a better place is shortsighted. I think that when it comes to delivering inspiration, we need to actually be brave as organisations.”

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

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