How To Prioritize Sustainability In Your Startup

Oct 20, 2022

This blog post was originally written for Forbes and can be found here.

Some might believe that it is only the large, multinational corporations that are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. The reasoning is that they are large and therefore contribute more emissions through their operations.

They are definitely an important part of the equation, but I would argue that startups can also set a foundation today for who they are, what they stand for and how they can also be key players in the fight against climate change. I believe these are players that can help evoke real change for our future. 

As the CEO of a small agency, I know how hard it can be to think about climate change while in the throws of building a business. But it matters, and it also contributes to overall business health, employee retention and client acquisition, as more and more employees and consumers are seeking companies that are taking an active role in the climate change crisis.

Every effort, big or small, can have a material impact on the planet. There are steps you can take to build a business that recognizes the importance of the environment and sustainability. However, it is not always easy to decide where to start, which can often lead to a back burner mentality.

Here are a few of my tips on how to begin:

1. Review local or international programs that can help you get started. 

My company, for example, is currently working to become climate-smart-certified, and it has been eye-opening. This process has helped my team identify ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and the organization we're working with has provided real recommendations that are tracked monthly. Consider doing something similar to help give you and your team a baseline and set your future targets. Ensure the program you choose fits your industry specifically because sustainability goals and targets will change depending on your sector, outputs and other important variables.

2. Set reasonable goals. 

Your goals should be easy to follow and maintain. One goal my team has set, for instance, focuses on how we travel to meetings or functions. We strive to take public transit or opt for sharing an electric vehicle for traveling. Another one of our goals is to prioritize recycled paper for packages and limit our use of printing as a general rule. When setting goals for your own business, my advice would be to start small and don't commit to everything at once. Focus on small, achievable goals that you will be able to meet. It is also prudent to seek the counsel of your team to learn how they feel they can commit to the initiative in easy and cost-effective ways.

3. Consider a sustainability report. 

This report can help you set your priorities, goals and see how your company is working to reduce emissions. This can be used for employee attraction/retention, requests for proposals, client pitches and website content. Today, I'm finding the vast majority of RFPs issued have a requirement for sustainability and/or environmental protection. I would recommend working with an outside organization that can support this audit, and there are many agencies you can choose from that focus on this. Once you've identified your goals, make sure to keep your employees, customers and others aware of the steps you've taken and how far you've come.

4. Make everyone part of the plan. 

Employees, especially Millennials and Gen Zers, want to work for a company that reflects their personal values. By showcasing your commitment to sustainability, you are making them a part of the overall company vision and unifying the team, as you're all working toward a common goal. One recommendation is to schedule "monthly climate status updates" where you can report on how the company is achieving its goals. Additionally, seek employee feedback on other ways to reduce your footprint or contribute positively to the environment. For accountability and visibility, you could keep a "scorecard" updated quarterly with your progress.

5. Analyze results regularly, and celebrate accomplishments. 

No matter how small, any change that you can make to reduce your footprint is a big accomplishment and paves the way for additional improvements.

When all organizations start to prioritize sustainability in their business plans, they can build a roadmap toward a cleaner, healthier planet where profit and the environment co-exist.