Learn how to validate your startup idea by pre-selling it, for only $80 (includes a free 1-hour consultancy call).
Startup Sustainability

How to Avoid the 10 Most Common Sustainability Mistakes in Startups

Businesses have lately kind of stopped polluting the environment so much, but they aren't doing anything good for it either. Being a sustainable company is a very important thing. And it can be achieved by, at least, avoiding the 10 mistakes listed here.


Startup Foundations

You don’t need developers to launch your startup. In this free video series, learn tactical strategies proven to deliver results. Get free access to Startup Foundations →

Our environment is highly polluted - in more ways than one. The old ways of the industry created a huge problem with water and earth pollution. Pesticides, toxins, and chemicals leaked out from the factories and poisoned many areas. Smoke coming from the same places polluted the air and sped up global warming by many years. Now we are close to the disaster because of these old systems. Globalization and carelessness of the companies also drove some cultures to stop behaving and living in their traditional ways and closed up many small, family businesses

Companies now are not polluting our environment so much. But many of them are not doing anything good for it either. So, it’s up to fresh and new companies to create new measures and standards for the industry.

Incorporating sustainability into a start-up business is one of the most important elements all entrepreneurs should consider, but, unfortunately, it is the one that is often the most overlooked. Many large, global companies are now embracing sustainability, and are very public about the changes they are making. For start-ups, however, it can be a very different story. But startups are precisely the companies that can make the most change.

On top of managing a new business, and generating cash flow, new business owners have very little time and resources to dedicate to making their new venture more sustainable, despite it being a very positive factor in the long run. Here are the top five sustainability mistakes that every start-up business makes, and how you can avoid them.

Startup Sustainability Three Spheres

What is Startup Sustainability?

Startup sustainability is when a startup does business in an eco-friendly way. This means everything – from recycling to spreading the word in environmentally friendly ways.

Most startups and companies do make an effort to be sustainable but to truly be eco-friendly, you need to make a special effort to respect all of the aspects of having an eco-company. This is an important element of being a startup in our environment.

For one, you have to take good care of nature which includes the air, land, and water - the essential elements of our existence. Then there are plants and animals which should be protected, not endangered. And an element so often overlooked is people. If you are globalizing, you can’t forget the people - their culture, way of living, clothes, music and so many other things.

A new company can disturb that native culture and cause the authentic lifestyle to be ruined.

So, as you can see, being a sustainable company on a market - be it global or local - is a very important thing.

But how exactly does a company achieve that?

By avoiding some of these mistakes:

1) Not going the whole way

It’s all well and good sending your team out to pick litter once a year or holding a fundraiser every so often for an environmental charity. However, if you aren’t going to look at the most pressing sustainability issues that your business faces, then there is little point in you doing anything at all.

Creating a sustainable business requires 100% commitment to reducing the undesirable outputs of your business, such as your carbon footprint, and increasing the desirable elements, such as sustainable employment.

Your company should take a look at some of the longer term, consistent things it could do to help the environment and people at the same time. Think about encouraging people coming to work on a bicycle or a bus - giving free bus or metro tickets is a great idea - encouraging a no-plastics policy and so on. There are many ways to make this fun and rewarding for your employees - purchase company glass or metal water containers as well as other replacements for the plastic in your company.

2) Using the wrong kind of building

Period buildings may look great, but if you are striving for an eco-friendly business, then you should consider using a more suitable space. ‘If you are in an old, draughty building with a decades-old heating and electricity system, no insulation, and single glazed windows, then your sustainability efforts are futile’, says Phil Lewis, business analyst at Paper Fellows and the State of Writing. ‘You need a building that has suitable adaptations to make sure your efforts to create a sustainable business are not in vain!’

A modern building is a much better option. In fact, it’s best if you can reduce your offices to a single floor of a building because this way, your carbon footprint gets smaller too. Make all of the efforts to make your building or floor eco-friendly. Choose a place that’s close to the metro or the bus stations so that your employees don’t have to walk very far to get to work. You should also make sure that there are proper recycling options, that everything from electricity to heating is eco-friendly in your building.

Here' s a video about The Edge, a building that has reached the highest sustainability standards ever recorded.


Startup Foundations

You don’t need developers to launch your startup. In this free video series, learn tactical strategies proven to deliver results. Get free access to Startup Foundations →

3) Using country requirements as the minimum

Every country will have its own minimum requirements for sustainability, all of which will be different from country to country. If your company abides by these regulations, then great – but can you do more? For example, if it is not a requirement to use energy saving light bulbs, then do you not do it?

Looking into changes like this can not only help the environment but also save you money on utilities. Additionally, viewing sustainability in isolation is another big mistake: if your company abides by the country’s minimum requirements, but employs sweatshop workers in Vietnam, then you cannot claim to be a sustainable business!

Why not kick it up a notch when it comes to sustainability? Instead of electricity, use solar panels or other natural methods of heating, getting water and electricity. While it may be a strange thing in your city or area, this might even entice more people to try this as well. This can help you save up on utilities and make a great impact on the community.

Make sure that you do more for your employees as well. Pay them appropriately and offer them benefits. Make them feel at home. If you have a unit abroad, in another country, you should hire local people and do your research in order to support their culture and environment.

Don’t be the business that does the basic minimum when you can change many lives.

Business Recycle

4) Make recycling the norm

As time goes on and business becomes more established, habits become harder to change, and new factors become more difficult to introduce.

‘Make sure that recycling everything you can is the normal way things are done from the beginning of your start-up’, says Katrina Ross, communication manager at Academized and Big assignments. ‘Your goal should be to close the waste loop and recycle as much as you can. As a start-up, you might find it helpful to partner up with specialist organizations, as dedicating specific internal resources to recycling when a business is just starting out can be challenging!’

Recycling should already be a part of your daily corporate life since it’s such an important thing. Your views on recycling should be clear to all employees and there should be resources available like trash cans which allow only for specific materials. Consider buying recycled as well - this way, you are creating that perfect circle where you are in fact, sustainable.

5) Failing to use smarter technology

There is so much technology available to us now, that it seems silly to not use it to our benefit – especially when it will help the environment and save energy. Appliances that are on standby all day use an untold amount of energy, not to mention the amount of electricity that light bulbs use when no one is in the room and someone has forgotten to turn them off.

By investing in smart technology, your devices will turn themselves off when they aren’t being used. Why not go the extra mile and invest in eco-friendly lightbulbs too? While these things may be a little pricier, in the beginning, the money you will save in the long run makes it worth it!

Install a system that will lock your offices and turn off all of the devices completely at the press of a button. This will allow you to track usage and turn everything off in case you forget something. All of that unnecessary energy that’s wasted while no one is in the office can be saved simply by using the technology that’s already available to us. Support your employees in purchasing similar smart home devices and systems. You see, the importance of being sustainable as a company is also spreading that impact on your employees, creating a chain reaction of sorts.

6) Not buying upcycled office furniture

Instead of buying new couches, chairs, shelves and so on, you can buy upcycled furniture. It looks better, has more character and you prevented it from being just another thing in the landfill, poisoning the environment.

Find decorations as well since there are so many vintage options that you can use.

Upcycled office furniture

Upcycled furniture can easily be found and it’s much cheaper, as a bonus. This will help the environment as well as people in your area since there are many small businesses which deal with these things - creating new and fresh furniture from the old one. Again, encouraging your employees to do the same is a good idea since you have an impact on their lives and what they do.

You can also get furniture and office material made from recycled materials as another way to become a more sustainable, self-reliant company that also proves valuable in eco-friendly living.

7) Not minding the details

The devil is always in the details, and that is the case here too. Small things like getting recycled pencils, papers, using ceramic cups in your office kitchen, forbidding any plastic bags or cups to enter your building and so on can help you be more sustainable.

“This will also speak volumes on how serious you are as an entrepreneur in making your startup more sustainable for the environment,” comments Roy Bullock, a business consultant at Ox Essays and Australian help.

There are many methods to make eco-friendly ways more compelling for your employees too. Here are some of them:

  • Offer to pay for the part of their smart home systems or order them for your employees wholesale at a discounted price based on volume. This can work if you have a small or a large team because you will pay basically the same price. You can also gift smart home systems to the best employees, give them vouchers for purchasing and so on. This is a great way to enable your employees something that they would love and that would help the environment.
  • Make it easy for them not to use plastic. For one, you can allow them to bring their own favorite mug from home, utensils, and dishes that they need for lunch. This will eliminate plastic cups, utensils, a huge amount of trash that piles up when your employees order food and so on. Alternatively, allow for big enough breaks so that they can get home and eat there or eat at a local restaurant. Think Spanish siesta. Order recycled bottles made from long-lasting materials so that your employees can sip water easily while working. Install a way of getting water as well.
  • Encourage your employees to come to work on their bikes, with a bus or a subway. You can do this by offering to buy their tickets for subway or metro, offering special bonuses for those who take a bike, bus or subway. You can also create a bike parking space or encourage this in any other creative way that you come up with.
  • Likewise, you can invite your employees to work from home for a part of the week. This will allow you to save up on utilities and many other things and your employees will be happier. At the same time, you will be helping the environment.
Working from home

8) Not hiring locals

Being socially sustainable is also very important. You need to show the people who live in the city where your company is just how important being there is to you. Hire professionals from that place – opening new job positions is crucial in being loved and respected by people who live there and who you do business with.

You should also create something special for them. For instance, you can throw a charity event, a seminar or some kind of an educational meeting, a course for everyone who would love to learn more about your line of work or something else. You should also be there in case of a disaster. For instance, if there is a fire, you should help people struck by this by offering them shelter in your offices, food or water. Any other kind of disaster is another opportunity for you to show your love for the community and help them. While all of these methods seem like you are giving money away, just imagine how many good things will come to you from doing these things - respect, love, publicity and so on. This is also a branding opportunity where you could show what your brand is about.

You can also support talented young people from your area, encourage learning, improving parks and nature and so on. Being a strong and influencing member of the community is one of the most important steps you can take.

9) Not immersing each employee into this culture

Every employee of your company should have a mindset of protecting the environment. This means that your culture is truly powerful and that you are making an impact on people’s lives. Show them how protecting the environment is important to you and make this one of the most important steps in your onboarding process. You can also make this one of the requirements for the workplace.

Leaders are responsible for setting the work culture. You do not need a title to effect change (although it certainly helps). When growing your startup or business, consider the leadership capabilities of those you are putting in charge. Skill and expertise in, let’s say sales, is not the most important thing when it comes to being a sales manager.

And when you run out of ideas for eco-friendly methods, you can encourage your employees to give you ideas - the best idea gets a reward of some sorts. This is a great way to get creative and involve your employees in the process of developing different methods for sustainability.

10) Not supporting your sustainability with your products

Some entrepreneurs are always talking about being eco-friendly and sustainable yet their product does the opposite. Make sure that your sustainability is aligned with your product line and advertising. Use recycled materials for packaging and avoid plastic. Enforce some methods in which your customers won’t have to throw away their products when they break or grow to be outdated. For instance, you should encourage them to bring their old products to your stores or your offices in exchange for a reward and you can recycle those old products or packaging and put them back into the production.

Getting a new business off the ground can be challenging enough without having to confront the realities of making sustainable decisions, especially as it is not always the cheapest option around.

However, thinking in the long term, for the benefit of your business, your employees, and the planet, making your business as sustainable as possible from the beginning should be top of your agenda!

Bio: Freddie Tubbs is a business consultant and communication manager at UK Writings. He enjoys attending business and tech events for networking, and contributing articles to online magazines and blogs, such as the Vault, Essay Roo, and Boom Essays.

The All-In-One Newsletter for Startup Founders

Every week, I’ll send you Failory’s latest interviews and articles, curated resources for founders, and updates on how I’m growing the site to $10k/mo. Join +9,000 other startup founders!