Sustainability – a must-have or simply an add-on for start-ups?

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When a partner and me launched a start-up in the grocery trade a few years back most of our initial time was spent planning – thinking about things like setting up a small distribution centre, identifying larger customers, working out whether our range was big enough and doing sums to see that our sales would be profitable.

As soon as we got going, all our time was spent rushing out to customers from early in the morning until late in the evening, selling and distributing our products. We had almost no time to think about our strategy, financial objectives and marketing.

If you have been involved in setting up a start-up business, then you will know that a new business venture is a complex process which involves spending a lot of time on planning and preparation. Once you get started, your time is eaten up by serving customers, checking your expenses, cash flow and re-ordering.

Some research done in this area of sustainability issues for a start-up entrepreneurs shows that those businesses that start out as being eco-friendly or that aim to offer “green” products and services would naturally think about sustainability upfront in their business. Most start-up business founders-owners don’t have information on how to go about including sustainability practices and systems in their business venture. Not even the institutions that support start-ups such as banks, lawyers, start up consultants, business associations and start-up centres have information available for start-ups.

In fact, although ecological products and services are seen as innovative, start-ups say sustainability practices bring the burden of added costs and increase risks. This depends on the nature of the industry: some industries have greater requirements for environmentally-friendly practices. These requirements include the use of certain raw materials, safe disposal of hazardous waste materials and recycling. Sustainability can also sometimes be encouraged from top-down: customers, especially larger ones, require certain basic management systems for environmental, energy, health and safety and quality.

I believe that as awareness of sustainability grows, more start-up entrepreneurs will include sustainable practices into their new business ideas right up front. Demand from customers for more environmentally-friendly and sustainable products and services should also play a part. It’s a lot easier to justify sustainable practices when your business model incorporates sustainability because of customer demand .

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