photo: Karsten Würth / Unsplash

Three Steps for More Sustainability in Startups

In order to make a contribution to a sustainable future, more and more startups have made it their goal for their actions and business to be more climate friendly. What measures would be best to start with to quickly achieve the first positive results? Heba Aguib, Chief Executive of Respond, explains three important steps on the journey to a more sustainable startup. A guest contribution.

Once founders become aware of their responsibility when it comes to the climate crisis, they already have the basic prerequisite for sustainable transformation in place. Because it’s only with proper awareness of the problem and the resulting will to make a positive change that the way can be paved towards more sustainability. And this applies not only to the executive level, but to all employees of a startup. Which is why the very first step should be to clearly communicate the mission to the entire team and to make sure that everyone is on board and will reliably pull together even when difficulties arise. Once this has been fundamentally clarified, the following key steps can be taken.

1. Take a brutally honest look at your carbon footprint

To determine where it would be best to get started, the areas of the startup that cause the most carbon emissions should be defined and examined first. For this kind of fundamental carbon analysis of business processes, there are many helpful digital tools and companies available, such as the startup Plan A, which includes data from the company as well as public data from state or scientific sources in the analysis. This is of particular importance for startups, because their business models are often quite new and not yet fully covered by legislative regulations, such as the GHG Protocol.

The majority of emissions from startups are mostly generated in Scope 3. This involves all indirect emissions that are generated in the value chain of a company. Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heat and cooling, and Scope 1 includes all direct emissions from sources that a company owns or controls, such as a company fleet.

2. Reduce emissions

Once the areas of the company that generate the most emissions have been identified, the reduction targets can be defined. What they specifically look like ultimately depends on each individual startup. There is one clear and simple area for potential savings for everyone: selecting a green power supplier. 46 percent of the electrical energy generated in Germany now comes from renewable sources, which means purchasing completely “green” power is no longer a major problem for startups and can significantly reduce their carbon footprint.

Other measures that can be quickly implemented are more sustainable use of office resources – from the conscious use of electricity and paper to vegetarian business meals – or sustainable mobility for employees. Especially when it comes to business trips, it’s best to avoid travelling by plane when possible and to instead take the train. Employees’ daily commute to work can also be moved in a more sustainable direction with incentives, for example with an allowance for a monthly ticket for public transportation or with a company bike. It’s also important to take stock of energy guzzlers that you might not consider at first, such as those triggered by the IT infrastructure. This makes it a good idea to select climate neutral servers in order to minimize a company’s carbon footprint.

3. Communicate the joint sustainability mission internally and externally

The latter point leads to another key field of activity: communicating with and engaging your entire team. To make sure they aren’t just motivated in the beginning and instead keep the momentum going over the long term, the goals and measures that have been achieved should be clearly and positively communicated to all employees. Understandable facts and figures are particularly useful for making joint success tangible and enhancing self efficacy in the team, which is absolutely necessary so that everyone resolutely continues in the set direction.

Just like inside the company, communication measures should also be used for climate protection outside of the company. In this case, it’s not as much about announcing the achievement of climate goals – even though they obviously can also be mentioned – but rather about publicly and politically standing up for sustainability and change in the entire economic system. A company’s own sustainable corporate culture serves as the starting point for joining forces with like-minded companies and partners and for campaigning for systemic change towards a sustainable future together.

Heba Aguib

Dr. Heba Aguib is the Chief Executive of Respond at the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt. Aguib joined the BMW Foundation in July 2019 with the ambition of strengthening the relations between Tech4Good and investors in order to make a positive impact. Respond is an accelerator program of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt that is supported by UnternehmerTUM. It is the first accelerator program that promotes responsible leadership, which means contributing to the scaling of sustainable business models for a better future. The program supports founders whose business approaches are making a contribution to a peaceful, fair and sustainable future in line with the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations.

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