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Why is sustainability so seldom embedded at the early stages of a business startup?

Why is sustainability so seldom embedded at the early stages of a business startup?

33 Replies

Katarina Loksa Miechowka
1
1
Founder at Sketching Tomorrow Consulting
Based on my recent experience, it is driven by three reasons: i) not being able to define what the strategic focus on sustainability should be for the start-up, ii) no sufficient focus on sustainability due to urgent day-to-day priorities, iii) lack of resources to take care of this question. As a result, sustainability comes as an after-thought and is not well integrated either into business strategy or into organisational structure.
Happy to engage more on this topic, I hope above helps as thought starters,
Katarina
Robert Honeyman
1
0
Robert Honeyman Entrepreneur
Financial Consultant at Michigan Small Business Development Center
Can you elaborate?
David Evans
2
1
David Evans Advisor
Fractional CTO and Investor
The focus is simply on making the business work. As much as it may be a core belief, unless sustainability is a key part of the business model, it will be one of the first initiatives to be abandoned. Not because it's inherently bad, just because something has to give.
Marie-Noëlle Keijzer
2
0
Marie-Noëlle Keijzer Entrepreneur
Msc, Social Entrepreneur, Experienced Executive, Climate Leader.
Hi Robert, I notice that startups often just focus on growing their business and when they reach a certain size, only then do companies start looking into doing good. From experience I see this as a missed opportunity to embed doing good from the start, (even if only at small scale for obvious reasons) and make it part of the company DNA.
Saravjit Singh
5
0
Saravjit Singh Entrepreneur
Independent Consultant and Trainer
Sustainability is strongly related to authentic leadership, employee involvement and standardized, easy to follow, work processes - hallmarks of organizational excellence.

If any one of the above three ingredients is weak, then we get a condition where sustainability is difficult to achieve.
Katarina Loksa Miechowka
1
0
Founder at Sketching Tomorrow Consulting
Way too many businesses still think of sustainability in a generic way instead of crafting priorities based on their business strategies.The result is unfortunately often a hodgepodge of sustainability activities disconnected from the company's strategy, hence not supporting the business case.
Also, from an organisational point of view, employees need to have a clear understanding who owns sustainability (ideally all of them), how it is part of their deliverables, what measures and reward systems are in place.
I hope this helps, happy to have other points of view!
Tom Cunniff
9
1
Tom Cunniff Entrepreneur • Advisor
Founder at Cunniff Consulting, B2B Brand Consultancy
You can't think about sustainability in general until you have a business that can be sustained.

Think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. At the outset, everything's about the bottom of the pyramid. The business has urgent physiological needs -- build MVP or die, obtain a first customer or die, etc, all while keeping a close eye on your burn rate. Sustainability issues are way up high on the pyramid toward self-actualization. I'm not suggesting that Sustainability is unimportant -- just that a start-up faces far more urgent, life-or-death priorities at the outset.
Susan McPherson
1
0
Susan McPherson Advisor
Founder and CEO at McPherson Strategies
I just actually gave a talk on this particular issue yesterday at Tech Open Air Berlin. "How start-ups can and should bake social good in from the start" Very best, Susan Susan McPherson McPherson Strategies Social Good and Corporate Responsibility Consulting [removed to protect privacy] @susanmcp1 +1 917 859 2291 Assistant: Jenny Chen
Robert Honeyman
1
0
Robert Honeyman Entrepreneur
Financial Consultant at Michigan Small Business Development Center
My sense, having worked in a bunch of startups - only very small number of which reached critical mass - is that at the start the world is binary. Either the business takes off or it doesn't. If the latter, sustainability doesn't matter. If revenues start flowing and growth seems likely, sustainability becomes an agenda item, suitable for discussion and action once the business starts looking like there's a real need it can fill.

Before then, the problem is almost always insufficient cash flow and the nearly universal problem of finding adequate funding to build sufficient infrastructure to drive growth while continuing to invest in advancing the underlying technology.

When a startup is able to raise early third-party money, that money is very often tied to an expectation of driving to the earliest possible liquidity event. In my experience, early round VCs tend to drive growth at the expense of all else. It's not that sustainability is so much an afterthought as it is that it just doesn't matter until the company proves it has a market and the potential to realize value.

But I may be addressing something other than what you have in mind. :)
Robert Honeyman
1
0
Robert Honeyman Entrepreneur
Financial Consultant at Michigan Small Business Development Center
Oh. You're talking about environmental issues. I was talking about how to keep the doors open.

With regards to environmental forethought, I suspect the entrepreneur class reflects the general society in that a very large portion are only willing to give lip service to the idea of leaving the planet better off than they found it. Once a company grows, it will tend to have hired at least a small handful of executives who actually give environmental concerns a much higher priority and will try to move the company in a more responsible direction.

But the world continues to be filled with massive multi-nationals who continue to treat environmental concerns as a mere PR issue, and build an entirely false narrative of how responsible they are, when in fact they are foisting the hidden costs of their businesses on the general society. Think most energy companies. Think Monsanto and big agra.
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