Sustainable business ideas have taken the limelight in recent years. This is partly thanks to Generation Z, which places great value on sustainability. This value comes hand in hand with the realization that we’ve had a late wake-up call.
This is where entrepreneurship comes in. Sustainable business ideas can bring forth a better future for us and the coming generations. There are unlimited ways to approach sustainability! This article highlights 10 sustainable business ideas and how to develop them.
What is a sustainable business?
A sustainable business is an operation that unionizes concern for the environment, profitability, and goodwill for the common good as its forefront. It requires asking the question, “How can you, as an entrepreneur, use your influence to help society in being more sustainable?”
The entire concept revolves around ‘doing more with less.' The navigation is tricky. You have to come up with efficient and sustainable solutions while keeping up with the provisions demanded by law.
But here’s the good news: Everyone wants to, or at least has thought about, jumping on the bandwagon.
According to this Ipsos survey, the ongoing pandemic has influenced society into thinking more sustainably. Among 21,000 adults from 28 different countries, a whopping 86% want the world to become more sustainable and equitable.
Suffice it to say, if you want to put up a sustainable business, there are people who will listen to you. However, it’s up to you to develop a unique idea that allows society to come together and be a part of the solution.
It sounds intimidating, but there are businesses out there that have done just that. The common theme is a genuine desire to help.
What are great sustainable business ideas?
If you’re looking at leaving a footprint (or technically a lack of one?) in the world of sustainability, there are almost innumerable ways for you to do that. All you have to do is look at your brand identity and ask yourself, “How can I make a sustainable alternative to this?”
That is a lot easier said than done. These 10 sustainable business ideas will offer inspiration for your pursuits.
1. Environment-friendly stationery materials
Despite living in a digital world, we still use classic stationery like paper (Michael Scott would be proud), ink, pens, brushes, etc. This goes without saying, but all of these items harm the environment in their own unique but significant ways.
Pens, for example, need to be made with plastic. Papers, as we all know, are made by cutting down trees. This is why alternative stationery can be one of the best sustainable business ideas.
This sounds like a pipe dream, but the folks at Graviky Labs are doing it with their sustainable AIR-INK. Their ink is made by collecting carbon emissions from the environment. So, not only does their product offer a green alternative to harmful ink, but it also effectively reduces the pollutants in our atmosphere right now.
Check out this short clip on AIR-INK:
2. Hemp products
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Such is the case with hemp, which is technically the environment-friendly, nonpsychoactive sister plant to cannabis. It grows without much trouble. The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the list of controlled substances. Since then, it has been used in a variety of ways to create alternatives for all sorts of non-sustainable products.
Hempitecture is one company doing great things with hemp (as its name points out). The company creates building materials with hemp, and its HempWool is a phenomenal, sustainable housing-insulation material.
3. Bicycle rentals
Almost everyone you know probably has a core memory of riding their bikes for the first time. The excitement of not having to use training wheels is simply incomparable!
Along with being super, super fun (not a scientifically verified measure), bicycles can be a great form of transport. They also only use one type of energy, and it’s not fossil fuels; it’s physical effort. You save the environment and you get in shape; that’s a good win-win situation.
India-based MyByk is a prime example of a modern-day bicycle rental service. Users can simply unlock a nearby bicycle with the app and go for a ride!
4. Farmers’ markets
Farmers’ markets are extremely pleasant to visit. Consumers know that they’re both supporting small businesses and getting the absolute best eatables out there!
Organizing farmers’ markets can take time. You need to familiarize yourself with the local community, for starters. Then, you need to build trust with farming organizations. Planning and coordination can also take up a lot of time. The result, however, is a happy and healthy community.
State College, Pennsylvania, runs a plethora of farmers’ markets. You can shop for the freshest veggies and fruits and also find yourself enticed by the best-looking pizzas out there.
At the very least, if you manage a restaurant or have a catering business, you can get your produce from these sources to support the local community and farmers.
5. Renewable energy
Renewable energy is a big topic during sustainability discussions and for a good reason. If we can power our homes, offices, and vehicles without polluting the environment, then we’re home free. It is a gargantuan task, no doubt. But, so is the market.
The market for renewable energy is worth over $880 billion and is expected to grow at a compounded rate of 8.4% year on year. It can be, without a doubt, one of the best sustainable business ideas, if done right.
There are many ways to approach renewable energy. Companies can look into harvesting solar power, biomass, wind energy, and more. Canadian Solar is a company that provides solar power solutions for commercial and residential needs. Thanks to companies like this, solar power is a lot more approachable for everyday people.
6. Electric vehicles (EV) & charging
Companies like Tesla have made owning electric vehicles seem not unusual. There is a massive market for it. The biggest indicator of that is Elon Musk becoming one of the richest people in the world, on the back of Tesla shares.
But you don’t need to be a manufacturer to get into the electric vehicle industry. It can be extremely lucrative to make charging for EVs as accessible as possible.
Xeal, for example, does just that. Rather than asking people to drive to charging stations, Xeal makes the idea of installing charging stations lucrative for everyday buildings, housing societies, and offices. This theoretically makes owning an EV ‘easier’ compared to fossil fuel-powered cars!
7. Sustainable fashion
The fast fashion industry is extremely harmful to the environment. Firstly, the hectic production timelines don’t help one bit. Their supply chain practices also favor speed over sustainability. Additionally, the textile industry is already a major polluter.
The alternative to that is sustainable fashion that doesn’t harm the earth. An example is the fashion label Doodlage. They have taken sustainable fashion to the next level by creating clothing that is made from upcycled materials, such as factory waste. You can start a clothing business that makes people happy and saves the environment!
8. Electronics repair
Right to Repair has gained massive traction in recent years. 27 states in the US have bills that allow people to repair their electronics without repercussions from companies. It gives people the option of choosing to fix their items, rather than looking for new gadgets. The accessibility automatically makes this a sustainable practice.
There are various ways to start a sustainable business around this. One option is to manufacture cheap repair kits. Another option is to start a third-party repair service. Yet another option is to create content for people to repair things themselves. You can maybe combine all three if you want!
How-FixIT is a YouTube channel, with over 122K subscribers, that makes complicated electronics repairs seem easy with step-by-step tutorials.
9. Second-hand retail
While Macklemore may not have invented it, he did make thrift shopping seem pretty cool. Beyond fashion, second-hand retail can be one of the most sustainable business ideas. Consumption can and will never stop. It’s what makes events like Black Friday so popular.
Entrepreneurs can create a sustainable business by offering an outlet for used goods. This both prevents waste and also gets people great deals, which makes it an attractive business model.
Amazon’s ‘Renewed’ initiative is probably the best example of this being used on a mass scale. The catch is whether you can make these refurbished products seem as new as possible.
If you won’t take it from us, take it from Macklemore.
10. Urban agriculture
Urban agriculture solves two problems in one. It makes people less reliant on store-bought produce, which often contains harmful chemicals. It also allows people to use their space in a sustainable and useful way.
Urban agriculture can seem very appealing, but not everyone is born with a green thumb. Green City Growers have made urban rooftop farming easy for building owners by taking care of installation and maintenance. The reduced effort definitely makes rooftop farming all the more appealing.
Today, sustainable business practices have gone from being a good-to-have asset to a crucial application. The survival of businesses depends on the three P’s: people, profit, and the planet. Sustainable practices impact all three positively.
11 sustainable business practices to embrace in 2022
Sustainable businesses are more appealing to customers, get special benefits from the government, and are seen as higher quality because it costs more to make their products. Let’s explore eleven business practices you can adopt within your organization to make it kinder to the environment.
1. Use biodegradable packaging
Your product packaging becomes useless trash as soon as the customer extracts its contents. Plastic waste is not biodegradable and remains on the Earth for several years if it is not recycled. What’s worse is that not all plastic waste is recyclable.
It is a sustainable business practice to switch to biodegradable materials. To be deemed biodegradable, the material must decompose naturally, with the actions of micro-organisms, even without oxygen. These materials then become part of the environment and cause no damage in the long run.
👀 Did you know that the discarded plastic packaging thrown away each year can circle the globe four times?
To establish your sustainability resolution, you can get a certification for biodegradable packaging from several reputed organizations. TÜV SÜD offers certification through their American channels.
2. Eliminate paper usage
There is no better age than the digital age to eliminate paper use. You can adopt a sustainable business practice that converts record-keeping to digital formats that make paper use redundant.
When paper use is unavoidable, choose paper made from recycled materials. The world uses 65 billion sheets of paper daily. Paper comes from felling trees, and with the thinning forest cover on the Earth, every business needs to put its best foot forward to reduce the use of virgin paper.
Some ways you can cut down on paper usage in your organization are:
- Curb the practice of printing things that are not essential
- Switch to online invoicing
- Take your phone books online and recycle the ones you have
- Unsubscribe from junk mail
- Digitize your company’s record-keeping so that you do server rooms and replace your dusty filing cabinets
- Make recycled paper usage mandatory
One phenomenal advantage of reusing paper is the reduction of stationery costs that businesses incur.
3. Conserve water
Water is among the most commonly used natural commodities in businesses. Drinking, sanitization, and some operations require water usage. Using more water can also have cost implications. Many companies are cutting down on the use of water within their premises.
Since sanitation consumes maximum water, water-saving faucets, waterless urinals, and rainwater harvesting have become commonplace.
WaterSense-labeled products help reduce the consumption of water. You can learn more about them here.
4. Consider renewable energy
A company can reduce its carbon footprint in a big way by switching to renewable energy. There is a significant effort, resources, and expenditure to convert from legacy systems to those that use renewable energy. Renewable energy has long-term benefits like saving money, reducing your company's carbon footprint, and helping the environment.
Renewable energy sources include solar, wind, or geothermal sources. Depending on the region where you operate, you could also avail of some special grants and benefits from your local government for using renewable energy sources.
If you cannot invest in clean energy but want to contribute to clean energy in some way, you could buy a Renewable Energy Certificate from your local energy provider.
When you buy a REC, the proceeds of your purchase go towards creating new renewable energy sources. Your company gets certified as an ambassador for clean energy.
5. Invest in green projects
Partner with green projects by helping fund them, investing in their products, or giving them a platform using your company’s reputation. Make it mandatory for your infrastructure, maintenance, and procurement teams to only invest in environmentally friendly products.
6. Develop a recycling program
Your recycling program can begin small and then become a way of life for your employees. Make recycling a process within your organization. Some elements that can be recycled are:
- Recycling water for sewage purposes
- Printers, computers, and mobile phones
- Switch to recycled paper
7. Reassess your supply chain
If you are a business that follows multiple processes to manufacture and deliver your product to customers, then you could assess your entire supply chain. You will find opportunities where you can create a positive impact on the environment.
Some aspects that could come into light through this assessment are:
- Material sourcing - Source only the amount of material you need to avoid wastage. Also, draw strong guardrails to ensure that your sourcing doesn’t exploit natural resources
- Energy utilization - Use renewable energy sources and save energy when not required
- Warehousing - Use shared warehousing spaces so that cooling and energy facilities are shared rather than exclusive
- Packaging - Switch to biodegradable packaging options
- Delivery - Use electric bikes, reduce air transport, and let your customers know about your efforts to create a better world.
The data is clear on how consumers look favorably towards more responsible businesses. This statistic from the UK is representative of the developed world.
8. Educate employees
All your sustainability strategies will be put into practice by your employees. Educate them about what sustainability means and how your organization envisions it. Assign roles and responsibilities to your team members, making them feel involved in the organization’s mission.
Spreading the message to your employees helps in many ways because they take this message home with them and then to their community. In this way, your sustainable business practice is more impactful.
Encouraging volunteerism among employees is another way to mobilize them to take affirmative action for the good of the planet. Organize beach cleanups, power-off hours, and training programs that outline the power of clean living.
9. Partner with nonprofit organizations
You can partner with non-profit organizations that have a sharp sustainability goal and are working towards it. In turn, they will label your business as a sustainability leader and guide you on your journey towards being more eco-friendly.
Here’s a comprehensive list of nonprofits that you could partner with for a variety of sustainability initiatives.
10. Recycle or donate office equipment
Donating your old equipment is a great way to ensure your e-waste doesn’t end up in a landfill. For example, World Computer Exchange helps refurbish your used computers and provides them to the less fortunate.
11. Introduce plants to your office space
Plants represent the world outside, even when placed in confined office cubicles. Bring in some indoor plants that will purify the air, create a better environment, and make your employees feel connected with the natural world outside.
To sum it up, sustainable business practices should become a way of life, not a conscious effort. That is the final aim of every program to promote cleaner living.
It begins with you, followed by your team, your organization, your family, your community, and eventually the entire world.
Businesses that practice sustainability
A sustainable business can mean a lot of things. It can be a regular business that attempts to add sustainability to its everyday practices. These companies are known as ‘eco-friendly’.
Patagonia is a great example. Along with using 100% renewable energy in their stores and offices, the brand has set goals to be a net-zero emitter.
Businesses that produce green products/services
The term can also refer to what is known as a ‘green’ business. These businesses provide end consumers with alternatives to current options that are harmful to the environment.
For example, meat production places a heavy burden on the planet. This is why companies like Beyond Meat have gained a lot of consumer praise recently. Their plant-based alternatives are gentler on the planet.
Frequently asked questions: 4 popular FAQs about sustainable business practices
What are some commonly asked questions about sustainable businesses? Get your questions answered with these four FAQs.
1. Why are sustainable business practices important?
Making your company more sustainable will help your bottom line. Profits for sustainable businesses tend to rise because of a combination of factors, including lower operating expenses, new and more loyal consumers, and a better reputation.
2. What are the characteristics of a sustainable business?
By seizing opportunities and minimizing risks associated with economic, environmental, and social consequences, sustainable businesses are defined by their net social contribution. Profits are, in many ways, the best indicator of how much a business has contributed to society.
3. What is a good example of sustainability?
Water conservation, energy conservation, waste reduction, recyclable packaging, restricting or eliminating the use of plastics, adopting sustainable transportation, reusing paper, and protecting flora and fauna are the pillars of environmental sustainability.
4. What is the best sustainable business?
Businesses who are striving to become more environmentally friendly should look to Patagonia as a role model. They have committed 1% of sales to environmental protection for the past 35 years. They've given more than $89 million to various environmental organizations. In 2017, they even sued the president in an effort to protect national monuments. Patagonia is proudly in business to protect the environment.
On to a greener future
The total list of sustainable business ideas doesn’t end here. Far from it, every business can become sustainable, really. All you need is a desire to fix age-old business practices that aren’t good for the planet.
Sustainable businesses are both at the forefront and gaining heat. They will become the new normal in years to come. It is definitely a good idea to invest your time, energy, and abilities into such a business.
This guide can be a good place to start, but in the end, you decide how you want to positively impact the earth!