How to Become a More Sustainable Brand
Sustainability has become a must-have, not a nice-to-have, for brands. But it's not always easy to figure out what to do, especially if you're a small business.
Sustainability has turned into a must-have for any brand, especially a startup. To launch a brand without thinking about sustainability these days is a huge miss. After all, according to a study by IBM and The National Retail Federation, North Americans strongly prefer sustainable brands (two out of every three people).
But being truly sustainable can be hard to wrap your head around. Of course, the first thing most of us think about is our products and packaging. For us at MASAMI, (being a clean-haircare brand with a Japanese ocean botanical), it's really important to stay on top of ingredient trends. We follow EU guidelines, but there are always ingredients being put on and taken off the EU "dirty" list.
Many of these ingredients can have negative environmental impacts, not just health implications. Packaging is also a huge concern for beauty brands, which are responsible for creating 7.9 billion plastic packages a year, so introducing refillable options, looking for alternatives to plastic that degrade more easily and finding new ways to provide samples to get rid of single-use packaging are all worth exploring. There are also some great packaging vendors who can use soy ink and recycled materials and ensure your outer packaging is sustainable as well.
Consider all that actually goes into sustainability
But beyond your formulas and packaging, there are many more levels to what sustainability means. You need to think through your supply chain, interior and exterior packaging, shipping materials and fulfillment solutions. And that's just the start. You also need to think about your business practices, including within your office space (do you use LED lighting or low-flow faucets, for example). Additionally, consider your energy consumption and your business partners — and whether they are also living up to your sustainability standards. Many brands may say they are sustainable or eco-friendly but aren't doing much beyond the basics.
To make it less daunting, a good place to start is by crafting a sustainability statement. Companies from HP to MissouriState are putting their statements on their sites, which will give you some ideas of how to craft yours. Unilever even has a sustainability reporting center online. Granted, these are all big companies. But small brands can benefit from this discipline as well. Here's an example of a sustainability statement for a startup — my luxury bee-powered candle company, Isle de Nature.
Join programs that make it easy for small brands to take action
Once you have your sustainability statement, you can join several programs that make it easy for small brands to take action. One program we love is Impact Collective by Greenprint. They are able to calculate your carbon, energy, water and plastic footprint, and they have programs in place that allow you to offset any of these footprints. We like it because it's very small-business friendly: It's based on your volume of sales so that even startups can participate and make an impact. This is a great way to show consumers that you are living up to your values — not just talking about sustainability.
Another program that's worth checking out is Green Business Bureau. We like that the GBB helps you evaluate all of the various metrics big and small that you may not even be aware of and breaks them down into easy steps to help you get certified. There is a point system based on how great the impact is of each item, and the more you do, the higher your level. This program really gets into the nuts and bolts of all of the various levels of sustainability to help you think through things like changing your faucets to be low flow or recycling your print cartidges. The idea is that many small steps can add up to change. This program also gives you some visibilty into which steps will make the biggest impact on your business so you can prioritize your actions.
If you have the cash flow to support a bigger program, TerraCycle provides a way for brands to recycle their packaging easily (it's just a bit expensive for startups). There is a group of competitors that has cropped up over the past few years, so this may become a bit easier for startups over time. You can also direct consumers to Target to recycle most everyday household items. They have a guest recycling station at every store, and they even take small-device electronics.
If you're interested in offsetting your carbon footprint for your shipping, check out Sendle. It's an alternative to other shipping platforms that integrate with most ecommerce engines and offers 100% carbon-neutral delivery. Shipping remains a major contributor to global carbon emissions. The global shipping industry's annual greenhouse-gas emissions total more than one billion tons.
We hope these sustainability steps will help you too get started on your sustainability journey.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor