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Terms like ‘sustainability’, ‘ESG’ and ‘socially conscious’ have become buzzwords in corporate buzz. However, if you’re tempted to just check the box, think again.
A genuine commitment to sustainability can pay off in countless ways—not to mention maintaining credibility, because a lack of integrity when it comes to sustainability jeopardizes your relationships with both employees and customers.
Here’s what I learned from embedding this value deep into our business strategy.
Related: What you can learn from the rise of sustainability-focused entrepreneurship
Doing the right thing is good for business
Awareness of sustainable practices and products has risen dramatically over the past few decades. Whether it’s changing generational expectations, the climate crisis or other motivating factors, consumers value brands that prioritize sustainability. A quick look at the numbers: When given a choice, 32% of millennials will choose a sustainable option over a non-sustainable one, and 47% of companies say sustainability has had an impact on their recruitment and retention. And investors get it too: 90% of investors said they pay attention to how sustainable a business is.
How to apply it:
- Start somewhere. Whether it’s recycling and offering reusable water bottles in the office or creating formal DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) or ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) committees, efforts, small and large, matter . The intent of the contribution is most important. Don’t get discouraged by the task at hand and focus on what is manageable and meaningful to you.
- Keep going. Sustainability is not a one-time initiative—it’s a muscle that needs constant exercise to become established as part of your strategy and operations. Like any other initiative, it should have goals and be analyzed at regular intervals to find places to improve and build on your progress.
- Think bigger. Once that muscle is strong, challenge it in creative ways to develop your values. For example, we plant a tree for every new customer. It’s an easy way to do our part, while staying grounded in what life is really about: caring for a future that stretches beyond you.
Related: How to turn sustainability into a brand and business strength
Sustainability is a business mindset
The concept of sustainability goes far beyond the realm of ESG. It is a method of growth and a mindset that can transform the way a company develops strategies and performs.
The temptation to think short-term—how to hit this month’s goal, how to put out fires with temporary band-aids—is too great in startup culture. Adopting a sustainable mindset means evaluating the long-term impact of making short-term decisions, as well as investing in future growth without expecting short-term returns. Ultimately, the two blend: yesterday’s investments become today’s harvest as you continue to plan for tomorrow.
How to apply it:
- Prove your foundation first. Insurance is a risky game. If you grow before you get the insurance right, you’ll be out of business. We’ve spent years building, proving and refining our risk models to provide a solid foundation for growth.
- Maintain a healthy unit economy. In this market, it is no secret that most growth companies have adopted a focus on unit economics. But in Silicon Valley, the pendulum tends to swing back and forth between focusing on strong fundamentals and pushing for growth at all costs. Adopting a sustainable mindset helps you stay centered and disciplined as you strive to build a truly disruptive, lasting business.
- Reassess and improve your organization every +50 employees. Growth is important, but scaling right keeps the track’s mission and employees invested. It’s important to reevaluate how your organization is run every +50 employees or so to ensure that processes and teams are structured to maximize effective collaboration and decision-making.
Related: Are Your Company’s Sustainability Efforts Failing? Here’s what could be blocking your success.
Sustainability is part of your mission
Everything stems from the company’s mission. Therefore, if you make sustainability part of your mission, you will automatically have its virtues embedded in your DNA.
So my advice is to take an honest look at your mission and understand how sustainability naturally fits into it. I would go further and say that anyone running a company in this century has a responsibility to do so. Climate change is not a future problem; it’s here, now. According to NASA, the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, intense heat waves and catastrophic weather events, are becoming more common.
If your industry’s connection to sustainability seems more indirect, ask yourself how to connect it to your company’s values and product offerings in a truly authentic way. Successful examples abound, ranging from outdoor gear—with Patagonia’s 1% Planet pledge and its CEO’s recent decision to commit to fighting climate change—to makeup, such as Thrive Causemetics’ commitment to cruelty-free ingredients.
Ultimately, it’s an exercise in defining and living your values—and doing good along the way.