What consumes entrepreneurs? Bottom line? Employee well-being? Customer acquisition? Environmental impacts of their operations? Brand and reputation?
The answer most likely is yes, at least to some degree, to all of the above.
Entrepreneurs are blessed and cursed with thinking about their businesses 24 hours a day. It becomes their life focus.
A successful entrepreneur is one who strives for many diverse objectives, some other than the traditional metric, profit. I call this a ‘sustainable’ entrepreneur.
So, what is a sustainable entrepreneur?
First, an entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. They are highly motivated with a ‘get it done mindset’. They not only have ambitious goals but an innate ability to execute and build value over time.
Sustainability is often perceived as ‘going green’ or environmentally friendly. However, it is much broader.
Sustainability means to maintain over long time the ability to keep going support, or bear the weight of a structure. This certainly applies to business.
One definition often used is to “meet the needs of the present world without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.’
And in business, it is defined as Triple Bottom Line (noted as TBL or 3BL) addressing three highly interconnected areas – People, Planet and Profit.
TBL is an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental, and economic. Many entrepreneurs have adopted this framework to measure their performance and create greater business value.
Sustainable entrepreneurs introduce sustainable products and services to existing markets and develop new customers seeking sustainable lifestyles. Though they play a critical role in change, they recognize that their businesses must create value for customers and investors.
They need to answer difficult questions and take advantage of ‘sustainability’ as a market. By addressing critical problems, they create opportunities around clean air, water and soil; build healthier food systems; design more efficient cities and help us manage energy and other resources more efficiently.
As an editorial board member of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Exchange (EIX), I had the fortune of interviewing several leading sustainability entrepreneurs. EIX is a community and website that helps entrepreneurs, professors and students develop expertise on entrepreneurship, with the goal of dramatically improving the success rate of new ventures.
Here are quotes from three sustainable entrepreneurship success stories with links to their full interviews. (Other interviews and resources are on the EIX site.)
- Seth Goldman, Founder of Honest Tea and executive Chairman of Beyond Meat sees entrepreneurship as a way to impact change through market-based solutions. He states, “For us, that mission element defines how we grow. When you have an authentic belief behind something, it leads to an authentic brand message. If you can connect those beliefs to a product and then help consumers connect to it, it can be impactful.”
- Marney Abramson, CEO of Next Gen Partners, shares “When I first started in real estate, we wanted to calculate the benefits of being in a healthy building. It was something fundamentally we believed in and was a way of approaching the market that others weren’t looking at. If we could reposition the way they evaluate their business decisions we could move them closer into alignment with sustainability. I believed in the math and science. The first page of my proposals is their ROI, NPV, financials and the next page is their environmental impact.”
- Scott Nash, founder and CEO of Mom’s Organic Market had an “aha” moment. He said, “getting into organic foods was my passion, I ‘owned’ it. I have been hearing for 20 years that organics was trending but I believed it’s where the world was going. Our purpose is to protect and restore the environment. It doesn’t have a lot to do with selling groceries, does it? Every decision we make is pointed at accomplishing our purpose.”
Building a sustainable enterprise is rewarding but can be time consuming, confusing and challenging. Socially conscious products are not always easy to define and not all consumers see value in products that better society.
The movement however, continues to grow.
There is increasing consumer demand for innovative solution that improve lives, communities and the planet and people increasingly alter their buying, eating and living behaviors as they understand the impact of their decisions.
And there are support groups like Green America’s, Green Business Network and B Lab that provide certification tools, information and resources for Benefit Corporations and small businesses on social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
We have never been in a better position to adapt to this constantly evolving demand into a new business idea.
If you have or are starting a new business, it only makes sense to be a Sustainable Entrepreneur.