You hear conversations starting with: “Once everything goes back to normal… “, “I cannot wait to retake my normal life”, and “When are we going back to normal?”.
The truth is, what we know as normal or “business as usual” should not be something we aspire to go back to. We need to shift from a consumerist approach to a planet and people-oriented one. That means a shift in behaviour from always acquiring more to getting only what is essential. This pandemic has revealed the value of time spent with people and the importance of our health. Suddenly, a luxurious life is not as important as being able to help our neighbors and keep our communities healthy. It has also shown us that our economy is fragile and faulty. Millennials have already experienced three economic crises– the internet bubble, the 2009 recession, and the current pandemic– and we haven’t even lived half our lives yet!
On a personal level, we can learn from the pandemic and start supporting local businesses more than ever. We have learned that buying fast-fashion, non-essential clothing is not as important as we once thought. We have learned to appreciate our freedom and what it is like to be in confinement. We have seen that a halt to all non-essential activities has restored the flora and fauna in many countries, allowing animals to roam freely. Our oceans and air are getting cleaner and our planet has been able to breathe again.
Why do we want to go back to a world where our goods are shipped from miles away, made using non-renewable resources that will take thousands of years to biodegrade? Why do we want to go back to a world where companies are depleting the Earth of its resources and capability to restore itself, a world where companies’ main focus is growing their bottom lines? We need to take this opportunity to go back to a world where we live and breathe Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). What do I mean by this? Simply that businesses should thrive without compromising the ability of the planet to regenerate itself, in turn bettering society.
We have read numerous times about what we can do as consumers to raise our voice and demand companies to be greener. This post is not directed to you, the consumer. This is for the organizations out there, and most importantly, for the startups. Founders need to embrace a triple bottom line strategy that fully considers the wellbeing of the planet all the stakeholders of the business. This does not mean startups should not thrive or grow. Since startups excel at doing more with fewer resources, they can prosper without compromising our planet and our communities.
How can CSR help startups thrive?
CSR policies are the steps organizations take that go beyond what companies are legally bound to report, to better the environment and society. Startups can start to do this through a series of simple steps, both in their internal and external operations.
- Encouraging mental wellness: Check in on your team. Are they motivated? On the brink of burnout? Do they need a break? We are all dealing with things we never have before, both on a personal and professional level. Be flexible with their time, trust they will do their part of the job, and show them you trust them. There is no need for non-essential micromanagement and daily calls to “show results”. Give them time to breathe and stay healthy so they can, in turn, be productive and happy to be part of the team. Needless to say a 9-5, five days a week is a thing of the past! Besides, if people can work from home, they mitigate carbon emissions: less transport usage and less traffic, as well as less use of buildings and office space.
- Providing financial security: An honest reassurance that your team’s jobs are not immediately at stake, or that you can help them apply for assistance if needed, will take a big burden off of their shoulders. Also, make sure you are giving your team fair and competitive remuneration for their work. It is easy to feel undervalued by getting an uncompetitive paycheck compared to similar posts in other organizations.
- Fewer emails: Keep emails to what they are: a formal e-letter. Use other media for other non-relevant communications like built-in chat apps and text messages. If something is absolutely urgent, consider a phone call. Emails are hardly ever the best way to get urgent things done. Environmentally speaking, a small change like sending fewer emails can help you substantially reduce your startup’s carbon footprint. On average, a year’s worth of emails per person in terms of CO2 emissions is roughly equivalent to taking three round-trip flights from New York to Toronto.
- Keep your server farms local: The rooms where servers are stored get hot, especially if thousands of servers are kept in one place by a company like Google Cloud, Dropbox, or AWS. Keeping your own servers also means more data security for you and your clients. Remember, if you build your own solutions, you own all of your data and avoid data collection and replication by third parties. If you keep your data to yourself, you also disrupt global supply chains. A good example is the use of a CRM platform. Can you build your own or use an open-source, local platform? Maybe you can choose a firm that can ensure the security of your data and your clients’ personal information and whose servers are not stored with thousands others, thus emitting a considerably smaller amount of CO2. It is very tempting to go for the big companies that offer huge discounts to hook you on their systems, but then make it almost impossible to leave because of data transferability. Cheap sometimes gets very expensive in the long run. If you still need to partner with big companies, make sure they have an honest CSR strategy in place and are not implementing greenwashing practices.
- Support small businesses: Make sure you get your supplies from as many local businesses as possible. This helps to strengthen the economic environment of your community and to create trust among your team and customers. Most of the time, supporting local businesses also means helping the environment, as their products are typically less resource-intensive.
- Partner strategically: As a startup, you need to make sure that the ideas and values of the people and organizations you partner with are in line with your values and with the planet. Remember, partnerships are mutually beneficial.
- Adapt and be resilient: Always be aware of what the market trends are and what matters to your current and potential customers. Can you shift some or all of your current solutions to get ahead of the game and help solve the current pressing issues with health and the environment? Maybe your technology can be transferred to make hand sanitizer or biodegradable face masks– for example, some companies in the liquor and oil cleaning sectors have transformed their operations to produce hand sanitizer.
Decision-making that considers the market, the community, and society at large is critical to sustaining relevance. Anticipate and share. Learn how to be proactive and not reactive and beware of disruptive evolutions to make them work for you and your startup. Be ready to face disruption and not fight against it, as it is inevitable. Remember, these times are not the new normal– they are a preview of what things could be like in terms of environmental benefits. You, as startup founders, have the power to help create what the new normal will be in a world where we embrace the planet and put society and the environment before economic growth.
Alicia Grayeb is a sustainability professional and advocate speaker. She supervises early stage startups at the Venn Garage in Venn Innovation in Atlantic Canada. Alicia’s focus is to make companies embrace Corporate Sustainability and promote a greener economy.
You can follow Alicia on Twitter: @alicegyb and on LinkedIn
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