Sustainable start ups: eight ways to make money while protecting the environment


Date: 8 March 2021

A recyclable paper bag

Once virtually unheard of, the term 'sustainability' has become widespread amongst both business owners and consumers. With sustainable values on the rise, integrating eco-friendly elements into your business model is more important than ever before. 

Whether you're an entrepreneur getting ready to start your first business, or a long time business owner looking to implement sustainable practices into your company, these eight sustainable business ideas can help you meet your goals. 

1. Ethical fashion

Unlike the other start ups on this list, the sustainable fashion industry is unique in that it not only seeks to minimise its impact on the environment, but also ensures the people who are part of the manufacturing process are treated fairly. 

The most important step you can take to make your fashion business more ethical is to make sure you have all the information about each stage of the manufacturing process. A factory that looks good on paper isn't always so great in practice, so reach out to other sustainable fashion businesses for advice. Avoid using textile mills and try to move as much of the production process as you can from offshore factories to within your own borders. 

While there are many sustainable fashion brands out there, many more fail. As with any business, it's essential that you do your research to identify any gaps in the market and create a product that fills this gap. 

2. Food forest farming

Instead of simply minimising the ecological damage of your business, why not start a business that benefits the environment? A permaculture farm, commonly known as a food forest, is a great start up for anyone with very little capital and a passion for the outdoors. 

Unlike traditional agriculture, permaculture mimics the natural environment, making it more sustainable in the long run. Not only can you profit from the fruits, vegetables, and nuts produced on the farm, but you can also provide tours and a food-to-table dining experience for environmentally-conscious tourists.  

Depending on where you live, you may need to demonstrate biodiversity net gain to receive development permission. With a permaculture farm, demonstrating this will be a piece of cake. 

3. Event planning

Event planning has traditionally been one of the most wasteful businesses, with the one-time use of decorations, food, and transportation contributing to a large ecological footprint. 

To implement sustainable practices in your event planning business, consider making the following changes:

  • provide guests with experiences instead of physical gift bags
  • use compostable and recyclable plates, cups, and cutlery
  • work with venues that are sustainable and eco-friendly
  • use digital signs rather than paper
  • arrange shared transportation for guests

By marketing your event planning business as sustainable and eco-friendly, you'll stand out amongst the competition. 

4. Locally-produced products

The easiest way any retail business can become more sustainable is by selling local products. By using local suppliers, you'll significantly reduce the ecological costs of transportation, while simultaneously supporting economic growth within your own country. 

One concern many retail businesses have about selling local products is the impact this will have on their profit margins. While the product itself may cost more, you'll save considerably on the logistical costs and transportation. 

Although you may have to price the product itself a little higher, this shouldn't impact your bottom line. An increasing number of consumers have sustainable values and want to buy from companies that share these values. A market for local products exists. 

5. Cleaning services

If you're considering starting a cleaning services business, making it sustainable and eco-friendly is a great way to set your services apart from the competition. 

To make your cleaning services more eco-friendly:

  • use products that are free from toxins
  • use vacuum cleaners with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to ensure the best air quality
  • trade disposable cleaning tools for reusable cloths and dusters

While some natural cleaning products cost more and are harder to buy in bulk, as environmentally-friendly cleaning has become more popular, their prices have dropped. 

Most customers who value green and healthier lifestyles are willing to pay more for natural cleaning services, so don't worry about having to charge more for your services to make up for the cost of supplies. 

6. Natural beauty products

The beauty industry is one of the most profitable industries and is expected to continue to grow. Makeup products have one of the highest profit margins, so although natural, eco-friendly products may cost more to make, you should still see a high return. 

As with other products, many consumers are looking to buy from brands with sustainable, green, and ethical values. Many companies that use animal testing have been boycotted, forcing them to abandon the practice. 

While many natural beauty brands have cropped up in recent years, there is still a large gap in the market. Plenty of opportunity exists to establish your own business in this niche. 

7. Recycled products

Using recycled materials for your products has the double advantage of saving you money on materials while also being a great selling point in your marketing strategy. Some of the most popular recycled materials include:

  • glass
  • plastic
  • cardboard
  • cotton
  • wood

There are also lots of grants available for companies that use recycled materials in their products, which can be especially valuable if you're trying to establish a new business and need the extra capital. 

8. Sustainability coaching

If you're knowledgeable about sustainability and are passionate about sharing your knowledge with others, providing a sustainability coaching service may be the best business for you. 

A sustainability coach works with businesses to help them develop sustainable strategies. You'll identify areas that are already working well, highlight places of growth, and help business owners understand the financial and ecological benefits of sustainability for their company. You may also choose to work with individuals seeking to make their lifestyle more sustainable. 

If you're not quite ready to give up your day job, this is a great low-cost business to start on the side. As you grow, you can expand your one-on-one services to include more coaches, group workshops, events, and online courses. 

With the demand for sustainable products, services, and practices growing, making sustainability a focus from the start will improve your chances of success. 

Copyright 2021. This article was made possible by Jeremy Bowler.

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