Sustainability can seem overwhelming for startup companies; a lot of hard work that will take up a lot of time and resources. Startups are usually short of both: resources and time. This is why complex sustainability management systems and corporate social responsibility have usually been reserved for big corporations.
However, addressing sustainability right from the start will bring you focus and keep you on track as you grow. Depending on your business and what you want from it, your sustainability strategy will differ.
Define a Mission, a Vision and Your Values
Take your time through this step. It is a difficult exercise and you will need time to figure out all three. What will they bring you? They are the of your business. They will let the world know what you do, the purpose of it and where you are going. They will help you create an organizational culture, attract and engage talent, define effective strategies and keep you on track.
The difference between them is simple: your mission is your current state, your vision what the future will be and your values are your personality.
Your mission will let the world know, what you do, who you do it for and how you do it. Keep it simple, you do not need to have a long mission statement that no one will be able to understand. The most effective mission statements are direct, use easy language and people can relate and remember them. Do not leave it so general that it is applicable to many businesses; it should describe your business.
Your vision will state, where you are going, how you want to be and what your purpose is. Keep it optimistic, highlight the possibilities that are awaiting, show you are the leader and an important change agent.
Your values will form the personality of your business; they will guide your employees, your actions & strategies and define the type of relationship that you want with your stakeholders. Values keep everybody in the same boat and bring security and trust. Keep it realistic, when defining values, identify what you are already doing, what you give most importance to and what you would appreciate as a client.
2. Identify Main Stakeholders
When trying to implement sustainability in startups, it is very important to identify the main stakeholders of your business (interested parties). It is pretty simple to identify some stakeholders: clients, suppliers, governments, community leaders…. This exercise is relatively simple for startups and complicates as your business gets bigger and touches more people.
Right from the start, it is important to know who your stakeholders are and define what they need and what they expect from you. This research and interaction with them will enable you to identify risks and opportunities. All stakeholders are very important, define the best way you will interact with them and take care of selecting, working and letting them go.
3. Create a Company Strategy
When creating the strategy of the company you need to take into consideration where you are and where you want to be. Define SMART objectives for your business and talk it through with your employees and with your suppliers. Their feedback is important to keep objectives achievable. Be optimistic but keep it real, it’s better to improve slowly than fail to achieve over-optimistic objectives. Establish the resources needed and targets. Make sure to include in your plan deadlines and milestones to check whether your planning is adjusting to what you expected.
Make sure your strategy addresses your Vision and complies with your Values. Bear in mind that by incorporating sustainability you’re aiming to address Social, Economic and Environmental best practices. Think about the direct impacts and opportunities you have in all three areas.
4. Focus on Excellent Communication & Transparency
Well-informed employees and partners will help us perform better. Open up communication channels and make an effort to establish a good communicative environment. Transparency is crucial for employees to see what the situation is and what their contribution is impacting on. All departments in a business should be interlinked and have a well-established communication which is essential for well-being and productivity.
Do meetings from time to time where everybody shares results and achievements, focus on continuous improvement and learn from mistakes. Share difficulties encountered and follow-up on the solutions identified. Invest in your people, make them feel part of a team and keep them motivated.
5. Keep it Up When Growing
Once you have set the basis, remember it as you grow. This exercise should be redone when the company grows and develops. When conditions and characteristics of the company change all of these steps should be reviewed so they are updated with the present situation.
Your Mission, your Vision and your Values set the baseline for you to develop a strategy. It should be defined taking into consideration your stakeholders needs and expectations. Your strategy will be broken down into action plans for your employees that will guide them in their day-to-day work, set SMART objectives and monitor them regularly. Keep communication open and work hard in keeping your business transparent and good relations between employees.