Sustainability: What it really means for your social start-up

At some point in recent days, we have all seen or heard something to do with sustainability. While some shudder at the mere utterance of this now ‘buzzword’ it is still a driving force in the business world today. According to indeed.com job postings with the keyword sustainability have quadrupled over the period 2009-2011; and an astounding 88% of executives and managers see it as being an integral part of their strategy for the future. For the new entrepreneur navigating this new and constantly evolving playing field can be daunting, but if you are serious about tackling many of the social problems facing the world today, here is what you need to consider.

1. The Network is Growing Daily: Every business person knows the importance of networking. For those with driven ventures, a growing network means access to individuals, funding, and most importantly partnerships that can help take your start-up to the next level. For instance, consider organizations such as the Social Venture Network which connects businesses with a growing community of innovative business leaders and social entrepreneurs to help improve and expand your impact.

2. There are Countless Opportunities: Starting a social venture opens the doors for entrepreneurs to not only tackle pressing social issues but it can also provide opportunities for one to visit new places, learn about new cultures, and most importantly, make money. Opportunities for social ventures abound not only in the financial industry (for those interested in impact investing and micro-financing) but in fields such as marketing and consulting. This is especially evident with the emergence of concepts such as ‘green marketing’ and ‘environmental consulting’.

3. There is no ‘Triple Bottom Line’: Experts in the field of sustainability hate this term, as it implies that there can be trade-offs between the social, environmental, and economic factors addressed by a business. True proponents of sustainability know that the real focus should be on the integration of these three factors. What does this mean for your venture? Simple, make each factor an integral part of your business model. By doing this you will not only have a social venture capable of addressing serious issues, but you will also communicate to investors and other stakeholders the seriousness of your intent.

4. No ‘Greenwashing’: Greenwashing is the intentional act of misleading consumers regarding your company/product’s environmental and social practices, achievements, or goals. Social entrepreneurs should always keep in mind that they are constantly under the watchful eyes of stakeholders bent on weeding out those businesses that are not true to their word. In moving your social venture forward, make sure that you do not commit any of the 7 sins of ‘greenwashing’. Firms found guilty of any one of these sins often find themselves quickly out of the market and on their way to oblivion.

The factors outlined above should provide you with an understanding of the dedication needed to see a social venture through from the start-up phase to success. Feel free to sound off below about your social idea or venture and what sustainability means to you.

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