More and more businesses are looking for ways to get a greener and more sustainable profile. However, if you represent one of them, there is one thing that you should avoid by all means. Forget all about being perfect! Going all in on a set of ambitious goals and expecting to be at 100 percent from the start will kill your good intentions -- and in worst case -- your business too.
When I launched Sprout and the world's first plantable pencil back in 2013, my ambitions and expectations when it comes to sustainable production, materials and packing were quite different than they are today. Back then I wanted to make the greenest of green startups and, preferably, from day one. Needless to say, this was an impossible ambition, especially because I founded Sprout without any funding.
Today, I still have the vision of being a world leader in the industry of sprouting and innovative consumer products, but my experience has made me more pragmatic, more patient and less naive. Luckily I quickly learned that trying to be perfect was just as harmful as not trying to be sustainable at all -- an insight that made a huge difference for me.
If you are still not convinced, here are four arguments that have taught me that perfection is not worth striving for.
Think about the word perfect for a second. What does it really mean? Being perfect is an illusion in every way. For my company, being perfect would mean using only FSC-certified wood for our pencils, using only organic seeds and 100 percent FSC-certified and recycled packaging.
First of all, FSC-certified wood is in short supply, instead we use sustainably harvested wood which means that you plant a tree every time you harvest one. Imagine as an example that IKEA would use only FSC-wood. There would be no FSC-certified wood left. What is important is that the wood is sustainably harvested and NOT from rainforests.
Organic seeds are difficult to get in larger amounts, which is why only some of our pencils contain organic seeds. The rest have non-GMO seeds. Our goal is to use 100 percent recycled and FSC certified paper for the packaging but it would raise the prices of our products significantly as well as being difficult to find, so at the moment it is "only" 80 percent recycled paper.
Setting ambitious goals are important if you want to improve and move your self and your company in a more sustainable direction. But goals can be so overwhelming that they prevent you from taking action. Break your goals down and into small steps. Ask yourself: what is the first thing we can do right now to be a bit more eco-friendly? It could be small things like replacing all the lights at the office with LED lights. Or bigger things like looking at the production and shipping.
If you have production overseas, it it not always very sustainable. Shipping over large distances uses a lot of CO2 especially if shipped by air. Look into having production closer to your market. Often the higher production costs are offset by lower shipping and easier access and ability to follow production. Also by having production close to home, it is much easier to make sure production is done under ethical conditions. This goes whether you are a small start-up or a large global company.
Make a vision board of the company's journey towards your sustainability goals and place it where it is visible to everyone in the team.
I often see a certain reaction when it comes to sustainability and business. Most companies feel a bit ashamed to talk about their goals and achievements because they are so far from being perfect that they would rather wait until they have achieved them all. So they remain silent. This does not only apply for small businesses.
Once I had a meeting with the sustainability manager of a global retailer who told me about all the things they do for the environment which was quite impressive. I asked him why they did not communicate this to their customers and he said: well, we are not there yet and we prefer to wait with any announcements until we have actually achieved our goals. I could not disagree more.
In Sprout we strive to be as transparent as possible. We are far from being perfect but this does not prevent us from communicating where we are going and what prevents us from getting there. We can do much better but I also know that it has to be done over time in order to create everlasting changes. Your customers understand and appreciate that sustainability is a journey
4. Bad investment
Trying to be perfect is a really bad investment. I love to see green startups popping up with high ambitions and ideals and at the same time I hate to see how they struggle earning money. Being a sustainable business means also being financially healthy. It makes no sense making a business with 100 percent organic made products, production and packaging if the costs are so high that nobody can afford to buy from you.
Setting the right pricing is extremely important and this is why you cannot just go from 1 to 100 without taking into consideration how the market will react. Most of us want eco-friendly products but only if we can buy them at affordable prices.