Sustainability for business start-ups – 8 business ideas to launch

Starting a company may help shape your future, but launching a sustainable business has the potential to help shape the entire planet.

With the UK government setting a national goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050, there's an urgency for businesses to embrace greener working practices and technologies.

From becoming a B Corp to switching to renewable energy sources, companies across the UK are increasingly investing in sustainability.

And there's never been a better time to consider launching a sustainable business.

Start-ups can embrace the green economy in a more agile way than established corporations.

Entrepreneurs can explore new opportunities and business models that tackle head-on environmental challenges such as climate change and plastic use.

Investors are looking to capitalise on eco-innovation, too, with grants, awards and loans tailored to green business increasingly available.

Alongside safeguarding the planet for future generations, launching a green business can help you turn over a healthy profit.

A recent study by Deloitte found that sustainability was a key consideration for consumers in 2021, with 32% of consumers interested in adopting a more sustainable lifestyle and 28% of consumers refusing to buy certain products due to ethical or environmental concerns.

Start-ups with a specific environmental focus, such as upcycling or zero-waste stores, can support the development of a green economy and help promote sustainable living across the nation.

What is a sustainable business?

Any organisation whose products, manufacturing, and business activities address environmental concerns while maintaining a profit is classed as sustainable.

The range of businesses is extensive - from biofuel corporations and electric car manufacturers to zero-waste cafes or thrift shops.

Together, these green-focused firms make up the low carbon and environmental goods services (LCEGS) sector.

Sometimes called the green economy, it's estimated that the UK's LCEGS sector is worth over £200bn.

How do I launch a sustainable business?

As with any venture, you will need to start with a clear business model to identify your organisation's purpose, target audience and business model.

The sustainable bit is at the heart of your business - essentially the product or service you're offering and your business processes, such as recycling policies and energy sources.

You may need to secure funding.

Several green funding opportunities from bodies such as the Carbon Trust or a Start Up Loan could best suit your needs - although securing finance is not guaranteed and it is important that independent advice is sought if you are considering securing funding.

Eight sustainable business ideas

If you want to be your own boss while positively impacting the environment, here are eight sustainable business ideas green entrepreneurs can explore.

Please note that the below are examples only and if you are considering starting a sustainable business, you may wish to seek independent advice.

1. Zero-waste grocery delivery service

Food miles are a major contributor to carbon emissions.

Shoppers looking to reduce their carbon footprint may be willing to pay more for locally sourced food.

Starting a food service specialising in local and seasonal produce wrapped in sustainable packaging could tap into growing demand.

Food packaging, especially from bottles, is a major cause of plastic pollution, so opt for biodegradable or reusable containers for your customers to return to boost your sustainability score.

Using green transport such as a bike or electric vehicle to deliver the orders would ensure your food miles are carbon-neutral.

2. Gardening/landscaping business

Working with the earth is a direct way of bettering the planet, even if the earth in question is a few metres of grass in a customer's back garden.

As a predominantly manual profession, energy consumption is minimal, and most power tools are electric.

Increasing the number of C02 absorbing plants in the world helps combat greenhouse gases, and, as most gardening businesses operate locally, your carbon footprint should be minimal.

3. Electric bike and scooter hire

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for the popularity of electric vehicles such as e-bikes and e-scooters. High street retailer Halfords reported a 184% increase in e-mobility sales during 2020 as people sought alternatives to public transport.

The realisation that e-mobility devices are fuel-free, low-maintenance and efficient has seen demand rise rapidly, delivering an alternative to traditional transportation, which produced 122 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019.

As e-mobility vehicles such as e-bikes can be expensive, renting to customers may be a better option and could be an attractive business idea.

4. Environmental consultancy

If you have specialist knowledge of improving sustainability across a range of areas, starting a green consultancy could be your calling.

Environmental consultancy comes in many forms, from giving individuals advice on the best way to insulate their homes to developing a renewable energy strategy for a large company's multiple properties.

Consultancy is a long-term career prospect, so it could be worth investing in a related qualification such as an environmental science degree.

5. Green beauty line

From charcoal eyeliner to ground oat facial scrub, the natural and organic cosmetics industry is big business - the sector grew 23% in 2019 (.pdf), according to a report by the Soil Association.

Mass-produced cosmetics often contain polluting components such as microbeads and glitter, and many scented products also emit volatile organic compounds.

Cooking up your own cruelty-free products from natural ingredients such as oils, plants and grains is a great way to reduce the toxic impact of beauty products.

Be sure to use glass or bamboo containers to avoid plastic waste.

6. Upcycling services

Sometimes called reverse-commerce, upcycling gives used items a second life, reducing landfill and saving resources and materials.

From customising old clothes for resale to creating wall art from broken keyboards, upcycling allows you to offer customers something truly unique.

Upcycling housewares is an especially green initiative as the average piece of furniture generates approximately 47 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide equivalents from processes ranging from textile production to wood and timber sourcing.

7. Green app

A business venture for the digitally minded, consider creating a waste or energy reduction app that appeals to eco-conscious mobile users.

Apps for food sharing and swapping used clothes have proved extremely popular, with most of their revenue coming from affiliate advertisements.

Developing an app to help people adopt less wasteful habits or shop more greenly could promote sustainability at a grassroots level.

8. Sustainable cafe

Each year in UK, we use around 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups with only one in 400 recycled.

As people still need their caffeine fix and healthy doses of cake and sandwiches, setting up a sustainable cafe could meet this need while reducing the negative environmental impact.

Steps such as serving local or sustainably sourced produce, composting food waste and using upcycled furniture will increase an eatery's sustainability.

You can significantly reduce cup-waste by using crockery for eat-in customers while encouraging takeaway customers to bring reusable cups with a point collection scheme.

Learn with Start Up Loans and help make your business born sustainable.

Thinking of starting a sustainable business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with The Open University on environmental decision-making and how organisations impact the environment.

Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses include:

Plus free courses on climate and sustainability, teamwork, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellbeing.

This article and the content provided therein is exclusively for informative purposes. Nothing in this article or in its contents is intended to provide advice of any kind (including legal, financial, tax or other professional advice) and should not be relied on as such. You should get professional or specialist advice before doing anything on the basis of the content contained in this article.

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