Welcome to a new edition of ECO-PRENEUR GUIDE where we give you green entrepreneurs, business intelligence and industry information from experienced insiders. From marketing tips to being digital savvy to even setting up the right green office, our Eco-preneur Guide is for budding social entrepreneurs starting eco initiatives. Over the course of covering many sustainable events and brands, featuring green product hunts etc Team UrbanMeisters has interacted and learned from green entrepreneurs across industries. We’ve kept a close watch on the green start-up scene and even given you London vs Paris sustainable start-up face offs featuring interesting eco-businesses from both cities across fashion, food, lifestyle etc. Thus we’ve built a strong sustainable business influencers network and in keeping with our aim of sharing green knowledge and experience, we’re tapping into this goldmine of expert knowledge to give you fellow greenies a chance to pick their brains!
Above: London vs Paris sustainable start-up face-off 1
Our first edition of the Eco-preneur Guide was media and IT expert Cate Palmer’s guide on how to market your green brand, product or service using digital tools.
Above: Eco-preneur Guide on how to market your sustainable start-up
Today we have Guest Writer and eco-preneur Simon who talks about how Corporate Social Responsibility can be key to growth for a sustainable or social start-up. When we hear CSR we set it aside as a marketing and PR gimmick or worse a smokescreen for worse activities. But Corporate Social Responsibility can be a crucial driver of growth and deliver actual benefits to your start-up and Simon shows us exactly how.
An industrial designer from London- though he loves to introduce himself as a bike mechanic(!!!) – Simon co-founded Honor Cycles, a mobile bike repair shop and social enterprise, trying to reverse the trend of underpaid and undervalued bike mechanics in London and beyond. ‘When I’m not fixing bikes, I’m probably on one’ pretty much sums his passion for his social enterprise. They’re involved with various local and international causes, and pledge 5% of their labor to help communities in need. So here’s presenting Simon’s master tips in his own words, on the importance of building a corporate social responsibility profile for your start-up.
Corporate Social Responsibility- is it for me?
Starting a business is daunting. Between assembling the right team, getting the word out, looking for funding and all the while trying to forget that over half of all startups fail, it can quickly become overwhelming. In that perpetual state of uncertainty and chaos, most founders struggle to find the time – or interest – to adopt sustainable, socially responsible business practices. After all, CSR is something companies do once they’re successful, not before – right? And while that may have been true 10 years ago, much has changed in the meantime. My watch plays music now. Hospitals are printing organs. Fast and Furious movies are long gone…well, no, actually, they’re still making those. But pretty much everything else has changed! And that includes attitudes towards corporate social responsibility. Because as well as helping others, integrating CSR has been consistently proven to help companies too – and in more ways than one.
So, how exactly can adopting corporate social responsibility from the get-go benefit your startup?
1. Corporate Social Responsibility profile can attract new customers
Cause-based spending is a real thing, and it could jumpstart your business. According to a 2015 study, when presented with two products of equal quality and price, 9/10 US shoppers would switch to one from a ‘cause-branded’ company. Similarly, more than half of global online consumers would be willing to pay a premium for products and services from a ‘sustainable’ brand.
The consumer landscape has changed dramatically over the past decade. All age groups, but especially millennials (those aged 18-35), are now more in tune with pressing social and environmental issues – both local and half the world away. Millennials are quickly forcing brands – big and small – to reinvent themselves, and find new ways to cater to their unique values and ideals. ‘Millennializing’ your brand can be easier said than done though, as even Pepsi recently found out.
At this point, social responsibility is no longer a suggestion – it’s a requirement. Consumers fully expect companies to actively and genuinely contribute to society and/or the environment. Those that do will be rewarded with a steady influx of loyal customers. Those that don’t will quickly find themselves obsolete. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just pick a cause at random, or support a ‘trendy issue’. Look around your community. Talk to your employees. Find the local ‘injustices’ you feel truly passionate about, and integrate them in your day-to-day business.
As a bike mechanic, I’ve seen how unsustainable most bike shops really are. Mechanics are grossly underpaid. Standard bike oils and degreasers are incredibly harmful to the environment. Most bike parts are sourced unethically, and in clear violation of the Human Rights Charter. So I co-founded Honor Cycles to demonstrate that a sustainable, profitable cycle shop model is more than possible. We pledge to pay our mechanics well above the living wage (and force them to take paid holidays), we use eco-friendly, biodegradable and non-petroleum oils, and we source our parts from Taiwan, a democracy which adheres to all Human Rights conventions. All of that came natural to us, because not only did we know the most prevalent problems in our industry – we lived them.
2. Corporate Social Responsibility profile can help retain employees
Almost half the British workforce (across all age groups) now want to work for a company or an organization that has a positive impact on the world. As you may know, weak teams are one of the most common causes of startup failure. People just…quit after a while, and go work somewhere else. There’s no job loyalty, and unlike the 50’s, most folks no longer spend their entire career in one company, waiting to retire.
Millennials will leave their job in a heartbeat if they don’t feel like their work matters. And in case you don’t believe me, here’s some more numbers: Almost two-thirds of British millennials want to work for a purpose-driven company. A third would prefer purposeful work to a high salary, and over half would work harder if they thought they were making a difference to other people. Overall, the message is clear: most of us care about more than just the bottom line. At the end of the day, we all want to feel like we’re doing something worthwhile with our time – and our lives.
That’s where CSR comes in – company-wide social initiatives can boost employee morale, build company pride, and create a sense of purpose in the workplace. Not only can they help retain current employees and promote job loyalty – they can also help attract fresh talent, looking to work for a company that cares. Salesforce, one of the biggest B2B startups in the world, pioneered the now-popular 1-1-1 business model, where companies pledge 1% of their time, 1% of their products and 1% of their equity to further local causes, and improve their employee’s neighborhoods.
At Honor Cycles, we donate 5% of our labor to helping out communities in need. We actively work with local councils and NGOs, and volunteer to recycle and repair bicycles to those who can’t afford it. It makes us feel great about what we do, and really helps put things in perspective. And we haven’t had anyone quit yet! 🙂
3. Corporate Social Responsibility profile can establish your brand
CSR is not, and should not be just a poorly-veiled marketing ploy.
That being said, it’s undeniable that most corporate sustainability efforts attract media attention. And if there’s one thing every startup hopelessly craves, it’s press. Data says that over 2/3 of businesses now engage in so-called ‘cause marketing’, which typically involves them partnering with a non-profit to serve their joint business, social and environmental goals. And if done right, they can even go viral.
One of my favourite cause marketing campaigns comes from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, an Austin, Texas distillery which makes gluten-free, corn-based Vodka. The company owner, Bert ‘Tito’ Butler had a loyal cofounder from the very start – his dog. Over time, Tito partnered with a canine NGO called Emancipet, and started ‘Vodka for Dog People’ – an online store that sells branded mech for dogs and owners alike. “The vision of our Vodka for Dog People program”, the website says, “is to unite with our friends, fans, and partners to better the lives of pets and their families far and wide.” Other than attracting new customers, Tito’s campaign also drew the attention of various marketing, animal and business blogs, building and distinguishing his brand all at once.
Also read: Green travel bags & accessories start-up founder Hamilton Perkins expert tips.
4. Corporate Social Responsibility profile can help you get funded
I’ll concede that this is probably the most counter-intuitive of my points. But hear me out. It is true that most VC’s and angel investors mainly look for two things: profit and exponential growth – not sustainability. And while your social mission will always matter less than financial projections when trying to raise money, it can still be relevant.
See, most successful VC’s will also tell you that they never invest only in the idea – rather, they invest in people, teams. That’s why they analyze team cohesion factors: how long the key startups members worked together, how much time they spent on their last projects, why they quit etc. They do this to determine the likelihood of the founding team – and so the entire company – falling apart after a while. As I mentioned before, purpose-driven employees tend to stay together longer, which is a clear positive signal for investors. But even more importantly, new evidence suggests that investments in purpose-driven startups outperformed the market by five times over the last decade. Now, that would definitely peak any experienced VC’s interest.
So there you have it. As founders and entrepreneurs, we’re forced to look at the ROI (return on investment) of every single business decision we make. Hopefully, you can now see why investing in CSR isn’t just an exercise in philanthropy, but can lead to very real, tangible benefits for your startup.
UrbanMeisters, this is definitely an informative eye opener on the role of corporate social responsibility to stay ahead of the game with your start-up. Follow Honor Cycles for more inspiration:
We’ll keep giving you more tips and advice on Eco-preneur Guide.