Startups

How budding entrepreneurs can learn to build sustainable start-ups

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Budding entrepreneurs need to learn about energy sciences, do social-impact assessments and understand industry best practices

While corporations, big and small, add value to people’s lives by providing livelihood options to employees and products/services to customers, they can also ensure the well-being of communities and the ecosystem by integrating social and environmental responsibility into their business models. Globally companies like Euro 24 billion Veolia earn revenues from water and waste management as well as energy services. Dutch State Mines (DSM) has moved out of the polluting business of coal mining and reinvented itself into a science-based company active in nutrition, health and sustainable living. Similarly, in India, Tata Power has pledged to transition from producing thermal power to entirely renewable sources of power by 2050.

The greatest challenge in building sustainable organisations is the knowledge gap. The formal education system, for the most part, does not offer a mandatory understanding of carbon footprint, waste, energy, hazardous and non-hazardous materials and ways to manage them, basic skills for greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting, environmental engineering, or scientific ways to conduct simple social impact assessments. Even in business schools, sustainability is at best an optional subject.

Options to note

The current generation of entrepreneurs have thus mostly missed the bus of learning about sustainability. Therefore, they have to self learn. Online courses offered by a handful of credible platforms are currently the most viable options, as they allow entrepreneurs to simultaneously study and work. The World Bank offers easy-to-follow online courses on topics such as climate finance, GHG accounting and protocols. The International Energy Agency in Paris offers online training in energy efficiency as well as on energy-efficiency indicators, apart from webinars and other virtual resources that lean towards statistics. Coursera has a few offerings on sustainable business as well while Terra.do offers courses with an emphasis on energy sciences.

On the other hand, courses such as those offered by the Amsterdam-based Global Reporting Initiative Academy provide entrepreneurs skills to scientifically assess the social and environmental impact caused by their business, and report it factually to stakeholders. Sinzer also has free tutorials to learn how to scientifically calculate social returns on investments and more.

A handful of incubators and accelerators also offer knowledge and support to entrepreneurs towards building sustainable companies. The Circular Awards help start-ups incorporate practices based on circular economy principles. The Anant Fellowship for Climate Action also provides knowledge via innovative hybrid online-offline formats and mentorship from industry stalwarts globally to a cohort of practitioners every year.

The Internet has brought content home. With plenty of guidance and some patience, it is also possible to sift out and curate educational material on how to build sustainable business models, learn about energy sciences, do social impact assessments, understand industry best practices and policies for corporate sustainability.

The writer is Founder and CEO of Sustain Labs.

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