Green Economy, as defined by the UN Environment Programme, “is one that improves human well-being and builds social equity while reducing environmental risks and scarcities. An inclusive green economy is an alternative to today’s dominant economic model, which exacerbates inequalities, encourages waste, triggers resource scarcities, and generates widespread threats to the environment and human health.”
The transition to a Green Economy does not happen organically, or if it does, it might be too late. Accelerating this process is crucial to our environment, economies and societies survival. The UN initiative has strategic partnerships with government bodies and knowledge networks like the Green Growth Knowledge Platform, for instance. But smarter businesses are also needed and innovators are already breaking the glass ceiling and giving momentum to sustainability.
However, sustainability is a complex topic. Its many interconnections, be them indivisible, reinforcing as well as cancelling of each other, create challenges for a cohesive business model. Therefore, when developing new products it is important to follow a systematic approach, considering the full life-cycle of the product. At each stage of the product life, from raw material to post-use, innovators need to ask themselves questions like “does this contribute to physical degradation of nature?” or “does the product undermines people’s ability to fulfil their needs?” Tools such as The Natural Step’s Strategic Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA) can help organizations during this process.
This holistic analysis is essential to help entrepreneurs and innovators avoid unintended greenwashing, which would ultimately harm the reputation of the company. Another key factor to create a reputable brand, especially when it comes to sustainability, is transparency. 100% sustainability is unfeasible for many, so acknowledging this and showing the willingness to improve once a technology is available or legislations allows, shows the commitment the public and investors want to see. After all, sustainability is an ongoing effort, not a status or badge to display.
Talking about badges, applying for certifications like ISO 14000 and B Corp requires a lot of reflection on your business model and acquiring them shows you are on the right track. However, this is quite a lengthy process, demanding effort and many work hours, which can be very limited for a startup or a small team. Also, some certifications may charge fees, adding a burden to the strict budgets. Hence, perhaps a more efficient way of working would be self-assessing to identify successes, failures, leverage points and key areas for further improvement. Future Fit Benchmark is an example of a tool to aid the assessment of ‘what should the business be doing’ as well as ‘what else could it do to cause a positive impact on the planet’.
Besides system thinking, lifecycle analysis, branding and transparency, and self-assessment, another key factor for the success of any innovation is a network of support. Innovators need to also invest time connecting with potential investors, mentors, academia, and the public. To this end, The Courage has invited Andrea Licata to share his thoughts around this topic in a casual interview. Andrea currently works connecting startup founders and investors of the green economy and is the founder of Talenteco. Original from Turin, Italy and with a background in international relations, he collaborated with various universities, research centres and think tanks in Europe, focusing his research and work on human rights and international disarmament. In recent years, however, he has mainly been interested in innovative startup companies and in the green economy.
If you want to learn more about this sector, read on the interview and for further discussions, you may also contact Andrea.
The Courage: In a nutshell, tell us a bit about your job and Talenteco?
Andrea Licata: Talenteco, is pretty young (2017) but very active and promising because it intends to develop and become a point of reference for smart green innovation (energy, mobility, materials …) in Europe. Through our events and those of our partners, the network of startups and investors with whom we collaborate grows. This year we are planning an event named Smart & Green Europe that will take place in Berlin at the end of September: I expect tens of great startups, for example in the field of renewable energy.
We are also working on creating an Internet platform for small and medium-sized enterprises which in Europe alone are over 20 million: the platform will help these businesses become sustainable in the context of the climate crisis.
The Courage: When you think about cleantech and smart cities, what comes to your mind first?
AL: Thinking about cleantech and smart cities, I am reminded of the serious problems we are experiencing: pollution and climate change – two emergencies, or perhaps only one, as there are connections between the two.
The Courage: What are the biggest and most influential trends you see in this sector?
AL: Smart Green trends will happen because of the climate emergency. As a result, the economy will change. Radical change is in fact needed. The most important sectors are energy and mobility, but also materials, for example. And, we must not forget smart cities.
The Courage: What are investors looking for or more concerned about in this space?
I think the investor mentality is changing. Investments must respond to new parameters and be sustainable not only from an economic point of view. […] Sustainability is complex and requires change in several ways. We need to follow this debate and stay informed. As general advice to a founder or team, I would say “Start smart, start sustainable!”
The Courage: If you had 1 Million € to invest in our planet, what would you do?
AL: I would probably invest most of it in smart green startups, leaving a share for excellent organic food and natural wine. After all “we are what we eat”.
Share your tips for sustainable business in the comments below!