I was recently reading about how to inspire people to recognize and take action on climate change. One article raised some excellent points about human nature, and why we respond to certain prompts and not to others. This inspired me to consider the take-aways for businesses when it comes to working with human nature. Here are five strategies to help you meet the challenges of starting and running a successful business that is ecologically responsible.
Get past denial. Few newlyweds think they have a 50% chance of divorcing, but those are the odds for marriage. Whether it is the odds of divorce, the risk of lung cancer from smoking, or the chances of severe consequences for climate change, we tend to assume that the odds don’t apply to us. Similarly, 50% of startups fail within the first five years, yet according to statistics 100 million businesses still start up every year. People start businesses because they believe they have a great idea and that they will succeed. Whatever your initiative, I recommend you go in with maximum clarity, including an understanding of as many variables as possible. Study the competitive landscape, know your customers and build a step by step action plan within your business with milestones and accountability measures.
Broaden your vision. It takes about five years to understand how your business really works. In many cases, startups will burn through resources very quickly without really knowing how or why. They will take natural resources and energy for granted, assuming they will always be available and affordable, and likely don’t factor them into their cost equation.
Think about how many office buildings leave their lights on at night, consuming energy and killing birds. Few seem concerned about the cost and impact of this practice. In this way, many businesses are selective in how they track their work.
So the take-away here is to put in stringent cost accounting practices that take into account all aspects of the work, including environmental impact.
Convince your audience. Sometimes the big picture is just too big for people to grasp. We respond to the image of a single polar bear on an ice floe far more than we respond to a broader discussion about the plight of all polar bears in the Arctic. People who may not feel prepared to boycott an oil company or stop driving a gasoline-fueled car were ready to hold Lego’s feet to the fire for their deal with Shell. Compelling stories that touch close to home are what makes the difference. When you study successful brands like Apple or Nike, you will see what works and what doesn’t work. Study how these successful brands bring people completely into the brand. People purchase because they are believers and they relate to being associated with that brand. That’s why people tend to be opinionated loyalists to one of Apple or Samsung, rarely both. Apply that same marketing communication to green businesses, and with the correct messaging and branding you will build an already believing audience and convert a whole bunch of new ones in the process.
Set a positive example. War statement campaigns do not work. Look at the war on drugs, for example: it didn’t work. War on climate change doesn’t work either. Instead of seeing a negative that must be fixed, focus on seeing the positive actions we can take and hire people who share the positive active outlook. An empowered leader like Al Gore who leads by positive example and sits on the board of many companies is a perfect role model to help catalyze change. Similarly, early adopters and trendsetters lead the way for your product to reach a bigger audience. A few years ago, when I started to receive weekly delivery of organic produce boxes from a great Toronto company called Mama Earth Organics, I noticed that my neighbors soon followed suit and started getting organic produce delivery too. Just look at Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point to see how this works and apply it to your eco-supported decisions. Also read Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing The Chasm to see how to take a new approach that you believe in as a core value and to build that all your customers and many new ones want to follow suit. Leaders and innovators who make radical leaps help to create a new norm. For example, Elon Musk released the patents for his Tesla electric cars to help anyone who wants to develop an electric vehicle.
Emphasize hope, not fear or negativity. People can get overwhelmed when they hear about how serious the climate crisis is, and tune out because they feel unable to make a difference. But the truth is that we can each make a difference, however small it may seem. Celebrate each step of the journey. Even if it seems you aren’t making the progress you wanted to make, remember that you don’t know everything. Look again for the accomplishments you and your team have had. Business leaders can lead by inspiration. Take actions that make you feel good about yourself as a global citizen and a professional. Managers, think about your position within the company and how you can support a healthy, happy work environment as well as a healthy, happy planetary environment.
I invite you to consider these tactics and bring your A game to work that will make a difference for people and the planet. I wish you every success in this.
Since 1994, Rishi Deva, founder and CEO of RishiVision and entrepreneurial coach, has empowered thousands of businesses. Rishi has an MBA in marketing and entrepreneurial studies and a BBA in accounting. He has spent two decades coaching, consulting, managing and supporting thousands of businesses from new startups to active global leaders.