Tech startup sustainability

Tech startup sustainability means to be purpose-driven and sustainable.

For the major tech giants Salesforce, Lenovo, and Microsoft, sustainability lies at the core of these organizations. With this in mind, it’s important tech startups globally follow suit, to establish proactive and forward-thinking businesses.

Many benefits come from running a sustainable company. Being more energy-efficient, reducing waste – through recycling, reuse, and reducing regimes -, and curbing scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from the daily commute, all help your company save money. But being an eco-friendly business will also improve your reputation, elevate your brand, attract customers, impress investors, improve your corporate culture and attract employees.

How do startups affect the environment?

To be sustainable, startups need to be aware of the environmental impact of their business’s operations. To help, we’ve identified and listed five top sustainability challenges tech startups face today:

  • Work and home offices that operate with unsustainable processes and designs,
  • Fossil-fuel-powered data centers with a high carbon footprint,
  • Products that waste scarce resources including rare minerals,
  • Supply chains that include vendors that are not eco-friendly,
  • Marketing that is misleading, i.e. greenwashing.

Below is your sustainability guide, for a quick overview of tech startup sustainability. This guide is a great primer for those just getting started with becoming more environmentally and socially responsible.

Tech startup sustainability: 6 top tips

Tech startup sustainability demands startup founders, owners, and operators to follow an effective sustainability program. Within this program, you need green initiatives to prioritize. The initiatives given in this article will give you the foundation to then build a comprehensive green strategy.

Tip #1: Make your headquarters and offices eco-friendly

The average gas end electricity consumed by a medium-sized office is 45,000 kWh and 30,000-50,000 kWh per year respectively. This equates to an electricity bill of £3300-5000 and a gas bill of £1,502 per year. Hence, there is both a financial and environmental incentive to make your office more eco-friendly. We’ve listed some low-effort initiatives to help reduce the energy consumption of your office below:

  1. Install efficient LED lighting.
  2. Switch to green energy, either by purchasing a green energy tariff, a Renewable Energy Certification or an Offsite Power Purchase Agreement, or installing renewable energy sources onsite to generate your own renewable energy.
  3. Install motion-detecting lights that turn off automatically when rooms aren’t in use.
  4. Use energy-efficient versions of devices when available to reduce energy consumption.
  5. Turn off devices when not in use to reduce electricity. Also unplug devices, as electricity is lost when devices are off but plugged in.

Yet the environmental impact of your office goes beyond energy-use. For instance, offices generate huge amounts of waste, with the average employee using two pounds worth of paper and cardboard products every day. With this in mind, below are some additional steps you can take to reduce the environmental footprint of your office building:

  1. Institute a company-wide recycling program and composting program in your cafeterias and break-rooms.
  2. Ask employees to bring reusable mugs and water bottles to reduce waste and be sure to have filtered water options available.
  3. Buy second-hand furniture and donate old furniture or appliances to reduce waste and and support a circular economy.

Plus, if you’re shopping for new office space, look for eco-friendly facilities. Ideally, you’d want your buildings to be LEED-certified, the highest certified standard for green buildings.

Tip #2: Work remotely to reduce commuting

One study found that the daily employee commute is responsible for 98% of an employee’s work-related carbon footprint. Commuting to work also puts wear and tear on your employees’ cars, plus wastes valuable time that could be used productively at work.

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have thrust us into a real-world experiment, one that has shown remote-work is more productive than previously thought, with dramatic environmental and social benefits.

In terms of the environment, research from the Center for Research into Energy Demand Solutions at the University of Sussex (UK) found that working from home can reduce an employee’s emissions by up to 80%. Although this figure depends on how much additional commuting takes place following a work-from-home structure.

On top of these potential environmental benefits, another study found that the ability to work from home increased employee happiness by as much as 20%. Once more, employee happiness was found to decrease as commute times increased. As such, it comes as no surprise to learn that 58% of job seekers want to work remotely full-time, while 39% want a hybrid working environment. Hence, a work-from-home structure helps you attract and retain top talent, will supporting the welfare of your employees.

As you migrate to a work-from-home or hybrid environment, be sure to provide employees with the software tools they need to collaborate remotely, e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet.

If your employees need to come into the office, encourage them to take public transport, walk, and bike, and, if possible, support the use of electric vehicles (by providing onsite charging points).

As your employees work from home, your business must take responsibility for the environmental footprint of their at-home office. For tips on how you can help your employees create an eco-friendly home office, read: Eco Friendly Office: Creating the Ideal Green Home Office Environment.

Tip #3: Minimize fossil fuel usage by data centers

Many data centers used by companies require a massive amount of power. And the majority of this power is generated by the burning of fossil fuels. Servers in data centers need a cool environment, which demands energy. As such, it’s estimated that data centers account for 3.2% of the world’s carbon emissions.

To reduce their impact, tech startups need to seek data centers that are powered by green energy. Check out Switch’s data center and communication services for a greener option.

You can also look for green web hosts, such as Green Geeks, A2 Hosting, and Host Papa.

The Information Technology (IT) organization at your company can also do their part. This Green Business Bureau Sustainability Guide for IT provides some great tips.

As well as switching to a green web host or data center, you can work to reduce your energy demand from these facilities. Putting computers in eco mode makes them operate in a way that wastes less energy while still meeting your performance needs. Also, although computers need a cool environment to run, make sure to not keep rooms too cold, which would waste unnecessary power. The rule of thumb is: Computer monitors operate best at 72°F/22°C.

If you power your own data centers, use renewable energy sources, and again, don’t keep these centers too cold to save energy. Your data centers will work optimally at room temperature – 18-27°C (64-80°F).

You can also look to offset your organization’s emissions to reduce the carbon footprint of running data centers (plus other operations). To get to net zero, many companies are purchasing carbon offsets. Carbon offsets can help you counteract your company’s carbon emissions in areas where these emissions cannot be further reduced (such as data centers). This is an effective way to help the world fight climate change. However, some carbon offsets do not help as much as they advertise so it’s important to search for certified and vetted offset providers.

Example: Web Hosting Canada

Web Hosting Canada, a Green Business Bureau member, is a company that offers 100% green-powered cloud infrastructure. 30,000 companies throughout Canada rely on Web Hosting Canada – which run their data centers exclusively with hydroelectric power.

In addition, Web Hosting Canada uses multiple techniques to reduce their overall power usage. For instance, they use solid-state drives that run on 15% less energy than old hard drives.

Tip #4: Avoid or reduce the use of rare minerals in hardware

Rare Earth minerals – such as neodymium, cerium, and europium – are in limited supply, meaning using these minerals in electronic hardware is inherently unsustainable. In addition, these minerals are often mined illegally, with no regard for the environment. Effects include erosion, sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, plus contamination of soil, groundwater, and service water. Also, mining is a significant air pollutant, releasing Ozone and ~4.5Gt of CO2e each year. Rare earth mining also produces toxic waste, which seeps into groundwater systems.

Most rare earth minerals are essential for electronic hardware. Yet, it is possible to reduce your demand for these raw minerals. A possible solution is to reclaim and reuse rare earth metals present in products that have reached the end of their useful life. With this in mind, the European Union is already making groundbreaking steps to recycle and reuse rare metals in electronics. The EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program has awarded ~$15.5 million to the industry-based consortium Sustainable Recovery, Reprocessing, and Reuse of Rare-Earth Magnets (SUSMAGPRO). Click here to get involved with SUSMAGPRO

Also, seek to work with suppliers that adopt relatively less environmentally damaging mining operations. For instance, they can use less harmful chemicals to separate the metals, or they can be working to reduce emissions. Take Anglo American for example. This company is responsible for the mining of precious materials in various locations around the world such as Copper and Nickel. The company is moving forward with a de-carbonization strategy,. implementing a hydrogen fueling station in Chile and using marine biofuel. The business reduced its GHG emissions by 34% in 2020. A lot more work needs to be done on the organization’s sustainability front, but this shows a step in the right direction, and that there are more sustainable mining suppliers out there to choose from.

It must be noted that the scarcity of these minerals and limited options for purchasing them makes sustainable rare mineral use difficult..

Tip #5: Source products and services from sustainable supply chain vendors

To develop your sustainability strategy further, change your supply chain and partners to sustainable alternatives.

Being a green company includes using and supporting other green companies. Your procurement department can put in green purchasing policies. Read this article by Green Business Bureau, What Is A Green Procurement Policy, for a guide to creating a sustainable supply chain.

Also, check to make sure your suppliers have a green certification – such as the Green Business Bureau -, or that you have the means of assessing their eco-friendliness.

Tip #6: Avoid corporate greenwash

Greenwash is the exaggeration of a company’s environmental efforts, either intentionally or unintentionally, such that stakeholders are deceived into thinking a business is more environmentally friendly than it is.

Promoting your company’s sustainability efforts is a good way to improve your reputation, and the public’s perception of your brand, but getting caught overstating green progress can be detrimental.

Consider having your green initiatives verified by a 3rd party like the Green Business Bureau to improve credibility. Our certification program is online and provides a clickable seal for your website once you’re certified.

All new tech startups should embrace sustainability

Tech startups are in a position to define a green culture and be socially responsible right from the start.

The tips given in this article provide some ideas and guides for creating a sustainable eco-friendly business.

Not only will these tips help you create an effective sustainability strategy, but they will also bolster your organization’s bottom line by:

  1. Reducing energy costs,
  2. Reducing waste to save money,
  3. Attract new customers by elevating your brand,
  4. Improve employee morale and happiness,
  5. Attract and retain top talent,

Bottom line, sustainability is good for the planet, good for people, and good for your business.

If you’re a software startup, check out this Sustainability Guide For Software Companies for more green ideas to supplement the initiatives given in this article.

John is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in information systems and business analytics with a minor in computer science at Indiana University in Bloomington. He enjoys learning about technology, business strategy, and sustainability, and then applying his knowledge in real-life situations. In his free time, he enjoys working out, hiking, and spending time with friends.

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