The nature of the product or service that ecopreneurs are producing and selling has a large impact on their ecologic sustainability. It is not surprising that ecopreneurs are very active in creating and promoting sustainable products. Additionally, ecopreneurs are also found to develop innovative approaches to waste and to more broadly foster ecologically motivated change. These practices are outlined below.
Creation and promotion of sustainable products
The most obvious influence on a venture’s ecologic sustainability comes from the products they produce and/or choose to sell. Which specific features make the product sustainable varies greatly with industry and the type of product that produced. Overarching however could be creating production systems where different products are produced symbiotically.
One example of this is sustainable food production which commonly entails organic production and application biodiversity frameworks. Ecopreneurs in the research reported great benefits from applying holistic approaches such as growing livestock and produce where part of the produce can feed the livestock and the waste of the livestock can be used as fertiliser.
Finding these symbioses greatly improves resource efficiency and broadens the product offering, which improves ecologic but also economic sustainability.
For promoting sustainable products ventures can engage in wholesaling and retailing products with lower environmental impact or that mitigate environmentally damaging conditions. Here the ecopreneur needs to do some research into the credentials of the products they sell. This often involves direct conversations with the producers and site-visits, because many small sustainability minded organisations lack the resources to acquire certifications such a soil association label.
Innovative approaches to waste
A first step towards improving ecologic sustainability with regards to waste is to reduce it. Any form of waste means unnecessary resources and energy have been used which lead to avoidable carbon emissions in production and disposal of the waste. One of the main sources of waste is found in packaging. This can be reduced in the following ways:
- Use recycled and recyclable material for packaging
- Store products in bulk and enable customers to bring own containers to fill products in
- Use reusable packaging, e.g. through a deposit scheme:
- Collect a deposit for the packaging upon first delivery
- Swap full packages for empty packages on next delivery
- Return deposit for empty packaging on last delivery
In cases where waste cannot be avoided ecopreneurs are found to turn it into value. This is beneficial to the venture’s ecologic sustainability, but also strengthens the economic sustainability by opening new revenue streams.
In the research these insights are taken from several approaches to turning waste into value were found:
Creating new raw materials
- Packaging from incoming goods – e.g. pelletising plastic wrapping
- Returned packaging from customers – e.g. recycling cardboard
- Collected residue from consumption – e.g. processing used vegetable oil into bio fuel
Finding use for by-products
- During production and processing of products there are often by-products such as off-cuts, residues, etc. that can be used a input for new products.
- E.g. historically bones were considered a waste from meat production. Using them to make broth removes the cost of disposal and creates a new product.
- Unsold products from one operation can be used as inputs for another operation.
- E.g. food retailers can reduce their food waste by running cafés in their stores, where unsold food can be cooked and sold before it perishes.
These methods are beneficial to ecopreneurs, because they not only reduce waste and improve ecologic sustainability, but also open up new revenue streams, which improves economic sustainability.
Fostering ecologically motivated change
In addition to increasing sustainability of products and process ecopreneurs work towards fostering ecologically motivated change on a larger scale. This can be categorised into two areas: pioneering new methods and shaping the ecologic-human relationship.
Pioneering new methods
To ensure the ecologic sustainability of a venture it’s important to have not only sustainable production methods, but also consider the sustainability of the distribution. Research has shown ecopreneurs possess great willingness to try out new more sustainable production and delivery methods. Unfortunately, many ecopreneurial ventures are small businesses and lack the resources to develop new technologies in these areas. Partnerships and collaboration are a good method to overcome this.
- Pioneering new production methods involves developing and trailing new production methods.
- This can be achieved through developing new technology.
- Or rediscovering old methods and supporting them with currently available technology.
- Professional associations and networks facilitate collaboration, which reduces development cost and helps spreading knowledge.
- Sustainability in distribution is mostly achieved through low-carbon transportation – e.g. inner city deliveries made by e-bike.
- Developing these often lies outside the capabilities of the ecopreneurial venture.
- Collaborating with other organisations (e.g. engineering firms) can circumvent this and opens new markets for both partners.
While the ecopreneur does not have to be the inventor of the new methods, using and commercialising them makes the ecopreneur an innovator. Trailing new technology and sharing knowledge about the methods can produce valuable insights to the developers and also lead to faster dissemination of sustainable practices.
Shaping the human-ecologic relationship
The second approach to fostering change is found in actively working to change the perception and attitudes towards the environment. The ecopreneurs want consumers to understand the effort and resources that go into production and thus create respect for the product and nature. This is put into practice through community engagement with actions such as:
Especially when the ecopreneurial venture involves creating new methods, teaching courses can greatly increase the reach of the mission. It also allows consumers to understand more about their consumption choices. Further, courses can work as a further source of revenue.
Engaging directly with the customer, including them in the decision making and building a community around the product, can greatly increase consumers awareness for sustainability issues. This can be done via social media or directly on the company premises.
Establishing a dialogue with customers
Co-production with consumers
Co-producing with consumers through opening methods like open days on a farm creates awareness for how products are produced and makes consumers appreciate the effort and resources going into their consumption. Further it helps tackling a number of social issues.