A sustainable or ‘green’ business is one with sustainability baked into every aspect of it.
Green entrepreneurs are dedicated to creating positive impact through their business ideas, offering customers a great product while solving environmental issues.
More and more consumers are keen to shop sustainably. The UK’s green economy is now worth more than £200bn, almost four times the size of the manufacturing sector.
One way of making the most of this opportunity as an entrepreneur, is to explore reverse commerce or re-commerce, the selling of previously owned, new, or lightly used products—a form of ethical consumerism.
Green business ideas for 2021
From the suppliers and software you choose, to your materials, shipping methods, packaging, operations and the paper you put in your printer, it’s all about reducing your carbon footprint and helping your customers do the same.
To start a sustainable business, the first thing you need to do is settle on an eco-friendly product or service that nobody in your market can deliver quite like you can.
Once you’ve nailed that down, it’s time to think about how you can build processes around that product that reflect your green goals.
But that’s easier said than done, so we’ve put together a list of 10 sustainable business ideas to help you get started.
Here’s what we cover:
Upcycling is the process of transforming unwanted products and giving them a second life.
From fashion to furniture and everything in between, this is a great way to offer your customers something unique with the added feel-good factor of cutting down on post-consumer waste.
The change could be as small as painting an old chest of drawers and swapping out the handles on it or as major as turning old newspapers into balls of wool.
It’s entirely up to you, your imagination, and your skills.
The Upcycle Company, for example, sells upcycled furniture, offering customers a cost-effective way to add unique pieces to their homes.
On top of that, the UK-based business also works with customers to expertly upcycle their own furniture for a fee.
Sustainability? Double check.
2. Refurbishing or recycling tech
Are you a bit of a tech whizz?
Refurbished tech can be anything from a quick clean-up to a full-on repair before reselling a device. This is essentially second-hand tech, which gives buyers the option of spending less while helping to reduce the amount of tech waste going out into the environment.
If that’s not quite your calling, you might consider recycling parts from different objects into an entirely new product.
Jewellery, journals, bookmarks, sculptures. Your list of options is only as long as your imagination.
It we’re talking creativity, just take a look at Electrickery – Recycled Computer Art by David Wright. David recycled his first circuit board in 1999, when he saw potential in a broken desktop calculator.
Fast forward to today and he’s saving electronic parts from the scrap heap and transforming them into unique products.
You can find sculptures, lamps, jewellery, and even keychains available for purchase on his website and Etsy shop.
3. Green cleaning
It’s no secret today that most of the cleaning products we use are made using chemicals that are harmful to the environment and contribute to pollution once it’s washed down the drain.
Washing up liquid, surface cleaners, bleach— most of these products come packaged in single-use plastic containers, which are thrown out as soon as they run out.
Start your own cleaning business exclusively using brands that minimise or eliminate use of single-use plastics, and make sure you use your commitment to green cleaning as a key selling point in all your marketing efforts.
Go Green Cleaning, for example, promises affordable services using only eco-friendly products for households as well as commercial properties.
Focus on finding ways to minimise waste and cut your water usage when you work and look into ways to showcase the benefits of your green approach to potential customers.
You might, for example, consider reusing grey water, the relatively clean wastewater from washing machines and other household appliances.
Creating an app is a fantastic way to help create a greener future with minimal impact on the environment.
Think about it. You need minimal materials to get up and running, so that’s putting less waste out into the world, and the amount of water and electricity required to run your business are negligible.
The possibilities are endless here.
You could create an app to help people find the nearest recycling centres, or perhaps offer a catalogue of the environmental practices and carbon footprint of different brands so people can make more informed purchasing decisions.
You might consider teaming up with local sustainable businesses to create a rewards programme for sustainable shopping.
Think of it as a virtual loyalty card for making greener choices as a consumer.
Too Good To Go is one app fighting food waste across the UK. By teaming up with shops and restaurants, the app makes it possible for users to buy and collect cut-price food that’s still fresh and tasty, but just hasn’t sold in time.
There’s an element of surprise here too, as you won’t know exactly what you’ve got until you pick up your order.
5. Reusable food and drink storage and cutlery
In 2018 alone, an estimated 42 billion plastic straws were used in the UK.
A single plastic straw can take up to 200 years to decompose. And that’s a lot of time for them to wreak havoc on the environment.
From stainless steel straws to travel cups, reusable cutlery, and bamboo containers, there are a bunch of different ways you can help cut down on waste here.
Offer your customers a fun, stylish was to minimise their impact on the environment with functional products that make their day-to-day life easier.
Need a little inspiration?
UK-based brand Sasstainable offers its customers a range of bamboo and biodegradable products, from cutlery and reusable food pouches to toothbrushes and everything in-between. Sasstainable’s reusable products don’t just save the environment, they save their customers money too.
6. Zero-waste grocery delivery
More consumers than ever are looking to cut down on the amount of packaging in their weekly shop. Why not buy or produce organic groceries in bulk, and package them in reusable or recyclable containers?
Initially, you’ll probably want to limit your services to your local community to guarantee availability and freshness of your produce. You might even choose to work with local farmers to get their products out to the local community while cutting down on single-use plastics. It’s a win-win situation.
The Zero Waste Delivery Company does a great job of ditching the single-use plastic and delivering refills to homes all over the UK.
Whether you need to fill your pantry or restock the cleaning cupboard, it’s got you covered with a high-quality, eco-conscious option.
7. Ink cartridge refill business
Try as we might, sometimes printing on paper is unavoidable. But you can help people make their printing needs greener by offering an ink-refill service.
Reusing old ink cartridges saves tonnes of non-biodegradable materials from piling up in landfills, and it’s profitable business when done right.
Start off by looking at the competition in your area, and offer a winning combination of competitive pricing and stellar customer service to win your share of the market.
West Sussex-based Zero Waste Recycling is a great example of this kind of concept.
The company is committed to responsible cartridge recycling, and any materials that can’t be reused or recycled are safely broken down into different parts that can be used to create entirely different products, from car parts to road surfacing materials.
8. Sustainable construction
You could be the construction company with a difference.
Use recyclable and renewable materials for your construction projects, and make minimising waste a priority.
Showcase how you’re efficient with energy consumption on site and safeguard the natural environment around the site. Your aim here is to have an eco-friendly structure built in the most environmentally conscious way.
Property and investment group Lendlease, for example, is doing its bit by using eco-friendly materials to build sustainable communities. Its commitment to minimising its impact on the environment runs through every part of the business, from the energy used through to the partners it works with.
9. Reusable shopping bags
Responsibly sourced canvas tote bags and net grocery bags give shoppers a stylish but practical alternative to plastic bags and often-unreliable paper bags.
You could even take things a step further and create custom, sustainably sourced tote bags with your customers’ names on them.
Or let your creativity run free and release a line of bags featuring your own print designs.
Check out Tom’s Tote Bags to see this concept in action. These totes are made of recycled materials, and use only organic, biodegradable cotton.
But what makes the brand special is that it works with young artists to print illustrations on the bags, for which they’re paid commission.
10. Sustainable event planning
Straws, paper plates, balloons, tents, beer cans. No matter how big or small a gathering may be, the amount of waste generated per person is monumental.
A report based on 279 UK summer festivals—that’s an estimated 3.17 million music lovers—found that these events alone generate a whopping 23,500 tonnes of waste.
There’s a financial cost attached to that waste too, with clean-up costs that could hit the hundreds of thousands. From birthday parties to weddings, fairs, and festivals, you could offer your customers less waste and a smaller carbon footprint for their events.
Pair that with fantastic customer service, and you’ve got a winning combination.
Get started by researching eco-friendly suppliers for all the usual things people need to be the best host and look into venues and accommodation options that are eco-conscious too.
Legacy is one UK company helping make events greener, planning and running events of any size. It sources suppliers and venues that share its clients’ commitment to sustainability, and encourage everyone it works with to minimise waste, whether that’s through water conservation or providing food and drink options with 100% traceability.
What’s next for green entrepreneurs?
Now you’ve had a healthy dose of inspiration, it’s time to get your ideas on paper and turn your sustainable business idea into reality.
Start writing your business plan, and don’t forget to look into the specific grants and loans available for green businesses such as yours.
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