Can Sustainable Businesses Also Be Profitable?

sustainable business profitability

More and more businesses are “going green.” But are sustainability practices actually sustainable for businesses?

For years, profit and social good were seen as conflicting ideals. Some companies were able to do both. But it seemed they were able to turn a profit despite their social efforts, and not because of them. After all, good intentions don’t lead to profits, do they?

Well, that attitude seems to be changing. From environmental concerns to other causes, plenty of businesses have found a way to partner profit with social good.

One such company is Green Floral Crafts (pictured above), a company that sources environmentally sustainable home decor. Owner Leia Tunnaye discussed with Forbes how focusing on social good can actually have a positive impact on profits:

“When we tell our customers we are a green business and our products are handcrafted by families in villages around the world, not only does it differentiate our products, but it makes our customers feel that they’ve made a good purchase both in terms of value, and contributing socially to others and the environment. Social consciousness is on the forefront of issues for today’s generation.”

Consumers today do seem to be more informed about their purchases. They know when they are supporting a business that supports a good cause. And often, they will even go out of their way to do so.

Small businesses like Green Floral Crafts are not the only ones showcasing the power that socially and environmentally conscious businesses can have. Larger companies like Toms Shoes and Seventh Generation have succeeded largely on a platform of social good. These success stories have even raised the bar for huge retailers like Walmart and Target, challenging them to put more emphasis on their corporate social responsibility programs.

However, there are companies that just stick a green label on their products or pledge a small amount of profits to a vague cause. So how do businesses honestly committed to environmental or social responsibility stand out from the rest? And how do cause-driven companies make sure their efforts are sustainable?

Having a clear mission is important, and can help to drive customers to a brand. But it’s difficult to do good without any money. So socially conscious businesses still need to focus on profits and make smart business decisions in order to be sustainable.


Fashion Startup Provides eCommerce Platform for Sustainable Designers

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Environmentally conscious consumers have plenty of options when it comes to things like food and household products. But what about clothing?

There are options out there for sustainable, well-made garments. But you can’t usually find them at the mall or major retail locations. So such brands haven’t always been easy for consumers to buy.

Enter Zady, a company that aims to connect consumers with sustainable, high quality fashion. Zady works with fashion and décor brands around the world to showcase products that are both ethically made and constructed with quality materials.

The company launched just over a year ago. Friends Maxine Bédat and Soraya Darabi started the platform as an alternative to today’s “fast fashion,” where consumers tend to buy a lot of cheap clothes instead of a few timeless pieces.

To accomplish its mission, the company vets designers to identify those who fit with the company’s environmental ideals. Zady currently has about 60 such designers on its site. On each product page, potential customers find details about where the product is made and what raw materials are used. There are even bios of the designers and profiles of the businesses that create each product.

In addition, Zady partners with nonprofit The Bootstrap Project to promote artisan entrepreneurs in the developing world. A portion of each purchase made on the platform goes to fund these micro-businesses.

But the next step for Zady is its own line. The company plans to start this holiday season and will be involved with every stage of the sourcing for its products. Since Zady cares so much about quality materials and construction, it makes sense that its team would want to be involved in the whole process. Bédat told CNN:

“The natural step is to get our hands dirty and figure out, ‘What does it mean to make the most sustainable brand?’”

The fashion industry today focuses so much on cheap, trendy items. Because of that, there are methods of garment making and construction that are being lost and forgotten.

Zady offers the opposite — a way to easily find the brands that use high quality materials, solid construction and sustainable methods. For consumers that care about those aspects of fashion, this platform could make shopping infinitely easier.


Fish Forever Encourages Sustainable Practices, Helps Local Fishers

fish forever

Large companies have started their own corporate sustainability programs. These might involve buying more sustainable materials, putting restrictions on building projects, or partnering with large organizations like the World Wildlife Fund. But not many of these programs really work at a grassroots level. That’s where Rarecomes in.

The conservation non-profit brings conservation efforts to the places untouched by these corporate supply chains. For example, the organization’s latest project is an initiative called Fish Forever.

Fish Forever aims to help small-scale fishing operations in five countries — Belize, Brazil, Indonesia, Mozambique and the Philippines. These fishing businesses often only have one or two boats or fish directly from the coast. So for a large corporate program to find and work with them would be a huge undertaking.

But supporting these fishing operations is extremely important to the people in those areas. The small-scale, near-shore fishing businesses in these countries account for about half of all fish caught. And most of their fish is consumed domestically. But the fisheries are often unmanaged, overexploited, or otherwise in need of some assistance. So both the fishing businesses and the people in their communities are in need of help to maintain them.

John Mimikakis, who oversees oceans programs at Environmental Defense told The Guardian:

“That’s an environmental crisis and a humanitarian one because so many people depend on these small-scale fisheries for their nutrition and their livelihood.”

Fish Forever works by designating community fishing areas along particular stretches of coast, where local fishing operations get exclusive fishing rights. There are also typically marine reserves nearby, so that others cannot disrupt the marine life, giving fish a chance to recover and regenerate themselves. This means more fish for the independent fishing businesses to catch and provide to their communities. It also encourages locals to adopt water conservation practices because they know they will reap the benefits of doing so. Mimikakis said:

“The goal is to come up with a system that aligns human needs with environmental needs. We’ve seen time and time again that when you get the incentives right – when fishermen actually believe they will be able to catch fish tomorrow – they really do become strong stewards of the resource.”

So while clearly not a large-scale operation, Fish Forever is just one example of a program that was built with a foundation of sustainable practices. Where corporate sustainability programs try to make an existing company more environmentally friendly, this type of initiative was formed with those ideals from the get-go. And they might be able to sustain themselves and the environment more effectively in the long run.