How startups can grow in an ethical, responsible and sustainable way

The climate crisis is a serious concern for most of us. According to the ONS (Office for National Statistics) three in four adults (74%) report feeling very or somewhat concerned about climate change.   

Earlier this year Pura Aventura commissioned a survey which found this concern was being translated into action with 55% of respondents (sample size 2,017) taking sustainable action in various areas of their life. 50% are reducing their plastic consumption. 44% are thinking about sustainability when it comes to food shopping. 42% are mindful of their use of gas and electricity. And 34% of people are buying sustainable clothes.   

With individual responsibility on the up, consumers are now relying on businesses to look internally at what they can do as corporations in the battle to reverse the climate crisis.  

In 2022, Deloitte found that 34% of people stopped purchasing from certain brands because they had ethical or sustainability related concerns about them. As consumers are increasingly becoming aware of the businesses they engage with, looking into what they’re doing to ensure sustainability, startups will be waving a red flag by avoiding these issues. So, how can startups ensure that they can grow successfully, sustainably - and with consumers on board? 

Act now  

The ambition amongst startups to reach net zero carbon emissions has grown from an emerging trend to a mainstream requirement. 

In 2019, the UK became the first major economy to pass legislation to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. To do so, companies of all sizes will require a major transformation in every aspect of their value chains, starting with their procurement and IT operations, covering their policies and ultimately redefining many of their business models.   

If the business world continues to put off working towards net zero, the harder it will be to meet the timeline. Emissions need to be halved by the end of this decade to achieve carbon balance by 2050.    

Do you believe that Net Zero 2050 is going to be an obligation? Do you think the political, cultural and regulatory environment will oblige your business to comply with net zero targets for 2050?   

Most people would say yes. If you are one of them then the next stage would be to imagine 2050 as a solid, high, intimidating sheer-sided wall. The challenge is getting over the wall.  

Starting to make necessary changes today means you’re allowing yourself a gradual incline which gets you over the line. It’s not without its challenges, but it’s achievable.

Wait a year and that incline gets steeper and therefore harder to walk. The incline will only get steeper and steeper the later you leave it. 

We can assume that the future business landscape will be littered with organisations which have failed to adapt fast enough and have ended up smacking into that wall - finding it impossible to walk the incline. This will let those down who are taking responsibility and allowing a gradual progression to Net Zero goals - it’s a collaborative responsibility after all. 

Implementing a plan for net zero can seem daunting, but business leaders have a responsibility to look ahead and read the horizon. I believe that those who do so will reap substantial long-term benefits.  

Build a resilient business  

Getting ahead of the 2050 deadline will help your businesses to build resilience. It is inevitable that the ‘polluter pays’ principle is applied across all verticals. On this basis, the cost of carbon will become an embedded cost of sale for us all. Carbon markets today are essentially ungoverned which allows aviation ‘offsets’ to trade at just over $2 per tonne. Where there is some semblance of market governance the price is very different – in the EU it is over $95 per tonne and rising. Direct Air Capture of carbon is currently somewhere over $300 per tonne.   

Where DAC costs will fall as technology scales, it’s likely that carbon will ultimately trade in the range of $150 per tonne. Your business should be preparing to build in this operating cost. 

At Pura Aventura, we have chosen to prepare for a world of carbon pricing by effectively creating our own tax. We choose to carbon balance all of the travel that our customers experience and then go beyond. For every kilometre travelled, we carbon balance by a mile. That’s an extra 60 percent.    

To give you an idea of the numbers involved, from July to December 2019, our customers and staff travelled 8,653,015km by road and air. This was independently audited to 1,334 tonnes of carbon dioxide generated. We mitigated 2,135 tonnes.   

When tougher legislation arrives, it’s my job to make sure we don’t have to adjust our step because we’ve futureproofed our operations. That’s good business.   

We choose to divert our ‘tax’ to a best-in-class carbon project because those are our values. That’s business as a force for good.    

Ensure you are accurately measuring carbon   

It’s important that businesses accurately measure their carbon impact. Scope three emissions need to be considered – encompassing emissions that are not produced by a company itself, and not the result of activities from assets owned or controlled by a company, but by those a company is indirectly responsible for, up and down its supply chain.   

The UK government has produced a guide to help businesses measure and report their environmental impacts. Once you are measuring, you know your impact. If you then apply the carbon tax model above, this creates an incentive to measure more accurately. Most importantly, it creates a direct financial incentive to decarbonise your operations. That’s where things start to shift towards real change.   

Look into renewable energy tariffs, buy computer hardware which is TCS, electrify your fleet or even switch company events to be vegetarian or vegan. Small or big, the decisions you make as a startup will set you off on the right foot. You’ll make a difference, and that is what’s important. 

Tell people what you’re doing, with humility   

Once startups are confident that they are taking the right steps to get ahead of net zero, there is no harm in shouting about those efforts. Inspiring other businesses to step up to the plate is part of making responsible changes.

Better still, showcasing meaningful green practices will also present businesses with commercial and reputational advantages. In fact, more than three-quarters of consumers believe it's important for a brand to highlight eco-practice data online, and if it's missing, a majority will look elsewhere to buy a product. Greenhushing is a big buzzword currently – but if startups are confident in what they are doing in the sustainability space, it is right to be proud and share the news.   

However, it is vital to acknowledge that we are working with imperfect science. Our knowledge, the tools available to us and the science are rapidly changing so we must run adaptable businesses and communicate not perfection but best endeavour, humility and continual learning.   

A collective effort with industry peers 

There are huge benefits to be delivered for the environmental cause when companies, even direct competitors, come together to collaborate and share best practice. No one business is likely to have either the answers or the resources to fix the climate crisis nor to generate impetus for material change, but collectively we just might.  

In 2021 Pura Aventura co-founded a collective within the travel and tourism space of the UK’s rapidly growing B Corp community: Travel by B Corp. This group of certified B Corps works together to promote B Corp as a trust mark in travel, to present a collective voice for sustainable travel and to share best practice with industry peers. We estimate that our combined revenues surpass £250 million per annum. That’s a voice with some force.  

A final word

If startups build resilience, get real with measuring their emissions and join forces with industry peers to better the chances of delivering solutions to achieve net zero, then the business world can lead the way in the journey to net zero.  This is the chance to take responsibility. Remember the incline - it’ll only get steeper if you don’t start now.