Conscious Companies: The startups doing well by doing good.

Something rather heartening is emerging in the world of entrepreneurship and startups.

Now more than ever, growing numbers of new businesses are launching with purposeful missions at their core. It seems that we have a new generation of business owners that are keen to bring about positive social and environmental change - to give back and to do something good.

Unlike their predecessors who may have started new ventures for the conventional reasons of power and money, modern day startups, increasingly, are embracing conscious capitalism and integrating socially responsible values and practices into their business models.

Making money is not the sole incentive for these socially conscious enterprises. Turnover and profit aside, their intentions more meaningfully are driven by a desire to introduce unique, powerful ideas which positively impact society and enrich people’s lives.

By definition, the fact that aspiring entrepreneurs, both young and old, are waking up each day and trying to make the world a better place through their innovative products, services and solutions can only be described as a good thing.

"What is evident is that today’s innovators are more mindful of their actions which is prompting a new social equilibrium to emerge."

It is commendable that more startups are genuinely thinking through social impact and their entire footprint. Not only that, but many mission-driven business founders are weaving social responsibility into the fabric of their companies right from the outset, with women often leading the way.

As would transpire, it is an assertion that became apparent while my co-author Bianca Zee-Geissler and I were interviewing female business owners for a new, entrepreneurial book entitled, Born to be the Boss.

The book itself was written with a social purpose in mind. Namely, to share knowledge to help people start their own businesses, while also raising funds so aspiring business owners on the crowd-funding platform Kiva are given an opportunity to launch and grow their own startups.

What is evident is that today’s innovators are more mindful of their actions which is prompting a new social equilibrium to emerge. Think of it this way - at one time, there used to be two very separate paths: you could either set up your own business or work for a charity.

However, the world is a completely different place now and efforts to “do well” and “do good” can co-exist. It is also often women who are serving as the pioneers of this movement and at the forefront of this social change.

A case in point is Nicole Wakley, founder of the eco-furniture business TREE. As a person who cares about the environment, Nicole started her business in 2005 to express her passion for sustainable living.

"83 percent of those surveyed are more willing to purchase a product with a positive social or environmental impact."

To this end, TREE only uses responsibly sourced materials, primarily opting for reclaimed wood that under normal circumstances would ordinarily go to waste. The company therefore refrains from using timber that contributes to deforestation and has gone so far to even plant 20,000 trees in efforts to preserve the environment.

Should a business be able to demonstrate that it cares about the bigger picture, this may in consequence help it build an affinity with customers who share the same concerns. Besides, we already know that consumers are caring more about the ramifications of their purchases.

For instance, a report by Cone Communications revealed that 83 percent of those surveyed are more willing to purchase a product with a positive social or environmental impact. Correspondingly, 72 percent expressed a likelihood to spread the word about the company’s efforts.

Against this backdrop, more startups are building social impact into their business models whether it be through waste reduction, responsible employment practices, volunteering, donations, involvement with charity or investing in projects and programmes that help to solve a societal problem.

Indeed, we would come across further examples during the research for Born to be the Boss. Take for example, fashion designer Johanna Ho whose label is a practitioner of zero-waste manufacturing that eliminates waste by reusing cut-offs.

Incidentally, Johanna’s ethical-minded fashion house also at one time made it a point to employ local seamstresses who had lost their jobs when the factories that they worked for relocated from Hong Kong to China.

Another socially conscious entrepreneur is Mei Ling Ng Liu of Hong Kong Matchmakers whose agency donates services free of charge to marginalised people in need.

"The world’s youngest consumer market – millennials - are increasingly favouring brands associated with a good cause."

It’s been heart-warming to learn how Hong Kong Matchmakers has not only helped connect blind individuals with opportunities to socialise with other people, but has successfully introduced disabled people in wheelchairs that would otherwise have had limited opportunities to meet a life partner.

Jennifer Liu of the hospitality group Sir Hudson International is another shining example. The group’s community support ranges from providing employment opportunities for the mentally-handicapped to participating in charitable projects from Lights Out Hong Kong to Table for Two and Green Mondays.

Given trends towards ethical consumption, it is therefore no surprise that businesses are having to transform to stay relevant to conscious consumers. This is not forgetting that the world’s youngest consumer market – millennials - are increasingly favouring brands associated with a good cause.

For those wishing to integrate social responsibility, ways to start include creating more meaningful missions, establishing attainable goals, collaborating with likeminded organisations, plus simply making giving a part of how you do business every day.

Another consideration is also not to overthink it, but to start small. For a business to be successful in this area takes more than just talking about it. It requires action. This entails setting milestones, making a plan, outlining resources and measuring results.

Needless to say, times are changing and we are heading into a new era when customers and employees want to know that the businesses that they support are, by and large, attempting to do the right thing,

Moreover, there is evidence to show that running a socially conscious enterprise can also positively impact our health and well-being. That is to say, giving back can make us feel happy which, in itself, is a good enough reason to give it a go.

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By Janet E. Middlemiss, JEM Group
© JEM Group Limited. First published in Moxie Future.
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