During a recent UN General Assembly meeting, speakers stressed that the window to prevent climate change from causing irreversible environmental damage will close by 2030. General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés called on the “last generation that can prevent irreparable damage” to make drastic changes to consumption patterns now, so that 2020 might be the last year human activity drives an increase in carbon emissions.
As we approach the start of a new year and a new decade – which may be the most crucial decade in human history – businesses and consumers must consider the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and make foundational changes to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Conceived as “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all,” the 17 SDGs are meant to solve interdependent social and environmental problems around the world.
These sustainability strategies are not only vital to protecting our environment; they’re also essential growth strategies for modern businesses. With the future of our planet at stake, sustainable businesses will be much more likely to attract funding from major organizations aimed at tackling social issues. They’ll also be much more likely to attract consumers. According to a recent international study, 81% of consumers prioritize brand ethics, encouraging more brands to champion important causes.
As a serial entrepreneur and a United Nations youth delegate responsible for climate action policy, I’m committed to sustainable business projects that invest in the future of our planet. I believe all companies, large and small, should share the same commitment, because if we have no planet, we have nothing. Heading into 2020, I’d like to offer several key principles any company can use to thrive alongside their consumers and the environment.
Beliefs can blind us to possibility. Many businesses, even those developing cutting-edge technologies, fail to reexamine old paradigms. For example, as the president of a sustainable honey company, I’ve entered a space where people have simply accepted the idea that honey harvesting can only hurt the environment.
According to last year’s data from Bee Informed Partnership, bee colonies experienced steep decline throughout the U.S., with some states showing up to a 65% loss. Traditional honey harvesting methods rob honey bees of the nourishment they store to survive winter. Because honey bees annually help pollinate $170 billion in crops worldwide, traditional honey harvesting could jeopardize the entire agricultural industry.
However, my company works with agricultural scientists to analyze bee populations and harvest only the surplus honey beyond what colonies need to survive, while artificially grafting queen bees to help save endangered populations. Sometimes, with a slightly more proactive approach, it’s not only possible to neutralize industries that have historically been harmful to human and environmental health; it’s also possible to transform a negative into a positive.
There are many people throughout the world with essential skills that are underutilized, simply because they lack resources. I’m working to create businesses that provide the necessary resources to skilled communities. By providing the tools to farm and a full buy-back guarantee, my honey company has created an ecosystem of 5,000 beekeeper clusters in India and Africa and we’re growing by 10 beekeepers every day.
Social and environmental problems are interdependent. So are their solutions. Companies working to improve the climate must also focus on funding education, boosting employment and bridging the gender inequality gap. All this takes is a willingness to understand and invest in individual communities. For instance, since many of a beekeeper’s tasks must be performed at night, and many African women cannot work outside after dark, my company’s packaging is 100% produced by women who need to work inside.
Create a movement.
It’s not enough to create a sustainable business or product if you don’t create a meaningful, measurable impact. Consumers who care about brand conscience aren’t looking to make one-time purchases. Even consumable purchases can translate to long-term investments. When a customer holds a product in their hands, they want to feel like they are a part of bringing positive change to the planet.
Marketing a sustainable business means creating a movement. If you’re not galvanizing people to be a part of a larger purpose, you’re going to fall flat. The rise of the buy-one-give-one business model shows us that consumers don’t simply want to buy shoes or eyewear; they want to support education, create jobs and feed the hungry. But businesses have the opportunity to embrace an even more benevolent business model.
My focus on marketing sustainable honey is to make sure my customers know that the product’s life cycle doesn’t end when they spread it on their toast. When they buy one product, they benefit an entire community. Our social investment in developing areas of the world is ongoing.
The clock is ticking faster than ever. As entrepreneurs, especially millennial entrepreneurs, we have the power to create change, but only if we really want to. I believe that those who say it’s too late to save the planet are either lying to themselves or not willing to explore new possibilities.
We cannot undo the mistakes of our forefathers, who were often unaware of the consequences of their actions. But we can learn from their mistakes and make sure we don’t repeat them. Just as you would make a U-turn if you realized you had been driving the wrong way on a road trip, entrepreneurs must be willing to turn around and even to start from square one when necessary.
Our past should not be our precedent. The next 10 years are our only shot at ensuring we’ll have another 1,000 or even another 100 years. If we don’t try, we will surely fail. But those who are true entrepreneurs will try. As Elbert Hubbard said, “The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.”
This content was originally published here.