10 sustainable startup ideas

Climate change isn’t going away, and we are all becoming far more aware of how our lifestyles impact the planet. Environmental experts tend to agree that businesses produce the lion’s share of waste and emissions – anywhere from 60% to 97%, depending upon the study. But what if we shaped our startups around environmental needs?

Here are outlines for ten creative green business ideas.

Energy auditing and consultancy

You will likely have seen energy ratings for rental homes or commercial properties – they take into account factors such as insulation and window glazing to grade efficiency and suggest improvements. Energy Performance Certificates are legally required for most buildings in the UK, so accredited assessors are in demand.

Why not build on that idea and offer smart home solutions? You could incorporate the Internet of Things by installing automated and app-controlled heating and lighting, along with tracking which devices are using most energy in real time.

Did you know that 7% of a fridge’s energy usage is from holding the door open while you decide what to eat? Startups like Smarter have developed fridgecams that track what’s inside, saving on energy and food waste.

Peer-to-peer energy

As smart homes become smart cities, it’s likely we’ll see a rise in technology that connects neighbourhoods. One example is peer-to-peer energy sharing – pilot schemes in the UK, US and Europe are using blockchain to sell, buy and share spare energy from solar panels. It’s essentially setting up community grids, and could completely change the way we power our homes. Could you set up a local grid, or an online energy marketplace?

Green cleaning services

The rise of the gig economy means that scores of consumers who wouldn’t normally hire cleaners are making room in the budget – but many are uncomfortable with industrial cleaning products for environmental and health reasons. Why not offer a service that cleans their home with homemade or certified green products?

Often the greenest methods are time-honoured tradition: distilled white vinegar will leave glass sparkling, while natural bristle brushes and washable cloths save on waste.

Unlike other options on this list, cleaning businesses require relatively little in the way of training and equipment. Our guide to starting a cleaning business covers the basics.

Zero waste and plastic-free products

Zero waste and plastic-free living continue to be popular, and Blue Planet 2 made plastic pollution a huge talking point earlier this year. There’s a real demand for zero waste alternatives as the general public are increasingly aware of single-use plastic and its impact.

This is a broad field, and there are a number of ways you can tackle it. If your experience is in retail, consider opening a bulk dried goods shop in your area. This involves stocking a range of pantry and home essentials, like dried beans, flour, sugar, spices, pasta and even soap and old-fashioned safety razors. Most goods are sold by weight, so customers can purchase exactly as much as they need. Sussex-based Charlotte’s Cupboard use an electric van to take their goods on the road, so you needn’t rent a whole shop.

Reusable packaging is another way to go. Beeswax wrap is an old-school alternative to clingfilm, while lightweight glass containers are taking the place of coffee cups and tupperware.

When it comes to reusable products, don’t constrain yourself to the kitchen. Bamboo toothbrushes with biodegradable bristles have made it to supermarkets, and even Tampax have started to sell silicone menstrual cups. Washable nappies are back in a big way. It’s clear that ways to cut waste, both old and new, are here to stay.

Urban farming

The UN projects that 68% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050. With so many mouths to feed, we need to work out new, more efficient ways of growing food.

Vertical growing is a particularly good way to grow crops – instead of requiring rolling fields, towers of crops grow upwards and along walls.

Hydroponic gardening is interesting, as it eschews soil for water infused with nutrients. Aquaponics incorporate fish by using their waste as a natural fertiliser, and it’s extra green because the water is in a closed loop – it isn’t filtered out or replaced. That makes it extremely water-efficient compared to conventional farming.

You also end up with two sellable products if you choose to eat the fish. Tilapia, trout, crayfish and eel are all popular options, with most growers plumping for leafy greens or tomatoes. Ornamental koi also thrive in aquaponic systems.

Electric vehicle maintenance

Electric cars, bikes and scooters are increasingly popular, and are likely to keep growing in popularity as they become more affordable. If you’re a trained mechanic or engineer, why not consider offering charging and repairs specifically for e-vehicles? Most garages lack the specialist knowledge, so there’s a huge gap in the market.

If you prefer a less hands-on approach, you could start an online academy teaching people how to maintain their own vehicles or develop a helpful new product.

Sustainable landscaping

Sustainable landscaping is a little out of the box, but it’s one of the most interesting new occupations. The idea is to design spaces that are beautiful and have a minimal, or positive impact on the environment. A sustainable landscape suits its climate and doesn’t require excess water or pesticides. Greenery can also help to improve mental health and air purity.

Key ideas include using native, drought-tolerant plants and grasses, collecting rainwater, adding greenery to roofs and creating natural habitats for wildlife. The best landscapers will choose plants that work symbiotically – for example, some plants will fix nitrogen, while others attract beneficial insects. If you’re an architect or skilled gardener, why not consider this path?

Plant rental or delivery

Cut flowers are usually shipped in from warmer climates and require huge quantities of water and pesticides. Why not come up with a reusable alternative? You could offer potted Christmas trees with delivery and collection, or rent out striking plants to interior designers and event planners.

Similarly, you could offer a plant delivery service in lieu of bouquets and even deliver orders by bicycle. It has the sentimental value of flower delivery but lasts much longer.

Green funerals

While not for the faint of heart, sustainable and sensitive funeral services are still very much in demand. Traditionally, bodies are embalmed with a mixture of fluids including formaldehyde so they don’t decompose. Cremation requires huge amounts of energy to reach the right heat.

You could offer natural burial, which incorporates biodegradable materials like cotton and willow and offer family and friends native wildflower seeds rather than cut flowers.

Green baby care

On the flipside, why not provide a greener way to care for new lives? This is another huge area – perhaps you’d like to sell wooden toys, or run a greener daycare. Children are the single biggest impact we have on the environment, so why not help to reduce the load?

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