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4 steps to get started on your sustainability journey

Tay Kae Fong
Tay Kae Fong

October 27, 2021

Dr Lena Ramfelt

This is part 2 of a two-part series on starting your business’ sustainability journey today. In Part 1 of our series, we talked about traps you need to avoid. Read part 1 here.

Now is the time!

In part 1 of our article, we talked about how you need to  take action on your business’ sustainability today. Else, you risk getting overtaken by competitors or worse, abandoned by a new generation of customers.

That said, the road ahead is not bleak. Take advantage of the fact that you are likely familiar with the key ingredients of how to start: design thinking, lean startup, and numbers.

We assure you that any business of any size, in any market space  can contribute towards sustainability, and more importantly, make sustainability a way of business. Our version of Design Thinking for Sustainability (DTS) is a four-step process to help you get started:

1. Identify the right pains to solve/ go for the quick wins - we know that there are some!

Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

We’re all familiar with the need to define customers and truly empathise with their pain in order to understand what issues to solve. With Design Thinking for Sustainability, we suggest you include the environment, people (communities), and animals as additional critical stakeholders (apart from customers, partners, employees, investors).

This means looking across products (from procurement to manufacturing / development to fulfillment) and business processes to identify issues based on established guidelines and standards, e.g. UN SDPs or carbon trackers. From the start, collect data and numbers whenever you can, so they can guide your decisions and track progress later on.

Remember the goal is not to solve everything immediately and at the same time! Take baby-steps (especially in the beginning), increase your confidence, and make sure you integrate your sustainability goals into everything else going on in your business.. Identify quick wins - we are certain that there are some -  and plan for keeping up the work  into  the future. If there are issues you are uniquely positioned to address, focus on them first.

2. Dare to prioritize what you know is right!

Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui on Unsplash

Just like how you have an established customer / user journey map to identify frustrations and delights your customers go through when buying and using what you are offering, you can add - without too much of an effort -  sustainability into that journey. This version should highlight feasible solutions that integrate sustainability across the whole journey.

Solutions ought to be prioritised by those that are both desirable to customers and support you to be more sustainable. Remember to explore solutions that may seem unthinkable 5 years ago, and that it can be alright to pass the cost to customers for certain solutions; make it a point to validate solutions with prospects and customers to check.

3. Your sustainable solutions are viable and align with your business goals

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Once you  have prioritised the solutions that are desirable to customers and feasible for you to roll out (these can be part of the manufacturing process, new materials, etc.), you need to ensure you still have a viable business at the end of the day. This can involve different ways of using the solutions to either generate revenue, cut cost, or increase productivity.

At this stage, a few things will be critical to help you find success. The first would be branding, marketing, and sales. You want to ensure that your efforts are not the best kept secrets and instead the most shared “example”, so invest time and effort to brand your solution (no greenwashing included). Consumers want to know the why/how/what, so don’t hesitate with brand storytelling.

Create strategic partnerships. If you’re an early adopter, this can be with the government as a showcase for the sector. In some countries, this can even lead to government or international support to go further. You can also partner with others who share the same thinking as go-to-market or channel partners.  

4. Just do it

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Good plans need great execution to succeed. At some point, you have to stop the discussions and say “This is good enough for us to go ahead and implement”. Go ahead and declare victory already, and then give yourself 180 days to prove it.

Draw up an execution  plan and give it the needed resources, time, and management attention like you would with any innovation. You can use a simple system like OKRs to help you prioritise what to focus on in the next quarter along with targets and metrics to measure progress. Management will need to include frequent check-ins and be hands-on if it is to stand a chance at succeeding.

Don’t be afraid to run experiments along the way to see what works better. Adopt the lean methodology - iterate and learn in quick cycles so you can pivot when you need to. When you see success in an area, distill the winning factors and double down on them.

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate success (and share them in your communications)!


“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Dr. Jane Goodall

We hope the four steps provide a means for you to use design thinking, lean startup, and numbers to get started and avoid the traps we mentioned in Part 1. We believe baking sustainability into a company is a case of learning by doing because there is no definitive guidebook yet.

If you’re still hesitant at this point, just start with one simple thing and go from there. We are sure there must be immediate things you can already do in your business and operations. It doesn’t have to be some deep-tech item and you don’t need to be experts; start small with ‘everyday things’ that everyone understands like water, electricity, transportation, recycling, etc. that are easy to explain and easy to get started. Along the way, just remember to look for tangible upsides: revenue, cost savings, brand building, customer engagement.

If you need help, reach out to us. We are also in the midst of developing free resources for companies to use. Read part 1 of our series here.

Dr Lena Ramfelt is based in Sweden and works with entrepreneurs to empower them to succeed and build sustainable businesses. She shares her observations and insights in her blog “Lena in the Trenches”.

Kae Fong leads Binomial, an innovation and creative consultancy, and is based in Singapore. His goal is to help businesses become impact-aligned and purpose-driven.

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