Erin Kinnee on Starting Up Smarter

Erin Kinnee

Pictured: Erin Kinnee facilitates a discussion on accessing finance with young sustainability entrepreneurs at the Shell #makethefuture Accelerator, part of Make the Future London, Shell’s festival of ideas and innovation which took place in 2016.


Erin Kinnee is Energy and Sustainability Lead at PNE Group, responsible for the management and delivery of enterprise projects that support sustainable and low-carbon entrepreneurs, and is currently the project manager for the Shell LiveWIRE UK programme. In this guest blog she explores the value a sustainable approach can add to a start-up and how they can achieve it.

“A sustainable mentality breeds innovation and smarter working.”

The fact that new businesses are under pressure to act sustainably and in a way that effects positive social change, is nothing new. You could argue that this trend began as a way to prevent criticism and liability but, more recently, it is a conscious decision made either out of conscience, or from an appreciation of the benefits to be gained by being a part of the circular economy through the use of sustainable supply chain strategies. How are new businesses meant to balance the pressure of ensuring they are acting ethically, sustainably, and responsibly with all of the other pressures and stresses of starting a new business?

Perhaps the more important question is, can they afford not to?

Unilever has just released research[1] which found that a third of consumers buy products from brands that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, and one in five would buy from brands that made their sustainability credentials clear on packaging. This means that businesses that do not embed sustainability into their operations are missing out on an estimated €966 billion (£817 billion) from the total market for sustainable goods – and the appetite for these goods is growing.

New businesses – even those that aren’t product-based – really can’t afford to discount the benefits and savings inherent in sustainable supply chain strategies. So what does this mean for new businesses, and how can they incorporate sustainability strategies without breaking the bank at a time when every pound counts?

The first and perhaps most important step for a start-up is to ask what it means to them to run a sustainable business. Is minimising impact on the environment important? Or is it more important to reduce costs and meet stakeholder expectations. Neither is wrong, but starting the business planning process on the underlying premise that sustainable entrepreneurship will form a fundamental part of the business’ mission makes embedding sustainable supply chain strategies into the business a much more straight-forward process. And it is made even easier if the business is clear on its reason for doing it.

“The UK start-up community is a supportive, encouraging, collaborative space where new businesses can seek advice.”

Secondly, it’s important to remember that the UK start-up community is a supportive, encouraging, collaborative space where new businesses can seek advice, a sense of community, and invaluable connections if they have the ambition to do so. There are many ways to get involved – events, meet-ups and entrepreneur groups can be found up and down the country – but one great example for those specifically looking for like-minded entrepreneurs interested in sustainable supply chains is Impact Hub, a community of collaborators who support and promote practices, ideas and innovations that will have a sustainable impact. Sustainable supply chains depend on collaboration between stakeholders to ensure the desired impact and shared value is achieved and, for new businesses, relationships with like-minded entrepreneurs who have perhaps already been down this road can be immensely beneficial.

Thirdly, start-ups need to be lean. Most new businesses no longer need to go down the route of purchasing equipment and premises – at least not in the beginning. If an entrepreneur has a mobile phone and can work from home, then they already have what they need to start most businesses. There is nothing ground-breaking in this, but it’s worth a reminder that if finances are low, then thinking sustainably will make a start-up’s money go further. You don’t need to think about the business’ energy bill if your home can double as your office. You don’t need to think about servers, stationery and toner cartridges if you can go paperless and cloud compute. And even at this stage a new business can be discerning about its suppliers – if they do not presently meet the business’ sustainability requirements, they can work together to improve processes, reduce waste, and make better use of energy sources, something that will benefit both parties.

This is the crux of successful sustainable supply chain strategies and a hallmark of the circular economy – work together, ask questions, identify opportunities for shared value, and start from the premise that there is no such thing as waste and that more can often be done with less. This mentality breeds innovation and smarter working which can be drawn upwards through every aspect of a new business’ operations. Start-ups need to be nimble and flexible to grow and thrive, making them well-placed to implement and benefit from sustainable supply chains and, by extension, be the catalysts for change that will drive the move to a circular economy forward.

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