Three of our DN19 speakers who founded socially responsible businesses give you an insight into their journey of making a real impact through tech. We learned it can be a tricky road, but one you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
For long, companies have been hesitant to become more sustainable, because it wasn’t efficient or convenient enough. Meanwhile, an increasing amount of customers has been looking to shop more consciously. A study of Unilever shows a third of customers prefer sustainable brands.
Tech has proven to be a game changer, offering a whole new universe of opportunities to social or environmental projects.
Startup Earth Ratings helps customers purchase more consciously online by providing product ratings. Founder Carsten Roland believes socially responsible companies are at the forefront of a shift in business values:
“The big change currently underway is that companies who are not thinking about and working towards being responsible are losing out on talent, reach and market share.”
But being at the forefront can be hard. It can be difficult to find investors and also visibility can be an issue for socially responsible businesses. “It can be hard to quantify the impact a company is having, especially if you want to put it on a billboard at Alexanderplatz,” says Roland.
Do well, before you do good
With her creative agency Radish Lab, Alana Range is on a mission to help socially responsible businesses tell their stories. Her team gives companies an insight into how they can measure their impact. “We help figure out what success looks like for them,” she tells.
Soon after founding her company, Range realised that pursuing a socially responsible business model gave her a rough start.
“From the beginning we have only worked together with companies who align with our mission to make the world a better place,” Range says. But that also meant losing out on customers, just as you are trying to grow your business.
“You don’t know whether that has any impact,’ she tells. “Maybe they just go to the competitor.” For companies with a mission to change the world it is one thing to measure success, but another to see what your impact really is: “How are you changing the general sector? Are you encouraging other businesses to be more socially responsible?”
She found inspiration in a talk by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz at an event she visited. He wanted to build a socially responsible business, but the business was struggling. “That’s when he said he realised that in order to do good, he needed his business to do well first,” she tells. “That’s what it is, I thought.”
Range thinks programs such as B-Corp are crucial to giving companies the necessary tools to transition towards being more socially responsible. “We need to provide a framework to help businesses understand what a socially responsible business looks like.”
If you get into the mindset, you hold true to your values
After working in investment banking, venture capital and fintech in Asia and Europe, Lubomila Jordanova, founded her company Plan A. Her team established a data-driven platform solely dedicated to environmental themes.
It takes her company time to check whether the companies she works with are transparent and don’t invest into fossil fuels. Still, she says, it wasn’t a challenge to found a socially responsible business. “Not if you get your mind into a certain mindset. Then you incorporate your values into your company from day one.”
It takes time and willpower for traditional companies to make the shift towards becoming more socially responsible. But she believes change can come from the commercial sector, as she tells that the beauty of business is the speed and efficiency. “They’ll have to, they have this responsibility. If you are such a big part of the problem, you have to be at the forefront.”
Jordanova sees change happening around her.
“For a long time, a successful business was defined in terms of money, profit. Now we are trying to adjust to a new definition of success, in terms of responsibility towards employees, customers, and suppliers.”
She says she is “beyond hopeful” about the future. “Over the last years, I have seen incredible companies, projects, and people. People who found a way to change the course of their company.”
But in order to really make a difference, she thinks it is important to change the way we talk about climate change. “Focus on our achievements, rather than the spin of political actors, people who frame climate change as a lie,” she tells. “We need to move past questions like: ‘does climate change exist?’ or: ‘should we become more socially responsible?’”
It’s not worth it getting on the neoliberal bandwagon
Roland from EarthRatings believes a project is not worth doing if it doesn’t socially and economically empower a broad base of people.
“Traditional, non-disruptive businesses funnel small amounts from many people into large amounts for few people,” he tells. “It is a model built for inequality and it is surprising that it has taken us so long to analyse the data and agree on the outcome.”
But tech has changed the game for the better. “What sets tech apart is that it was born out of a general desire to improve services and increase efficiency,” he says. Still, also the tech world needs to be cautious. “The risk of becoming what you set out to change is ever-present and that realization needs to sink in,” he says. “What the tech world in general needs to catch up to is that neoliberal capitalism is dying and that bandwagon is not worth getting on.”
Above all, Roland is hopeful for the future. “The next ten years will be interesting,” he says. “Because young people are mobilizing in ways that have historically been witnessed before large-scale social uprisings. This is a good sign to me.”
What do you think businesses should consider when they want to become more socially responsible? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
This year we are launching a new impact track at the DN19 conference. We are on a mission to change the world for better and we believe tech is key to it. Alana Range, Lubomila Jordanova and Carsten Roland will be shining on our stages. Come ask them your questions in person and join DN19 this fall. Get your tickets.