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Sustainable Self-Employment: A Guide to Implementation


By Daphne Stanford

Considering the obscenely large amount of plastic floating in our oceans, we entrepreneurs should all consider starting a business that provides a service or works with people’s existing possessions, rather than creating more waste that will eventually be dumped into our landfills and oceans — thus further perpetuating the problem.  According to the World Economic Forum, “Organizations that set public energy or carbon reduction goals were twice as likely to have invested in energy efficiency or renewable energy in the past year and were three times more likely to increase investment in clean energy technologies in the next year.”

In other words, it’s not enough to merely use LED lights and implement a company recycling policy.  It’s also necessary to invest in clean energy technologies and specifically refuse to invest in fossil fuels — despite its lucrative financial returns. This can mean, for example, investing in carbon-offset programs as well as in companies that are on the cutting edge of solar and other renewable types of technology.  For example, Google derives a great deal of its energy needs from renewable sources; in addition, the tech giant recently purchased 842 megawatts of renewable energy to power its data centers, bringing its reliance on renewable sources for energy to 37 percent.

Ellen Weinreb of Green Biz predicts that new jobs will be created to make true on the commitments put forth during COP21.  Among the new positions created will be people in charge of reporting and dashboards, climate policy, energy procurement, stakeholder engagement and research.  Ultimately, the most sustainable businesses will deal with services and ‘products’ rooted in action, rather than material goods.  The end goal, in this highly volatile global climate, is to produce no more ‘stuff,’ but, rather, to find solutions to our culture of mass consumption and materialism.  There are glimmers of hope amid the seemingly constant race toward excess.

For example, the University of Cambridge is home to one of the many sustainability programs springing up internationally.  Cambridge’s 10-year plan, for example, is entitled Rewiring the Economy, and it is made up of ten tasks designed “to create an economy that encourages sustainable business practices and delivers positive outcomes for people and societies.”  The 10 interconnected tasks include actions such as “measure the right things, set the right targets” and “drive socially useful innovation.”  These diverse goals demonstrate the complexity of making business into a truly sustainable enterprise: Not only should businesses be environmentally sustainable, but they should also be cognizant of and have their ears to the ground regarding socially aware practices and company policies.

One major factor that’s changed is the profile of the typical customer in 2016.  That’s a large subset of customers that favor access over ownership and are, for all intents and purposes, nomads.  Fleura Bardhi of Northeastern University argues that “global nomads” offer a new model of cosmopolitanism: “Our relationships to place and people are becoming more ‘liquid.’ They’re changing constantly.”  Really, though, what could be more sustainable than foregoing an energy-draining house and choosing, instead, to make the world your home?

One of the crucial skill sets of the newly self-employed, however, is definitely the ability to be tech-savvy: Although you don’t need a CPA or an engineering degree to launch your own business, self-employed individuals with financial and technical expertise definitely have an advantage over the competition, since small business owners work on tight budgets and usually can’t afford to hire a team of financial experts.  It’s beneficial, therefore, to have a basic understanding of cash flow, profit margins, return on investment, and other vital metrics.

As David Levine argued in a recent article on TriplePundit: “The old arguments that clean energy is too expensive, or that the creaky electrical grid can’t support it, are simply the desperate rhetoric of industrialists trying to wring every last cent out of their infrastructure for the benefit of shareholders, at the expense of the economy, the people, and the planet.”  It seems that climate change has become so noticeable that it’s impossible to ignore, anymore, and even climate change deniers have begun to acknowledge that something seems amiss.

The real question is: Why not practice business in a way that is truly sustainable?  There is simply no good reason not to, any longer.  This is especially true considering the economic opportunities opening up because of the need for clean energy, thus hopefully continuing to inspire a number of luminaries, problem solvers, and inventors in creating solutions to the problems at hand.

The potential to reap great rewards from this gap in services is enormous; it is up to us all as to whether we will meet the challenge with new solutions or old, environmentally-damaging standbys.  If we choose the former, we stand to be pleasantly surprised.  If we choose the latter, we will continue to run into the same environmental conundrums as before.  The choice is ours.

Image Source: Flickr/Nishanth Jols

Daphne Stanford has lived in four states and six cities, and she plans to visit the Basque country sooner rather than later. She puts her three degrees to good use through nonfiction and poetry writing, as well as through her weekly poetry show on Radio Boise. Find her on Twitter at @daphne_stanford or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ThePoetryShow.​

3p Contributor

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