| Start! How to navigate the future.

Abate! How to avoid the scaling trap. |


Chapter 04

Stretch! How to become a force for good.

The equation “doing well by doing good” has never added up better than today. The Sustainable Development Goals offer compelling growth opportunities for startups, for businesses generally, and for the global economy. Achieving the SDGs is said to open up US $12 trillion of market opportunities. But how can you find where this very potential lies for your own startup? Well, we’re here to help!

After this chapter, you…

  • know what your key business opportunities are in the context of sustainability.

Where to look for opportunities

Regardless of what your startup is doing, mapping your ecosystem and identifying your material sustainability issues will help to increase your business potential. Identifying additional business opportunities for your startup resulting from the sustainability agenda has most likely already happened while mapping your ecosystem and its sustainability requirements.

In any case, build on the results of your materiality assessment: Obviously, you will find substantial business opportunities only in those sustainability topics that you can actually control and have an impact on.

To identify them, just go and discuss if the material topics for your startup rather represent an opportunity or a risk! For those that represent an opportunity, continue with the steps below. For those that you deem to be a risk, check out how to deal with them in the next chapter.

If you have trouble finding any opportunities in the issues from your materiality assessment, here is how you can take a deeper look:

Opportunities resulting from sustainability

A sustainability topic qualifies as an opportunity if setting a high ambition level and making it a priority would result in a significant upside for the business. It’s precisely this upside that distinguishes opportunity from risk. Although it’s obvious that inaction on an opportunity can also result in a risk later on, start by considering any sustainability issue with potential upsides for your business as an opportunity.

1. Look for opportunities resulting from sustainability-induced transformation

Sustainability is all about transformation processes. Like the energy industry is transforming from fossil to renewable, mobility from conventional combustion engines to electric drives, diets from meat-based to alternative proteins, or packaging from plastics to bio-based materials. These transformations are happening now, and they are happening fast.

If you are about to start your own business, watch out for transformations happening within your ecosystem or at its interfaces with neighboring systems and ask yourself how you could become a part of it. If you have already started your business ask yourself how you might benefit from these transformations!

Transformational needs and SDG-related business opportunities in different sectors


2. How are your stakeholders affected by sustainability?

Go back to your map and the stakeholders that you’ve situated along your value chain. How are they affected by sustainability requirements and transformations? How could you help your clients find solutions to their very own sustainability challenge? Could you actually transform stakeholders into customers, partners, or allies? Doing this will help you to understand the sustainability trends in the industry you are operating in.

If you are a B2B business:

  • check out some of the sustainability reports of your biggest clients,
  • have a look at their materiality analyses, and
  • cross-read the depiction of their sustainability strategies.

They will provide you enough leads to work with. If you provide products and services to consumers, then watch out for recent studies on the striking effects of sustainability on consumption behavior and consumer preferences.

Are regulators stepping up their game?

Keep an eye on the international, European and national legislation pipeline with regards to your material sustainability topics. (Soft)regulators – from the United Nations to local governments – are really stepping up their game when it comes to sustainability. They define ambitious pollution thresholds, social standards, or come up with transparency requirements demanding for new technologies, services, or digital solutions.

Overview of SDG-related business opportunities

3. Watch out for inefficiencies and conflicting goals

Ask yourself which inefficiencies are characteristic for your ecosystem:

  • Is there any big-scale waste of resources going on?
  • Are there material flows that result in the disposal of resources, or is there a risk of materials becoming scarce or illegal to use?
  • Would it be thinkable to replace physical products with smart services?

Such inefficiencies, just like conflicting sustainability goals (e.g. zero emissions from building vs. affordable housing, intended increase of battery electrical vehicles vs. supply chains free of conflict minerals) bear tremendous opportunities.

Is it that easy?

Well, yes. And no. Yes, because the number of business opportunities associated with sustainability is literally growing by the hour. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but also a sign of tightening symptoms of our environmental and social crises. And no, because the opportunities do not grow on trees. Particularly not on trees in your own garden.

You will need to take some time to brainstorm, research, and discuss potential business opportunities. So do that, collaboratively with your management team, other startups, in exchange with your NGO friends, and read the newspapers!

If you need some further inspiration, you will find a lot of case studies and examples for SDG-related business opportunities in chapter 9.