10 Sustainable Business Ideas for Online Entrepreneurs

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A record 5.4 million applications to start a new business were recorded by the US Census Bureau in 2021 – at the same time, sustainability in business has never been so important.

In 2021 new B Corp Certification submissions were up 16% compared to 2020, which shows that many organisations are making a concerted effort to become sustainable. Furthermore, the goal for net zero for business was high on the agenda of last year’s COP26 summit.

Because of this, we’ve identified 10 business ideas for online entrepreneurs who are looking to start a sustainable business. Read on to discover 10 exciting sustainable business ideas!

Why Sustainable Business Matters

Firstly, sustainability is important to your customers. There’s a change in consumer values with more seeking out sustainable and environmentally-friendly products. A survey by Deloitte discovered that sustainability remains a key consideration for consumers in 2021 with 32% of consumers “highly engaged” in adopting a more sustainable lifestyle.

Equally important, over a quarter of consumers have stopped buying certain products due to ethical or environmental concerns which shows its a purchasing consideration for an increasing number of people.

In short, having a sustainable business will result in a more efficient business practice and improve your business reputation to customers, investors, and potential employees. Now for the business ideas:

10 Sustainable Business Ideas

#1. Upcycle, Refurbish or Repair

This idea works by taking goods that already exist and upcycling, refurbishing or repairing them so they are suitable for resale.

You can use the internet to source suitable items through websites such as eBay, Depop, Facebook Marketplace, and Freecycle, as well as scouring your local charity shops and flea markets. Items could include furniture, electrical goods, and clothing, but the possibilities are endless.

You need a creative eye and to be hands-on with this job, because the profit margin comes with being able to really improve the products so you can sell them for more than you bought them.

Make sure you look around online at similar items to see what prices they are put on for. Take note of the quality, materials, and age of such items and look for ones that you can alter, fix or personalize.

#2. Sell Reusable Products

Plastic cutlery and bags are becoming a thing of the past. As a result, you could focus your business on selling products that promote reuse, such as food and drinks storage made of glass, sturdy shopping bags, and washable face masks – rather than their disposable counterparts.

An example of a company doing this is Green Dodo, that makes reusable makeup wipes out of bamboo to promote zero waste. It’s important to think of a particular niche to source your products. This makes sourcing products easier as well as market yourself in a competitive space.

green dodo sustainable business ideas
Green Dodo is a sustainable store selling reusable products such as dishcloths and makeup wipes.

#3. Sell Second Hand Items

If you’re someone who has a lot of stuff sitting around at home that you never use, then you might want to consider selling second-hand goods online. This could be your own belongings, or sourced from elsewhere.

Common examples include:

  • Books
  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Vinyl records

To get started, think about what you’re interested in, what objects you currently have or could easily source, how you’ll market your business, and who your target audience will be.

To stand out, you either need really good branding or a USP (or both). Don’t just sell random bits and pieces – make it streamline, interesting, and give your shop a story.

An example of this is ToxicVintageClothing in the UK who stocks preloved vintage style clothing. This brand stocks on Etsy but also has a website to market its brand and tells the story of how the brand and name came to be, which gives the site a personal touch.

#4. Sell Sustainable Fashion

The devastating impact of fast fashion is no secret. Americans are throwing away 14 million tons of clothing every year and in 2018, 17 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfills in the US alone.

So if you have an interest in fashion, starting a sustainable fashion store could be a good option for you. Again, it’s best to decide on a particular niche. Think about whether you will sell mens, womens, or gender neutral clothing, high end or low end, and the type of items you’ll focus on. Branding your store is crucial, as competition can be fierce.

So, how do you make my fashion store sustainable?

  • Sell second-hand clothes
  • Link up with makers who use recycled materials
  • Ask the supplier about their method – is there a closed loop process so water isn’t wasted?
  • Where does the energy to produce and ship items come from?
  • What steps have they (and you) taken to reduce emissions?

An example of a sustainable fashion store is Thought Clothing that focuses on responsibly sourced, ethical clothing. Thought Clothing uses natural materials and aims to continually improve accreditation and partner with businesses in the sustainable space to improve its closed loop possibilities.

thought clothing sustainable business ideas
Thought Clothing uses "planet-friendly" materials to create and sell sustainable clothing, and works with stockists who share its sustainable ethos, showing how all parts of your business should be eco-friendly.

#5. Build a Sustainable App

If you have technical app development or coding skills then starting an app can be a great business venture.

The hardest part outside of app development is coming up with a strong concept and promoting your app to the right people so its usership can grow.

There are several different revenue streams you can gain from apps but the main three are:

  • Advertising
  • Charging for the app
  • In-app purchases

Advice from the Experts

Top Tip! Charging to download the app may put off a large audience as US consumers download 15 free apps for every paid one so you may want to consider an alternative revenue stream.

Examples include Bikemap, an app that allows you to download information on paths and roads suitable for cycling in more than 80 countries and iHuerting which helps you to build an urban garden from scratch.

#6. Teaching

The global environmental consulting services market size is expected to grow from $56.39 billion in 2021 to $63.03 billion in 2022. The knowledge sharing economy is growing, so if you have lots of wisdom and knowledge in a certain area, why not share it with business and/or consumers?

You can create online courses through sites like Udemy, or offer consultancy specific to the company or individual you work with.

On the B2B side, you can help companies build sustainability strategies. This could include auditing their supply chain, their website, marketing, energy consumption, and waste.

If you’re providing advice for consumers this can be anything from how to waste less food to how to improve home insulation.

Building a network of clients will be key to getting your business off the ground since word of mouth tends to be a way to get new clients in this industry. Advertising and promoting on LinkedIn is also a strategy for consideration.

#7. Source and Sell The Most Sustainable Options

Sourcing products from far and wide has never been easier in today’s globalized and hyper-connected world. Product sourcing simply refers to the process of searching for appropriate products to sell for your business from a wholesaler or manufacturer.

What’s the difference between a wholesaler and manufacturer?

The manufacturer is the one who produces the products, so working directly with one can get you the cheapest prices. If you are unable to forge a relationship with a manufacturer, your best bet is to work with a wholesaler, who will bridge the gap between you and the manufacturer.

When you purchase from a wholesaler, you are buying in bulk at a lower than retail price so you can still make a good profit on your products.

The product sourcing process involves:

  • Deciding what it is you want to sell – again this goes back to what’s your niche or USP
  • Researching sustainable options for your products. You’ll want to do your due diligence here as if you are marketing yourself as a sustainable business, your customers will want to know exactly why and how your products are sustainable.
  • Research supplier types (manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler)
  • Compare product quality, return policy and pricing
  • Negotiate deals with vendors

Once you have decided on which products to go for, you’ll need to consider storage, pricing and shipping of these products. Our top tip when working with wholesalers is to do your due diligence and ensure the quality of products and the reliability of their services. Take your time and be ready to negotiate in terms of order quantities, delivery schedules and price.

#8. Create a Sustainable Marketplace

In this option, you can link up with many creative designers and makers in your community to create a marketplace. So instead of sourcing products, you’ll source creatives.

You will need to come up with set criteria on which constitutes sustainable products to decide who can stock in your marketplace. Once you have potential makers, you need to attract the customers to your marketplace.

The Little Market is an example of a marketplace, a fairtrade market featuring ethically sourced, artisan-made products. Its website hosts everything from home decor to handmade bath soaps.

the little market sustainable business ideas
The Little Market is a non-profit, charitable organization that sells many products made of recycled, upcycled, or repurposed materials.

#9. The Sharing Economy

From sharing our homes through Airbnb, to sharing our cars with Zipcar, there is a trend towards lending and borrowing rather than purchasing new products. The sharing economy not only promotes sustainability, it is also often a more cost-effective option for users.

Some examples include:

  • Ride sharing
  • Hiring out equipment
  • Clothing/outfit hires

A new company within the circular economy who is doing this well is Loanhood, that promotes the rental of clothing and peer-to-peer lending. Users download the app and upload images of their clothes to rent out, or browse items off others.

#10. Make Your Current Online Business Sustainable

Maybe you don’t want to start a new business because you already have one that is doing well, but you would like to know how to make it more sustainable. Here are some things to consider:

  • How green is your office?
  • How green is your website?
  • How can you eliminate waste?
  • How green is your transportation/shipping?

Advice from the Experts

It’s worth doing an audit of your current business to consider how green and sustainable it is and how it can be improved. Here’s a link to The Green Web Foundation’s “Green Web Check” to get you started.

Summary

As you can see, there are many business ideas for starting a sustainable online business and what better time to start than the present?

Terms like “sustainability” and “environmentally friendly” have become more than buzzwords – today going green has become a priority for many retailers and businesses.

Starting a business isn’t easy – it requires a lot of planning and work. But if you can break your tasks and goals down into achievable chunks, then it can be really rewarding – both mentally and financially. Good luck!

Intro stat: source

FAQs

Your location and business structure determine how you’ll need to register your business. For most small businesses, registering your sustainable business is as simple as registering your company name with state and local governments.
Firstly, you need to research common problems people have, and a sustainable solution you can provide to these problems. Next you need to investigate the competitive landscape. Ideally, your business needs to be something you either have experience in, know a lot about, or are really passionate about (or preferably all three).
There are two main routes to funding your business, though you can combine them. One is self-funding. We only recommend this if you have a safety blanket of savings just in case anything goes wrong. The second is to get funding for your business, which will depend on factors such as your business age, performance, and market opportunities.

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