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Cotopaxi's director of impact answers your questions about creating a sustinable and environmentally conscious as a new startup.

How to stay environmentally conscious as a new startup

Q. 

“I have an idea for a product but I’m also very concerned about the environmental impact (and waste) associated with physical products and their consumption. Is it really ethical to make yet another product? Especially as, in the developed world at least, most of my ‘customers’ probably don’t need another product to buy?”

A. 

Great question. First, by being the kind of founder who actively questions the need for your product and its sustainability, you’re self-identifying as the kind of entrepreneur the world needs more of. Asking for advice and being transparent with others about your ethical concerns is noble and applaudable and what conscious capitalism is all about in 2020. Given the strength of the personal ethics you have already displayed, I encourage you to start a business. 

As you continue on your journey, keep asking tough questions about how to make your product sustainable. Start with careful consideration around the functionality of what you make. Build products the world needs and which facilitate a better society. For Cotopaxi and our founders, that meant building apparel that facilitates health, wellness, happiness, and freedom of expression. No one needs a cheap jacket, but everyone needs a jacket that keeps them warm, helps them be healthy outside, and is made to last longer. 

After you design a product that meets a true need, think about how you can make that product as sustainably as possible. When you select materials, suppliers, shippers, packaging products, and retailers, keep asking yourself the hard questions. What are the most environmentally-sound materials? How can I make my product through suppliers that support fair trade and good climate policies? How can I best support those who make my products? Could carbon offset the footprint of the product somehow? 

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Don’t be afraid to be experimental. Startups offer the most value to society when they try to do things differently. As a smaller company and one with ethics as part of your ethos, your brand can be at the forefront of sustainable innovation. At Cotopaxi, we design to eliminate waste, meaning we use remnant materials from other brands and suppliers that would otherwise end up as landfill trash to make many of our backpacks and jackets. The program means that we never know how much of a certain color or material we may have. That’s a challenge that most larger brands can’t work with but one that allows us to build a product in a way that solves an environmental challenge. 

Could you do something similar? 

Challenge yourself to challenge the status quo in your product vertical. Demonstrate to others that it can be done differently without producing as many negative effects. And know that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from your shortcomings. 

Being a sustainable company doesn’t mean having all the answers or producing a 100 percent carbon neutral product that somehow manages to solve all societal woes, it means having the audacity to try to make capitalism work for everyone, including our shared ecosystems. It means asking the hard questions and providing a product that’s better―socially and environmentally―than what’s on the market today. 

To move the needle as a society and reach the point where we live in harmony with our habitat, we need leaders like you challenging other businesses that aren’t addressing the negative impacts of unconscious capitalism. You’ve got this! 

Good luck.

― Annie Agle, director of impact and brand at Cotopaxi

Ask Us is a new column where Utah Business reaches out to industry leaders to answer your most pressing business questions. Send your questions to askus@utahbusiness.com for a chance to have them answered right here. 

Annie Agle is the director of impact and brand at Cotopaxi.

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