Michael Stausholm: How to build a sustainable business

Sustainability is everywhere in business. Most firms talk about the need to do things better and more efficiently, even if not all of them actually follow through on it. Today’s consumers and customers are critical and expect companies to be in control of CSR, and are increasingly willing to look elsewhere if companies do not meet their exacting standards.

Employees – particularly millennials – place CSR highly when looking at where to work and the type of company they wish to be part of, so for an organisation to attract and retain the best talent, sustainability must be a key factor.

So how should a company approach this? What steps can be taken to build a truly sustainable business? Here are five that any organisation can use to start with.


Many companies give up on their sustainability goals, either because they get too demanding on their time and resources, or because they spend years refining and improving the process without reaching or even getting near their goal. Both of these happen because many organisations think they should aim at being perfect right away.

A better approach is to focus on getting started instead. It is better to be at 25% than not even started. So if this means that if the goal is 100% FSC-certified packaging, it is okay to start with 50% recycled cardboard and take it from there. Just make sure to communicate your goals internally and externally, so that everyone can be a part of the journey and understands how much progress has been achieved.


Many companies are reluctant to communicate their sustainability goals, until they feel that everything is 100% ready. Again, this is not the best approach. Organisations should communicate openly and proudly, sharing what it is they are starting, and both their intermediate and final goals.

This way they can inspire other companies and change perceptions of their own organisation. But the companies should be aware of green-washing, today’s consumers and customers are critical and expect companies to be in control of CSR. The flow of information and the access to information is so extensive that untrue claims become transparent. That’s why being concrete and honest about the challenges faced along the way towards the goal is so important.


It is not enough to look at the primary suppliers. It is equally as important to look at the secondary suppliers, since this is often where the problems lie. At the same time, the raw material suppliers are also important to focus on. Test the materials frequently, and make sure that they live up to the expectations. Visit the primary suppliers and possibly the secondary suppliers. You should never just rely on the claims of the suppliers.


It is important to have a clear definition of the CSR policies and goals that relates to your business.  Remember that although the goal is important, the journey and the experience you get along the way is equally as important. Companies have different starting points when it comes to sustainability. It all depends on whether you are a large or a small company, whether you source goods in China or Europe, whether you are a trade company or a service company.

At Sprout, we find it important to focus on the raw materials for our products.  For example, for one of our clients, Bank of America, it might be more relevant to focus on money laundering, while to a shipping giant like Maers,k it might be the conditions of their mariners that is most important.


Today’s consumers, especially the younger generation, have high expectations for the brands they buy. No one expects perfection when it comes to sustainability, but there is an enormous demand for transparency and honesty. So when it comes to branding, be real and trustworthy, do not talk down to your customers, and avoid moralising when it comes to sustainability.

Be the frontrunner and set a good example, and prepare your answers in advance, because it is likely that you will be met with skepticism when you go out and brand yourself as being sustainable. The dialogue with the customers and cooperative partners is, and should be, an important part of your communication strategy.

By Michael Stausholm, the founder and CEO of Sprout, the only company in the world that makes plantable pencils

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