The Challenge for Gen Y Entrepreneurs: Save the World : Under30CEO The Challenge for Gen Y Entrepreneurs: Save the World : Under30CEO
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The Challenge for Gen Y Entrepreneurs: Save the World

| December 23, 2011 | 14 Comments

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Growing up, we Gen Y’ers ate tie-dyed bread and purple ketchup. We shopped exclusively at Wal-Mart. Gas was cheap, and the economy was good. We never bought organic food; much less, organic clothing. As kids, “things” came in and out of our lives quickly — purchased, used up, and thrown out.

Put simply, our parents’ generation did not collectively ask questions. Like where products came from, how they were made, and what the human and environmental repercussions were.

And so, entrepreneurs in the 90’s had it easy. No one flinched at cheap production in China. Free trade was a hot topic, but fair trade was rarely discussed. America at large was feeding kids, like us, purple ketchup — and making billions from the consumption of poorly-made, unhealthy, and even toxic products.

Fast forward a generation, and Gen Y is a big part of the movement towards more responsible business. The extreme end of the spectrum is asking businesses to produce “cradle to cradle” products — products that are created without harmful toxins and can be recycled into infinity or composted safely. We are, albeit very, very, slowly, moving from simply “green” to a future of zero-waste.

This generation of entrepreneurs will not have it so easy — because this generation of consumers is not turning a blind eye. The evidence is in the products: organic clothing, recycled notebooks, eco-friendly cars, preservative-free foods. Even the most irresponsible companies are trying to clean up their “green” image.

What does this mean for Gen Y entrepreneurs?

It means that business will be more difficult than ever before. Because not only are we tasked with creating successful businesses that provide value to customers, we are also tasked with saving the world.

Critics say that we will fail. Whether they’re right or wrong is irrelevant — if we want to live on a healthy planet, then we have no other choice than to succeed.

So that begs the questions: how do we do this?

In a time when people aren’t buying, trends change by the week, and everything can be done cheaper overseas — how do we begin to save the world and still make a profit?

Start a movement

Power is in the numbers. Time and time again, the influence of an inspired group of people is proven through movements of change. Collective initiative is more powerful than what any individual can do alone.

Together, we need to be holding our suppliers to a higher standard and not resorting to the cheap shortcuts of our parent’s companies. Demand quality. Use American labor. Reduce environmental footprints. Create price-points that respect the product.

With a group effort, ethical business will become the norm and not the exception. It’s not easy to source responsibly, and profit margins aren’t as high. But with American industries failing daily, and an environmental crisis on our hands, we can’t afford to take the cheap, easy route.

Put pressure on the “big guns.”

Even the most environmentally-unfriendly companies are starting to get with the program. They know that if they don’t start to clean up their act, or at least appear to be trying, then they’re going to lose business from a growing population of concerned citizens.

It’s the responsibility of the new business owners to help consumers in pressuring the big companies. A “zero-waste” business model leaves a “low-waste” company in the dust. Compostable packaging makes conventional packaging look utterly reckless. Employing American citizens at fair wages makes outsourcing cheap labor from India appear irresponsible.

Do what’s right for your company and set an example for others.

Rethink “growth.”

We’ve been told, over and over, that bigger is better. A growing economy is considered a good thing, as is a growing business. But Gen Y is going to have to rethink the relationship between economic growth and environmental survival. Growth depends on consumption, and our consumption is going to change greatly in the coming decades as resource availability changes. Gen Y has the chance to change this “bigger is always better” model before it’s too late.

Help each other

Communicate. Bounce ideas off each other. Offer assistance, referrals and networking opportunities. Instead of worrying about competitors and sabotage, focus on what you can do to help someone else’s business succeed, especially if it’s for the betterment of the world as a whole.

Know that the overall mission is bigger than your profit

If Gen Y is going to do this – really, truly save the world – then we need to recognize that the big picture is more important than price points and profit.

Sure, we all need to make enough to sustain and grow our businesses, pay ourselves, pay our employees, and so on, but we also need to realize that if we can survive with a percentage drop in profit, then it’s worth the monetary sacrifice.

Our own business mission states, “Our goals don’t revolve around making sales or making millions; instead, making people think.” We believe that being a socially-conscious company will indirectly convert to sales because there are consumers out there who care how a business is run. There are many other up-and-coming companies who feel the same as we do.

As a generation, it’s time we encourage people to think about where their products come from, how they’re made, and who is directly affected. It’s not until we do this, that real, positive change will take place — when we can take pride in our ability to positively impact both the environment and the economy, and save the world through entrepreneurship.

Kristin Glenn and Shannon Whitehead are the designers and co-founders of {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable, travel clothing line for women. They are currently Kickstarting their signature piece, the Versalette. You can check them out at www.revolutionapparel.me, follow them on Twitter at @AllofUsRev and hang out with them on Facebook.

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