My 3-step process for finding a sustainable business idea

Sustainable business ideas are a dime a dozen. It can be easy to think of an eco-friendly product that doesn’t exist or a sustainable service that would be a green game changer. The tricky part is figuring whether or not your idea is viable. Starting and scaling a business isn’t just about having a good idea. There’s a wide variety of other factors that have to be considered to figure whether it’ll work out or not.

The following 3-step process is how I came up with and settled on the sustainable business idea that eventually turned into CONCENTR8ED. Now we’ve only got 6 minutes left so this is just going to be a brief overview of how to find your idea. If you want more episodes on sustainable business, let me know via Instagram, email or my website. 

I highly recommend going back to episode 13 if you haven’t heard it already. That’s the episode where I tell the story of how I came to the idea for CONCENTR8ED. At the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, I was always looking for business ideas that would make money. The biggest mindset shift I had was to instead focus on problem-solving. 

Step 1: Find an unsustainable problem that needs solving

This can be a scary concept that can leave us wanting to give up because we’re not Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. But you don’t need to come up with the next iPhone or revolutionise cars to solve a problem. 

Environmental problems that need solving can be as mundane as creating a compostable item to replace something that is widely made with plastic. Or taking an existing service and tweaking it for the eco-friendly niche. It can also be a localised version of an existing business from overseas but isn’t available in your country or area. The options truly are endless. 

LIST: My ride-or-die sustainable business tools

The problem I sought to solve with CONCENTR8ED is that most liquid products are 60-95% water in single-use plastic bottles. Solving this problem would mean less plastic, fewer synthetic preservatives for customers and lower carbon emissions for transporting the products. This problem is solved by providing plastic-free concentrates that customers add water to at home. 

Once you’ve decided on the problem you want to solve and an idea of how you may be able to solve it, you’re ready for:

Step 2: Check to see if another business already has a solution

It’s time to get your Google on. Search far and wide to see what other businesses are offering when it comes to the problem you’ve chosen. Keep a list or an excel sheet of the solutions already available. Or partial solutions that might not be solving the full problem. Some solutions may have a cost barrier that prevents people from accessing them. Perhaps the solution only comes in compostable packing whereas most people prefer recyclable options. Collate this information and come up with 3-5 key points about what solutions do or don’t exist. 

I’ve got a hack in step 3 for how to use competitors reviews to help you do this more effectively so stay tuned. 

Step 3a: If an eco-friendly solution doesn’t exist, can you create it?

If a solution doesn’t exist, this could be great news… but it may be bad news. Perhaps your solution idea isn’t viable or has other barriers that will make it almost impossible to create. If you’re entering uncharted territory, you must do a lot of market research and testing before sinking money and time into it. 

If you’re ready to commit, check for manufacturing options, meet with product designers, check local government requirements. I’d highly recommend investing in a course or coach to help you through this process if you’ve never done it before.  

Step 3b: If an eco-friendly solution does exist, can you improve on it?

There may well be another business that’s already solving this problem. And that’s ok. It doesn’t have to be the end of your solution. 

It is important to check thoroughly for copyright and patents that your solution could infringe upon. It’s possible to do this online. But you can also hire a professional on Fiverr or Upwork to check properly. You’ll want to be diligent with this step because it’d be horrible to invest your energy and money into a business idea that might end with a Cease and Desist order. 

You may already be aware of a few businesses in this space. These brands may help inspire your idea. I find it helpful to read the negative reviews on your competitor’s website and on Amazon to see what customers are unhappy about with their products or services. This can help you create a tweaked product or service that solves those problems for customers. 

Read next: My sustainable business story: how I launched CONCENTR8ED

CONCENTR8ED is by no means the first bars over bottles business. But the problem I wanted to solve was to make the price accessible for everyday eco shoppers and to provide fragrance-free options. As a lifelong sensitive skin sufferer, I know all too well how few eco-friendly products there are that don’t contain essential oils. That’s because essential oils are the only way to naturally fragrance something. The problem is, they’re highly sensitising for many skin types. 

Fragrances, charity donations and planting trees with every order drive up the cost of products, which in turn makes the retail price more expensive. I spotted a gap in the market for affordable products that get the job done so that’s what I created. I constantly receive customer feedback telling me how happy they are to have found an affordable plastic-free solution for themselves and their family that works. 

Eco Action Step

Your eco action step for this week is to apply this 3-step process to that sustainable business idea you’ve been kicking around your head. Set has legs. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t. I had to do this process more than 40 times before I finally landed on the model that CONCENTR8ED is today. The show notes for this show are linked below so be sure to check them out when you’re ready to put pen to paper.

How to find a sustainable business idea that's eco-friendly, zero waste, ethical and plastic-free
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