Best Business Ideas for 2023: Sustainability

With consumers hungering for sustainable and eco-friendly choices, there's a fantastic market ahead for new businesses keen to show off their green credentials

About Us

Startups was founded over 20 years ago by a serial entrepreneur. Today, our expert team of writers, researchers, and editors work to provide our 4 million readers with useful tips and information, as well as running award-winning campaigns.
Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

After a year of record-breaking temperatures, public awareness about climate change is rising even faster than global sea levels. Sustainable startups are now like hot cakes to investors, and demand for planet-friendly products and services has never been higher.

It’s a particularly important issue for the nation’s emerging consumer: Gen Z. Research by Dell Technologies shows that almost half of adults aged 18-26 will accept slower economic growth if policymakers invest in fighting climate change.

As the UK readies itself for net zero by 2050, today’s businesses now have a legal imperative to cut carbon emissions – clearing the runway for eco-minded entrepreneurs to service demand with clever B2B solutions.

So what businesses will work well in this brave, new sustainable world? Below, we take a look at three areas that are ripe for savvy startups to plant the seeds of growth in 2023.

Green-packaged products

On average, UK households throw away 1.85 billion pieces of plastic a week. While the impending recession is tightening wallets, consumers continue to gravitate towards products with planet-friendly materials as awareness around the war against single-use plastics grows.

The packaging market began moving towards more environmentally-friendly manufacturing methods years ago. As a result, starting a new sustainable business no longer has to mean breaking the bank. It doesn’t require a doctorate in environmental sciences either – as Maria Rodriguez can attest.

Rodriguez launched Kind Bag in 2019, after being shocked by the reality of plastic pollution whilst travelling Asia. Inspired, she pooled her savings together to build Kind Bag, the brand that’s turning plastic waste into stylish accessories. Every bag is 100% recycled from at least four plastic bottles, and is also entirely recyclable.

When it started, Kind Bag was a first-of-its kind product. Now that more startups are cropping up in this space, the market is increasingly competitive. To stand out, the company has emphasised the aesthetics of its products to make a bag that looks, as well as does, good.

“We have to keep a keen eye on what competitors are doing and analyse what is and isn’t working for them”, says Rodriguez. “From there we can learn what strategies we want to employ and focus on creating our own angle to make us unique.

“We’ve continued to create new collections in collaboration with female artists not only to empower them and amplify their work but also to create something that’s special to Kind Bag and sparks joy in the everyday.”

We have to keep a keen eye on what competitors are doing and analyse what is and isn’t working for them.

Launched in 2020, Wild is another example of a sustainable B2C product making waves in customer shopping baskets. The company is on a mission to eradicate plastic waste from UK bathrooms.

Charles Bowes-Lyon, cofounder of Wild, spotted that bathroom products have historically been mass-manufactured using the cheapest chemicals possible and packaging possible. Wild looks to create high quality, natural products in packaging that is fully-compostable, refillable, and leaves no waste behind.

“I think we were initially quite naïve at how difficult it would actually be to remove plastic from packaging,” says Bowes-Lyon. “We were also self funded and had very little money to iterate with.”

It might have been a challenging route to succeess. But, like Rodriguez, Bowes-Lyon asserts that the road less-travelled can have a bigger impact in a crowded market.

“We felt it was of the utmost importance to create something that was genuinely game-changing,” Bowes-Lyon says. “Only sustainable products that are as good, or better than existing products and convenient to buy have a chance of displacing non-sustainable alternatives.”

Green-packaged business ideas

Create a sustainable or upcycling clothing line

High-profile reports and investigations into fast fashion brands have resulted in heightened consumer awareness of the environmental issues surrounding the production of clothing – and that means a growing customer base for new businesses to target.

You could tackle a particular niche – such as baby and child clothing, which has an alarmingly short life span for growing kids and their constantly spending parents.

It’s a cheap and simple business model, too. You can set up an online store to sell your upcycled wares for an average fee of just £13 per month. Check out our review of the best ecommerce providers to find the perfect match.

Sustainable re-selling, recycling and refurbishing

Electronic waste, referred to as e-waste, is now the world’s fastest growing waste stream. In fact, the UK is on track to become the largest producer of e-waste in Europe per capita by 2024.

Savvy entrepreneurs could venture into the recycling, refurbishing, and re-selling product space. If you’re not feeling ready to take on eBay in year one, consider starting local – your business could fill in a gap in local council e-waste collection while also turning a profit.

Sustainability consultancy

As plenty of businesses – and their staff – become more aware of the environmental impact of their operations, there’s a need for specialist consultancies to help others clean up their carbon footprint.

Sustainable consultancy is on the rise, as 55% of large consultancies – along with 33% of smaller consultancies – begin to push clients towards a net zero design solution by offering it as standard.

The green investment relief fund was also made available in the UK last April, which has slashed rates for businesses that have adopted green improvements – an ideal topic to seek consultancy expertise on.

One startup that’s accepting bookings is Treepoints. Adding a whole new level to the idea of sustainable consultancy, the startup has invented a gamified application. Treepoint users can take advantage of a canny rewards system, turning any positive environmental impact into digital ‘tree points’.

“Speaking to friends and family, we understood lots of people are concerned about the climate crisis but find knowing how to do something meaningful about it daunting,” explains Anthony Collias, cofounder of Treepoints. “From this, the idea for Treepoints was born.”

This personalised approach helps users to see exactly how they’re making a difference in the climate fight. Individuals and organisations can input details about their lifestyle or operations into the Treepoints calculator.

Based on the results, they can establish a monthly fee to offset the exact amount of emissions and support their favourite environmental schemes like planting trees and collecting plastic.

Lots of people are concerned about the climate crisis but find knowing how to do something meaningful about it daunting.

Also watering the sustainable consultancy hole is Earthly. CEO and cofounder, Oliver Bolton, says the idea for the environmental service came from first-time fatherhood. “I imagined a future conversation with [my son],” Bolton relates, “when he would say to me, ‘You knew what was happening, you knew the severity. Why didn’t you do more?’.”

Earthly differs from rivals with its transparent focus on connecting users to verified, nature-based solutions (NBS) that remove carbon, restore biodiversity, and improve the livelihoods of local communities.

This niche is also important for building consumer confidence in the Earthly model. Trust in offsetting programmes has been shaken following reports that the market leader, Verra, found that more than 90% of its rainforest carbon offsets are worthless.

“There is much more caution around the correct rhetoric to use and being able to back up and green claims used in advertising and communications,” notes Shelby Torrence, Head of Marketing at Earthly.

“In recent months, Earthly’s customers have been looking for increased support on how to communicate their sustainability journeys in the right way.”

There is much more caution around the correct rhetoric to use and being able to back up and green claims used in advertising and communications.

Earthly’s website and branding takes care to outline its robust scoring methodology. The startup ranks NBS projects across the world and recommends them to firms based on 64 metrics related to employment, education, equity, health and ecosystem services.

Business ideas to consider

Sustainable waste consultancy

One of the key contributing factors to an SMEs carbon footprint is poor waste management. According to government-funded consultancy Envirowise, 70% of office waste is recyclable, yet just 7.5% reaches a recycling facility on average.

SMEs need external guidance when it comes to sustainable processes like waste management. You could make SMEs aware of the environmental impact they are having, whilst helping get rid of their waste in a way that can increase profitability in a sustainable way.

Launch a sustainable consultancy via an app or online platform

SMEs need information, support and expert guidance to help them reduce carbon emissions. Having a one-stop shop for all things green gives business owners the opportunity to receive support and guidance quickly and easily from consultants and professionals around the UK on one easily accessible platform.

If you have expertise in the sustainability space, why not turn this into an approachable app or website of your own? It’s never been easier or cheaper to create your own business site – check out our best free website builders guide to get started.

Vegan and plant-based food

In 2023, vegan and plant-based food may no longer feel like such a revolutionary business idea. But while there are a lot of companies currently competing for shelf space, few have so far cemented themselves as a household brand.

Currently, 23% of Britons describe themselves as vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian. And the market is still growing as consumers increasingly find alternative, eco-friendly diets easier-to-swallow.

One such winner is Bold Bean Co. While hardly a new idea, legume-based food products have seen a big uplift as a result of campaigns encouraging people to move away from red meat and eat more sustainable, plant-based alternatives.

In just one year, the startup has won listings in Planet Organic, Selfridges, Gorillas, and Waitrose and secured undisclosed investment from “legends” in the food and drink industry.

Then, there’s Grubby. Founded by Martin Holden-White in 2019, the company won our Social Impact Award this year for its tireless efforts to get UK consumers eating its plant-based meal kits.

Having noticed the growing trend of convenient, at-home recipe kits amongst consumers, Grubby launched to bring even more value to customers: not just time-saving, but planet-saving.

“There are still barriers that prevent many people from making the shift [to plant-based],” says Holden-White. “These often relate to preconceptions about vegan food lacking flavour, and nutrition, or being difficult to cook.

“Our recipes are a gateway to altering these mindsets and helping consumers on their journey to eating more plant-based in the long term.”

There are preconceptions about vegan food lacking flavour, and nutrition, or being difficult to cook.

So far, Grubby has delivered 500,000 delicious, planet-friendly meals to 38,000 customers in just three years. Most impressively, it’s stayed ahead in a market that’s now full of new members jostling to get to the top, thanks to innovative ideas like the carbon emission tracker.

Every Grubby recipe is carbon-rated through thorough life cycle assessments of all its ingredients. That means customers can be given a personalised impact dashboard to track their unique footprint versus meat equivalent meals.

Analysing thousands of different ingredients brought challenges. But Holden-White recognises the importance of bring added-value to a customer base that’s being bombarded left, right, and centre by sustainable food options.

“We’d been having lots of discussions from inception about how to build something that makes the environmental benefits of eating our meals more tangible to customers,” says Holden-White. “From surveying and talking directly with our customers, we felt strongly about making it happen.”

Business ideas to consider

Launch a vegan restaurant or food stand

What might have seemed niche a few years ago will become the norm from now on. Vegan restaurants and food stands are here to stay, and there is tremendous growth potential in this area.

There’s plenty of room for new businesses, and you could enter the space by adding a vegan twist to a particular cuisine – from a plant-based barbecue joint to a vegan ice-cream stand.

Vegan cooking classes

As Holden-White mentions, there are a lot of preconceptions about vegan cooking that still need to be dismantled. Starting a vegan cooking or baking class is an easy side-hustle that you can use to educate curious meat eaters on the wonders of green recipes.

This kind of business model naturally lends itself to a diverse range of offshoots like a recipe blog, personal chef service, or even a dropshipping store selling branded cooking materials and equipment.

Final thoughts

2023 is a new era for sustainability. Small businesses across the country must note that investors are focusing more on ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) when assessing startups and growth opportunities.

Businesses demonstrating sustainable values within their operating models will be much more attractive to funders – and will also be able to reap the benefits of the government’s green business rate relief from 2023.

The sector is full of exciting business opportunities. So do your research, find your niche, and keep your operational model transparent. With these three rules, you’ll have a healthy sustainable business plan (and a happier planet as a result).

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.
Back to Top