2023 Startups 100 | Sustainability shortlist and award winner

It’s not always easy being green - but they sure make it look like it! Meet the six startups shortlisted for this year’s Sustainability award.

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Helena Young
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It’s easy to forget that last year the UK reached a consecutive, record-high temperature of 40.3°C. Tropical heat waves and arctic winds are now officially the norm and there is no more denying it: we must hit net zero emissions by 2050. The question is, how?

Never fear, the startups are here. As with almost every global challenge, new business leaders are lighting the way for firms to clean up their act – literally – and join the fight against the climate crisis.

Sustainability is undoubtedly the most common thread running through our 2023 Startups 100 Index. The majority of companies demonstrate some form of commitment to reduced carbon footprint.

But we want to celebrate the ones that have truly put the planet above profits to achieve lasting, tree-hugging change. That’s why we’ve introduced a brand-new Sustainability award to this year’s campaign.

Along with guest judge Rachel McClelland, founder of sustainable comms agency planetSHINE, we’ve picked out six sustainable businesses to find the ultimate green champion in 2023. Read on for the full shortlist.

Rachel McClelland
Introducing Startups 100 guest judge, Rachel McClelland!

McClelland is the founder and CEO of planetSHINE, a comms agency focusing on ethical living, sustainability and animal rights. As well as helping large brands like Quorn Foods and Dunelm find an honest and clear sustainability voice, planetSHINE has also mentored small organisations through the B Corp certification process.

WINNER: Concrete4Change


Startups 100 WINNER
2023 Startups 100 | Winner of the Sustainability award

In recognition of a sustainability leader that prioritises the health of the planet as part of its company mission.

Learn more about Concrete4Change

Sustainable action has become an imperative duty for organisations this year – none more so than the construction industry, which currently accounts for 8% of all global CO2 emissions. That number is set to rise to 40% by 2050.

Luckily for builders everywhere, Concrete4Change (C4C) is developing a technology that can permanently sequester CO2 inside of concrete, making it stronger, cheaper, and greener. According to founders Sid Pourfalah, Dr Michael Wise, and Dalraj Nijjar, the startup will be able to permanently store over 2 billion tonnes of CO2 in concrete, garnering huge interest from multiple Tier-1 concrete and construction companies.

C4C was internationally recognised at the UN COP26 summit last year, winning the most innovative net-zero project award for its work. And it’s clear that Concrete4Change has also captured McClelland’s attention.

“What a concept,” she says. “This could be a technology that has vast scalability. I think that the need is huge, as is the opportunity.”

We weren’t surprised to hear that McClelland found selecting a winner a “hugely tough decision, as each brand has something incredibly compelling and unique.” In the end, Concrete4Change was first across the finish line. Its award-winning technology is guiding the global built environment into a carbon-free future – a worthy win, to say the least!

Says McClelland: “The construction industry is in dire need of sustainable innovation. When you also consider a growing global population which will demand more housing, schools, and transport, Concrete4Change’s technology is in critical need. What a game changer!”

Runner Up: For Peat’s Sake!

It began with a peat-peeve. As an environmental geography graduate, For Peat’s Sake! founder, George Davies knew that peatlands are the world’s largest terrestrial carbon stores, making up between 2-4% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. But what if there was a new, sustainable, peat-free compost..

An idea has become a brand. For Peat’s Sake! is a coconut-based alternative, supplied by an ethically-certified provider in Sri Lanka. The brand has inspired a major shift towards eco-friendly products by 130 major retailers across the UK including The National Trust, Kew Gardens, and the Eden Project.

The company’s peat-free campaign work has been so far-reaching, it recently gave rise to a government decision to ban sales of peat composts by 2024.

By cleaning up our peatland, and our shopping baskets, the startup is fixing a problem that McClelland feels particularly strongly about. “Thank goodness For Peat’s Sake! Launched,” she exclaims. “I cringe every time I go to the garden centre and see people still buying compost with peat in it.”

Runner Up: Kind Bag

Remember that mountain of plastic supermarket bags you have stuffed under your kitchen cupboard? Kind Bag is here to rid you of the single-use plastic curse.

Founded by Maria Rodriguez, the company transforms plastic bottles into a durable RPET fabric for stylish accessories. Unlike competitors, each Kind Bag product is made from 100% recycled materials, helping to combat the global issue of plastic waste. So far, the company has rescued over four million bottles from landfill, and returned 1% of profits to charity.

Having started with just her savings, Rodriguez’s company is forecast to become a multi-million pound startup by 2023. It now sells in over 25 countries around the globe and is currently establishing distribution to cover North America.

McClelland loves that the business is female founded and also demonstrates solid growth. “The products are beautiful, as is the branding,” she judges. “The business is already performing well and has huge potential to scale. An array of strategic partnerships could help with growth whilst also continuing to make a difference to the planet.”

Runner Up: Wild

fred and charlie Wild founders

Wild cofounder Charlie Bowes-Lyon was running a reusable water bottle company when he first learnt that more than 95% of bathroom products are single-use. He immediately switched teams to launch Wild alongside business partner, Freddy Ward.

Many product development trials later, the duo has made the first refillable deodorant product that is also 100% biodegradable.

Among Wild’s many eco-credentials, the company has planted over 200,000 trees and diverted 80 tonnes of throw-away deodorants. And it’s now championing the sustainable mission to an online following of almost 238,000 – inspiring change one roll at a time.

McClelland describes Wild’s refillable revolution as a “great gap in the market. Considering how people are now committed to reusable water bottles, amongst other reusables, this is a great business. Love the branding and the fact that the refills are compostable. I’ve been looking for this product for years, can’t believe I didn’t know about it!”



One of the biggest emission sinners is the fashion industry, which currently accounts for 10% of global emissions – making it slightly worse for the environment than air travel.

Founders Lucy Hall, Jade McSorely, and Jen Charon built LOANHOOD after becoming disenchanted with their careers in the unsustainable fashion sector. Run like a social marketplace, LOANHOOD users can upload their items to be lent out to renters for a fraction of the retail price.

Second-hand clothes are projected to make up 27% of consumer wardrobes by 2023. But while the tide is turning, LOANHOOD is still pushing forward by partnering with universities and local councils to educate people about the circular economy.

“Love that Loanhood targets Gen Z, the demographic which engages considerably with fast fashion owing to disposable income,” McClelland appraises. “I think a big comms / education piece is required to engage and onboard the target audience [but] it’s a really important business that can leverage designer rentals to build the movement amongst Gen Z.”

Runner Up: Homethings

Whilst living in a flatshare in London, Homethings cofounder, Tim Keaveney, grew frustrated by his flatmates’ range of single-use plastic products clogging up space in the bathroom and kitchen. He then discovered that the home care industry ships 800,000 million gallons of water around the world every year – and his mind was made up.

Together with Matthew Aubrey, Keaveney launched Homethings, a patented, and affordable, dissolvable cleaning tablet that can be added to tap water to make a refillable surface spray.

Eliminating the need for plastic packaging means Homethings has 94% lower carbon emissions than rivals, and has so far saved over 23 tonnes of single use plastic from landfill.

The brand received five offers of investment on BBC’s Dragon’s Den, and has launched nationwide in Waitrose stores. But McClelland pointed to Homethings’ B Corp score as a key highlight; a massive 95.4 compared to the required 80 points for certification. She describes Homethings as “something which resonates with me. Love the simplicity of the product.”

How important is sustainability for startups today?

Arguments for implementing environmental values often outline a moral decision for the business owner. In fact, McClelland shares her belief with Startups that “in terms of doing the right thing, nobody should start a business which isn’t rooted in sustainability.”

Still, the commercial impetus for eco-action should not be ignored. 34% of consumers are choosing brands they view as environmentally-conscious, according to a 2021 report by Deloitte, pricking the ears of investors. Meanwhile the government is increasingly promoting sustainability at a regulatory level.

“Sustainability is no longer ‘nice to have’;” McClelland announces. “For businesses that want to grow and have longevity, sustainability is critical.”

Of course, SMEs are currently gripped by additional pressures such as supply chain chaos and rising energy bills. How can businesses prioritise the planet over profit during a crisis?

McLelland admits that poor cash flow forecasts are currently causing real trouble for SMEs. However, in her view, progress is directly linked to a strengthened bottom line. Using more resource-efficient operational methods can yield supplier cost savings and marketing opportunities, “which ultimately lead to growth.

“Startup life is not for the fainthearted. To start something mission-led is even harder and utterly admirable,” she acknowledges. “[Looking at this list] I feel such hope that there are entrepreneurs working hard to ensure their business is centred around a sustainable model.”

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.

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