How Social Causes Are Driving Tech Sector Innovation

February 20, 2017

2:20 pm

Today, ethical and sustainable products are king. Nearly three-fourths of Millennials, the demographic piloting this movement, are willing to pay more for sustainable products, according to a recent Nielsen study. Another 91 percent will switch brands to benefit a cause they believe in. And for budding tech companies looking to attract Millennial customers, these statistics are worth noting.

With overwhelming majorities of the nation’s largest generation prioritizing sustainability, ethics can no longer be a thoughtless add-on to existing models. If today’s companies want to prosper, sustainability and social responsibility must become core business practices.

Nowhere has this trend taken root more deeply than in the tech sector. From established brands like LinkedIn and Philips to disruptive startups like littleBits and Skeleton Technologies, tech companies are making sustainability more than a marketing gimmick — they’re making it a competitive advantage.

Leading the Sustainability Charge

To create and maintain a sustainable business, companies — both those in tech and elsewhere — should keep these three strategies in mind:

Match Skills with Solutions

Although governments and charities do important work, they often lack the private sector’s technological prowess. And while nonprofits like Code for America are starting to bridge this divide, for-profit tech leaders are increasingly drawing a dual bottom line. By creatively applying their talents, they’re growing their companies while addressing social problems.

That’s exactly what cofounder Tom Hooper has done at Third Space Learning. Hoping to tackle educational inequality in his home country of England, Hooper created a platform to match at-risk students with tutors worldwide. The ed-tech startup has raised more than £2.5 million, provided more than 90,000 one-on-one tutoring hours, and been named one of the U.K.’s most socially responsible businesses.

Create Sustainable Alternatives to Popular Products

Despite the fact that consumers prefer to shop sustainably, many popular products aren’t environmentally friendly. Those that are, in most cases, are out of reach for budget-conscious consumers. In other cases, sustainable options simply don’t exist. Creating sustainable alternatives, then, isn’t just good for the planet; it’s also good business.

CRU Kafe, another U.K.-based tech brand, is pioneering a better coffee capsule. Founded by three friends tired of wasting so much plastic with their Nespresso machines, the coffee brand stands by its earth-friendly promise. It even joined energy tech startup Bio-Bean to create coffee logs and biofuels from WIRED2016’s coffee waste.

Make Intentions Clear Internally

Whatever the company’s cause, embed it in the culture. From the boardroom to developers’ desks, social impact should factor into every decision. People and the planet — not just profit — should be considered with every product. This focus appeals to socially conscious consumers, but more importantly, it ensures the team doesn’t lose sight of its mission. Medopad, a U.K. mobile health provider, does a great job of this.

“We want to create an ecosystem of data flowing between all parties to increase efficiencies, reduce errors, and, naturally, save costs,” Rich Khatib and Dan Vàhdat, the CEO and CTO of Medopad told News Medical. “We also want to empower patients to be able to use technology in order to look after their own conditions.”

To accomplish that mission, Medopad’s team aligned. Its developers built an ecosystem of easy-to-use apps connecting doctors, patients, and hospitals. From its landing page to its television ads, Medopad’s marketers highlight the brand’s social DNA across its communications. And thanks to its leaders, Medopad has secured mission-driven investments from some of the world’s top healthcare, pharmaceutical, insurance, and technology companies.

These days, it’s not enough to just believe in a cause. Anyone can tweet a hashtag or hold a charity auction. Living, breathing, and rallying others to a social mission is more difficult — but, as today’s tech founders can attest, it’s also more rewarding.

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David Goldberg is co-founder and CEO of Founders Pledge, a global initiative that helps tech founders and investors translate their commercial success into social good. A registered charity in the U.K. and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the United States, Founders Pledge has garnered 770 pledges across 22 countries worth more than $199 million. It is currently deploying $18 million from 22 exits.

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