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7 free tools for sustainability assessment in startups

7 free tools for sustainability assessment in startups

As a startup, you navigate the direction, execution, and impact of your business. How does sustainability fit into this picture? In this article, we introduce tools that simplify sustainability assessment. 

By assessing your startup’s sustainability practices, you can identify your current sustainability position and explore opportunities for improvement. Remember: sustainability encompasses three dimensions.

8 good reasons for sustainability in business

  • Contribute to sustainability in all three dimensions out of intrinsic motivation.
  • Meet rising stakeholder expectations.
  • Enhance your company’s image.
  • Build resilience to changes and crises.
  • Save costs through efficient resource use.
  • Boost revenue with increased service demand.
  • Elevate team motivation.
  • Attain competitive advantages.

How do you assess sustainability?

Startups can assess their sustainability by first defining clear sustainability goals that fit their business model. Measurable indicators are essential to track progress. It’s important to view sustainability as a process that is regularly reviewed and adjusted.

The following seven free tools can assist you in assessing your sustainability. The tools are suitable depending on the phase and context of your startup. With the following guide, we outline the best application for your needs. Which tool is best for your sustainability assessment depends, among other things, on whether you are in the pre-founding stage or if your company is already active.

 

How do you evaluate sustainability?

Startups can effectively assess their sustainability by initially establishing well-defined goals that align with their business model. Employing measurable indicators is important to monitor and measure progress. It’s vital to perceive sustainability as an ongoing process that undergoes regular review and adjustments.

To support this evaluation, we recommend seven free tools tailored to different startup phases and contexts. Our guide outlines the optimal application of each tool based on your specific needs, considering factors such as whether you are in the pre-founding stage or if your company is already operational.

Pre-founding phase

-> How do you assess the potential impact of your startup with a business idea and a rough plan? 

1. Stanford Impact Compass

Duration: about 15 minutes

With the Stanford Impact Compass, you can assess the impact potential of your startup. Even before founding, you can establish a clear mission, which is crucial for attracting investors and customers. The Stanford Impact Compass offers a quick, semi-quantitative query with six categories:

  • Value for society 
  • Maturity 
  • Effectiveness 
  • Scalability 
  • Business model 
  • Impact in the area of environment, social and corporate governance 

The Stanford Impact Compass website offers a recorded webinar and a whitepaper including examples to help fill it out. However, the tool is just a start: the categories and the assessment grid are rather generic. 


Topic

Impact potential: rough estimation


Handling

Quick dropdown query, valuable accompanying material


Practical effect

Engagement with value proposition

Pre-founding and founding phase

-> How can you incorporate sustainability into your business model?

2. Sustainable Business Canvas

Duration: 1 hour

The Sustainable Business Canvas is content and structurally based on the Business Model Canvas and allows qualitative text input. It offers a clear template that is also suitable for presenting the sustainability aspect of your business model in ten points:

  • Vision and mission
  • Key partnerships
  • Key activities
  • Key resources
  • Value proposition
  • Customers
  • Competitors
  • Other stakeholders
  • Cost structure
  • Revenue model

Although the tool lacks a feedback system, it’s ideal for iterative engagement with your business model. Specific guiding questions help you fill out the template considering sustainability criteria. Numerous tips, examples, and valuable accompanying materials make it easier to fill out the Sustainable Business Canvas.


Topic

Business model: development


Handling

Iterative text input, guiding questions, tips, examples and valuable accompanying materials


Practical effect

Engagement with strategy, PDF output for presentation

3. Application tool of the DIN SPEC 90051-1

Duration: 1 hour

The practice tool of the DIN SPEC 90051-1 is a guideline for assessing the sustainability of startups according to European standards. The sustainability assessment consists entirely of qualitative multiple-choice questions and is suitable for both a rapid preliminary assessment or more thorough due diligence. Like the Sustainable Business Canvas, this tool is also content based on the Business Model Canvas. Structurally, it differentiates between enabler and result criteria. Enablers are factors that enable startups to act sustainably. Results are the effects that already emanate from a startup:

Enabler criteria

  • Vision and strategy
  • Team
  • Processes
  • Partnership and resources
  • Product, service, and market position

Result criteria

  • Effects on target groups
  • Effects on other stakeholders
  • Effects on the environment, economy, and society

Although the tool lacks a feedback system, it’s ideal for iterative engagement with your business model. Specific examination questions support a conscientious answering of the survey. Dealing with the sustainability assessment can be resource-intensive but goes deeper.


Topic

Business model: development and evaluation


Handling

Specific multiple-choice query, Preliminary check and due diligence


Practical effect

Examination and reinforcement of the strategy, stakeholder dialogue

-> How can you implement measures for operational sustainability management?

4. Sustainability Management Checklist

Duration: 45 min

The Sustainability Management Checklist is already suitable before you have founded your startup and just want to get a comprehensive overview of potential measures in sustainability management. It’s also useful in the founding phase, when you want to iteratively deal with where you stand in terms of sustainability priorities and goals.

The comprehensive Excel checklist allows the assessment of measures in four sustainability categories:

  • Corporate governance
  • Environment
  • Social
  • Supply chain

You assess the current state of your sustainability management from “not met” to “met.” This tool primarily targets product-oriented startups with its supply chain focus, but the checklist works for all startups. Irrelevant questions can be marked and excluded from the overall analysis, where the optimization potential in the individual categories is shown. However, the tool does not offer action instructions. Startups must engage independently and iteratively with the results and interpret them.


Topic

Sustainability management: Filtering measures


Handling

Checklist, iteratively editable


Practical effect

Qualitative monitoring in the action catalog: focus areas and goals at a glance

-> You are a product-oriented company: To what extent do you want to implement measures along the supply chain?

5. CircularStart

Duration: 45 min

The CircularStart tool allows you to evaluate your sustainability within the circular economy context, using a straightforward dropdown menu in nine categories for a simple, semi-quantitative assessment:

  • Strategy/Innovation
  • People/Skills
  • Operation
  • Collaboration with stakeholders
  • Products/Materials
  • Services
  • Infrastructure/Property/Equipment
  • Water
  • Energy

The tool scores each category without offering specific action steps, requiring additional analysis to interpret the results.


Topic

Sustainability management in the supply chain: Evaluation


Handling

Dropdown query, iteratively editable


Practical effect

Semi-quantitative monitoring of measures along the supply chain

Scale-up phase and beyond

-> Utilize your operational data to evaluate sustainability: Assess your current performance and pinpoint areas for improvement.

6. LEVO

Duration: 4 hours

The LEVO tool is explicitly developed for startups and is suitable for comprehensive monitoring and reporting of your sustainability. The assessment is done with a query of partly qualitative, partly quantitative values. 

The tool consists of three steps: First, you assess operational sustainability. Next, you evaluate the external impact. Finally, the goal setting follows. The assessment of operational sustainability takes place in the three ESG dimensions with scoring: 

  • Environment 
  • Social 
  • Corporate governance 

You evaluate the external impact in line with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. The tool supports you in goal setting, based on the completed survey on operational sustainability. To access the tool, you must create a free account. 


Topic

Evaluation of operational sustainability (ESG) and external impact (SDGs)


Handling

Comprehensive survey, iteratively editable


Practical effect

Qualitative and quantitative monitoring, reporting and goal setting

7. B Impact Assessment

Duration: 2 hours

The B Impact Assessment Tool is not explicitly developed for startups but is still suitable for monitoring and reporting. It is also possible to certify your sustainability if you are already in the growth phase. The content and structure of the tool are based on the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The assessment is done as a query of partly qualitative, partly quantitative values in five categories: 

  • Corporate governance 
  • Employees 
  • Society 
  • Environment 
  • Customers 

The tool offers scoring, including comparison with benchmarks. Based on your priorities, you receive suggestions on measures to implement in your startup. There is the possibility to certify as a B Corporation. 


Topic

Evaluation of operational sustainability (ESG) and external impact (SDGs)


Handling

Comprehensive survey, iteratively editable


Practical effect

Qualitative and quantitative monitoring, reporting and goal setting, B Corp certification

This case study was conducted in collaboration with Impact Hub Basel and FHNW, enabled by Innosuisse. We engaged startups at various stages of development to test these tools in a workshop setting. Our collective goal is to create and introduce a program that equips startups with the means to build sustainable business models from the outset.

If you’re aware of any tools or services that can aid startups in embarking on their sustainability journey and believe they should be included in our list, we welcome your suggestions. Please feel free to share information about these resources with us.

johannes bohren

Do you have a question regarding sustainable innovation?
Johannes will gladly assist you.

Johannes Bohren

Director Entrepreneurship

Email Johannes

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