Mission Driven Startup Radically Thought Through Business Model to Reach Sustainable Business Goals

Sustainability is on the rise in the world of business, but many companies mistakenly believe that reducing their carbon footprint is the only foundation of a sustainable business. But authentic sustainability initiatives do more than just help the environment – they build stronger communities.

“Sustainability is one of the greatest business challenges of our time,” Emily Lohse-Busch, Executive Director of Arch Grants told EQ. “Every company needs a 360-degree view of its impact, and our goal is to foster regional talent engaged in thinking through these issues and sharing their ideas with the wider innovation community.”

Adam Werbach, leading environmental activist and former Global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, says that true corporate sustainability must combine four criteria: economic, social, cultural, and environmental. While the balance of these elements may differ slightly from company to company, a business can’t be sustainable without a sincere commitment to each.

2017 Arch Grant Recipient, Ross Donaldson, founder and CEO of Sunstation.

Guided by their own interest in sustainability, Arch Grants has embraced Werbach’s model when it comes to evaluating potential Recipients. They believe that effective corporate sustainability is multidimensional, supported by a holistic set of values that inform business operations at large.

“Our evaluation of our grant recipients includes the overall sustainability of their business,” says Ben Burke, Director of Entrepreneurship at Arch Grants. “We value businesses that are not just viable in the long term, but will also have a positive impact on the communities around them.”

Recent Recipient Ross Donaldson, founder and CEO of Sunstation USA is a singular example both Arch Grants’ approach and of how a sustainable business should work.

Sunstation USA’s substantive rethink of how the sunscreen industry might operate is exemplary of what we can all do to foster a responsible and sustainable business culture in St. Louis.

By no means is it easy to establish a sustainable business. However, as Donaldson explains, making sustainability a central value to your business model may prove to be a key factor in not only marketing your product, but in distributing it too.

Economic Factors

Donaldson stresses, “It costs us more to do things right, but that’s how we want to work.”

That’s why he created a “100% all-natural, eco-friendly sunscreen.” It may have been more expensive, but Donaldson needed a product that provides a tangible benefit to Sunstation USA’s consumers while reflecting the company’s cultural and social beliefs.

Bearing some additional costs has made the company more sustainable on every front. But as Werbach puts it, no matter how much attention you give to meeting other sustainability criteria, it won’t matter if you can’t survive in the long term. First and foremost, every company must be economically sustainable.

“The laws of business still apply,” Donaldson says. “You have your core business challenges, and the question is: can you use sustainability to help drive them? There’s money lying on the table for every business in America and every business on the planet. How can you use sustainability to find that inefficiency?”

Environmental Factors

Donaldson invested his energies into a more expensive product because he wanted Sunstation USA’s offerings to be as affordable and environmentally friendly as they are profitable.

“When I was developing Sunstation USA,” Donaldson notes, “I could have done it super cheap. I could have used environmentally unfriendly sport sunscreen, saved money, and made money. That may have been economically better for me, but it doesn’t check the other boxes.”

Naturally, most people associate sustainability with a commitment to environmental health. For Donaldson, placing profit above the community values of his target consumers was never going to work.

“There’s a shelf life on business practices that aren’t sustainable,” Donaldson continued. “If I had used sunscreen that was bad for the environment, people would have eventually lost interest.”

Social Factors

Sunstation USA further invokes the value of social responsibility to drive adoption of his product and attract partners.

The company’s community sunscreen dispensers are free for their patrons, and Sunstation USA has developed a way to offset the economic burden for buyers, often communities or municipalities. The backings of the dispensers are customizable, giving local small businesses the opportunity to advertise and raise brand awareness while keeping the dispensers affordable for the buyers.

2017 Arch Grant Recipient, Ross Donaldson, founder and CEO of Sunstation.

For Donaldson, this isn’t a byproduct of Sunstation USA’s business model, but an essential component of it. The platform approach enables every member of the community to enjoy it regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances.

“We’re in the business of public health,” he says. “We want our product to be accessible to everyone, because everyone deserves to know about and prevent skin cancer. Healthy communities are better communities.”

Cultural Factors

A key pillar in Werbach’s theory of true corporate sustainability is addressing issues that affect humanity as a whole, like poverty, education, injustice, and public health. For Sunstation USA, that mission is to raise awareness about sun safety throughout North America and normalize its product — community sunscreen dispensers — until it’s as widespread as hand sanitizer.

Yet, in the context of actually operating a business, that also means prioritizing human welfare in every part of the supply chain, as well as committing resources to specific and measurable causes. To that end, Donaldson strives to provide all employees with living wages and remains committed to selling Sunstation USA products at an affordable price.

“We’re part of creating a sustainable economy and ecosystem that works for everyone,” Donaldson explained.

“People can’t purchase a product if they don’t make a minimum wage. We can’t call ourselves a health-conscious company if we doesn’t invest in all sides of health – including our stakeholders.”