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Sustainability and Morality Issues as a Startup

July 15, 2016

Written by

Jun Huh, Chief Technology Officer

BizDojo is New Zealand's leading co-working space. Mohio resides in The BizDojo Auckland among many other talented and inspired startups and freelancers. As a data analysis and visualisation startup, we look at the topic of sustainability as a great challenge where clarity of information is vital. Read this blog to find out CTO Jun's thoughts on Sustainability and Morality in a startup.

Intro to Dojo change makers

Mohio resides in The BizDojo Auckland, New Zealand's leading co-working space, where we’re among many other talented and inspired startups and freelancers. Earlier this year, Dojo residents Amanda and David from GreenShoot Pacific have led the members of the community to a gathering called Dojo change makers.

This open ended discussion touched on how we can make positive environmental impacts as a collective. The discussion has brought the community together and we were able to quickly produce strategies that could be applied immediately for the co-working space. A great post by Casey from BizDojo narrates our first gathering.

Dojo Auckland has already been designed as being an environmentally friendly space, utilising natural light, airflow, and even rainwater for the internal sewage system. They also provide bike racks with electric bikes free to use for the residents, well categorised recycling system with informative signs, and the overall design of the space being environmentally friendly.

The discussion led to a space wide awareness on paper consumption, waste management, public transport, and emissions. The community continues to expand on these discussions using the BizDojo's slack #dojo-change-makers channel.

Amanda and Dave plotting cunning plans to make the world better

My background on the subject and skepticism

I have had a strong interest in the climate change issues ever since being exposed to the book This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. Having spent countless hours discussing issues on social and economic impacts with a close sociologist friend (thanks Emil!), I came in with my own agenda and priorities to the discussions of sustainability.

I was both skeptical with the magnitude of impact we are making, and how the little things that we do may still not add to an impactful change, even if we become a leading example in eco friendly co-working space.

However, after being involved with Dojo change makers and having continuous open discussions with these wonderful human beings, I was met with hope. It was a hope that came from seeing how motivated, inspired, and thoughtful everyone was. We had people like Anne Harper, our resident ocean whisperer, who is actively participating in voluntary works with marine conservation. Comparably I was just an armchair philosopher, a keyboard warrior, and a skeptic.

Nassim Taleb, a great modern thinker with a finance background, in his book discusses the concept of antifragile systems that thrive in chaos. Being a huge follower of Nassim Taleb, I pondered how we can apply his way of thinking into creating a sustainable environment.

A fragile system is a system where an excessive external stress will cause it to collapse. The common understanding is that the opposite of fragility is robustness. Taleb argues that the opposite of fragility is not robustness, but it is antifragility, the term he came up with, which indicates that a system will become stronger after being exposed to external stressors. An example would be human muscle tissues; by being put under heavy stress from acts of lifting and various forms of exercise, they become stronger.

There are many examples and counterexamples on the web and from his book. I thought the idea could apply to some of the concepts we have discussed within the change makers. Instead of just trying to reduce and recycle to minimise our impact on the environment, it would be more worthwhile to think of the ways we can have positive impacts on the environment while continuing to remain a viable business (or become more profitable by doing so).

recycling.png
‍Super advanced recycling system

Internal growth

The greatest turnaround came not with the accumulation of the small external changes we were making to our surroundings, but within ourselves. The involvement with the change makers have inspired me to discuss these topics more openly with not just other entrepreneurs but within my circle of friends.

This goes beyond just sustainability issues. It relates to our empathy towards others, our future generations, and the Earth itself. When we take every small step with honesty and sincerity and try to be virtuous, it creates a mindset and a way of living. This shift is visible as a contagious positive energy, and we touch the people around us with it.

Within every individual is a universe, and by making their day, you are making an immeasurable impact. I have been a fan of the philosophy of stoicism, and I really like the quote from its Wikipedia page where Seneca and Epictetus emphasized that ‘a sage was immune to misfortune, because virtue is sufficient for happiness’.

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‍Amanda’s dog Jimmy

Hacking the system

Ok, enough with this feel good spirituality bs and let’s try to make impacts that matter. Even though our co-working space has seen a great positive turnaround, there is still a detachment between the activities we were doing and the actual business models of the resident startups.

The issues of the climate change for example, is something systematic and very inherent to capitalism. Most businesses are amoral, and when their survival relies on maximising profit at all costs, being environmentally sustainable is a tangential dimension that is often not within their best interest. I see this as a flaw in the system rather than greed.

If startups continue to talk about environmental issues and raise awareness, we will in fact make sustainability a visible metric for businesses to be acceptable. 

It is my prediction that, with gradual increases in awareness of the general public and the more dire the state of our environment gets, it will one day reach a tipping point where sustainability is not only essential but is a key success metric to any business.

This is not dissimilar to how a few years ago where/when McDonald’s introduced healthy options. It was done because it became vital to shift their image in order to remain profitable. The general public needs to continue to take interest and talk about these issues. When we create a society that is profitable to be environmentally friendly, we will have corporates fighting to plant that extra tree and maximise solar energy.

Data analysis and visualisation

In order to understand these wildly changing environments, we need to first understand the data that is available to us. It is a complex space, where different political agendas clash, and we are overloaded with information that can and cannot be turned into measurable metrics.

As a data analysis and visualisation startup, we look at the topic of sustainability as a great challenge where clarity of information is vital. It is crucial to present information in the clearest and most unbiased manner that will have impacts on our future generations.

If you, the reader, work with environmental data, we would love to hear your stories on how you process them and make sense out of them, and potentially see if we can help.

Parting notes

Thank you for reading. This is Jun from Mohio. This post was intended to share my disjointed thoughts on sustainability and how they relate to the startup world. I am not naive enough to think that what I am writing will change the world, or even change your views. However, just by virtue of talking about it we start thinking and force ourselves to do things differently, perhaps a nudge closer to making a positive impact to the world we live in.

I encourage you to continue taking interest in the subject. Have the discussion happening with your own circle of friends and colleagues, and keep making small impacts that matter.

Relevant links:

BizDojo - http://www.bizdojo.com/

Greenshoot Pacific - http://www.greenshootpacific.com/

ThisChangesEverything - http://thischangeseverything.org/

Doomsday Clock - http://thebulletin.org/doomsday-dashboard

Nassim Taleb homepage - http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/

About the author

Jun Huh, Chief Technology Officer

Jun leads our continually growing software engineering team and has many years of experience with the development of visualization software, in both commercial and in research enviroments.

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