At the heart of any business lie the goods or services that it provides to consumers. To make your business more environmentally sustainable, consider how you can make your offerings more sustainable. For example, could you use more environmentally friendly materials to make your product? Could you use more sustainable production methods (eg methods that require less power or generate less waste)?
Using more sustainable materials and processes can cost more than using cheaper, less sustainable alternatives. Developing new products and manufacturing or service provision procedures can also require your business to invest in resources and commit time to this development.
If you’re concerned that these factors may make it unprofitable for your business to develop a more sustainable product, consider what you’re really investing in. As well as the innate moral value created when you contribute to conserving the natural world, becoming more environmentally friendly can help your business economically.
Protecting your innovations
If you come up with innovative new eco-friendly product designs or production processes, you have created value. You should consider protecting your right to your innovations so that your business can take advantage of the value that you’ve created.
If you have invented a new way of making your product which involves an inventive step (eg it is a truly new way of doing this that no one else in your field or industry has come up with), and which is capable of industrial application (eg it can be used in a manufacturing process of significant scale), you may be able to apply for a patent to protect your new invention.
You can protect a more general design (ie the way the new version of your product looks) or a creative work using design rights or copyright, respectively.
Although you may be able to protect the rights to exclusively use an innovative environmentally friendly process, if you truly want to contribute to sustainability efforts, you could share your invention with others so that they too can reduce the environmental impact created by their businesses.
However, if you collaborate with other businesses (eg by researching a new means of production together), you should be aware of the possible competition law (or ‘antitrust’) implications of such collaborations.
Competition law prohibits certain business practices which are deemed to negatively affect the competition between businesses in a certain market. One of these practices, prohibited by the Competition Act 1998, is collaboration between businesses which distorts (or affects) competition within a market.
For instance, if you invent a new way of making your product sustainable (assuming that consumers value this innovation and are willing to pay for it), this could give you an edge over your competitors. If you then share the secret with your competitors, this would distort your competitive advantage and the competition in your market more generally. If this occurs your business could be accused of violating competition law and may be at risk of regulatory action or private (ie brought by another business) enforcement action.
There are exemptions to this for businesses who only hold a small share of their product’s market and for collaborations of certain characters (eg for certain kinds of research and development). As a result, competition law mostly affects larger businesses. However, if your business operates in a smaller, niche market, you may be held to hold a large market share in your particular niche market. You could then be subject to competition law rules. This can be a complicated area of law.
If you’re considering collaborating or sharing information with a competitor, you can Ask a lawyer for help considering any potential competition law implications.
If you’re collaborating with another business, you should also consider creating a Collaboration agreement to protect your interests throughout the collaboration.