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As we face a hybrid of escalating environmental concerns, heightened mental health awareness and increased inflation-based economic constraints, today’s consumers are rethinking what is deemed a necessity in their lives and moving towards a mindset focused on quality and efficiency rather than more for the sake of more.
This amended perspective is one that embraces minimalism — a philosophy that emphasizes simplicity and the elimination of excess. Minimalism has made a strong economic case recently, creating a demand to actually want “less.” Take housing, for example. U.S. Census data notes that the square footage of single-family starts decreased from 2,519 in 2015 to 2,191 in 2023, a drop of 13%. Americans overall are now willing to sacrifice a giant house, once seen as the American Dream, in favor of affordability and a smaller environmental footprint.
Technology has also contributed to the notion of producing less. Our smartphones now take the place of a clock radio, camera, typewriter, physical diary/calendar, watch, Walkman, flashlight — the list goes on. While the surface-level advantages may be about convenience and performance, there also exists a huge underlying economic benefit. Add up the individual costs of the countless gadgets that are now packed into our iPhones, and they’ll total many times the price (not to mention the smaller footprint the absence of their waste will produce).
Viewed through a corporate or entrepreneurial lens, minimalism does not always equate to “less,” as in shrinking the company, reducing headcount or eliminating certain products entirely, but rather embracing the mentality of focusing on what is essential and valuable, or as Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo coined, the items that “spark joy.” It is a philosophy first, followed by collective action.
Related: The Benefits and Limitations of Minimalism in Website Design
Minimalism is smart business. And today’s entrepreneurial companies are uniquely positioned to develop and execute on a minimalist mindset. Doing so effectively will establish eco-friendly resilience and promote stronger economic growth. The shift from more to better will drive our next wave of economic advancement, and start-ups are well-positioned to build highly efficient enterprises from the ground up.
Here are five ways entrepreneurs can leverage minimalist principles to create better companies:
1. Declutter and consolidate your product
Think about ways that you can focus your product offering to minimize unnecessary production. Explore how you can create multi-disciplinary products and services. Review your inventory and identify and phase out duplicative SKUs – these may be individual products that serve the same function but are produced separately. Reduce style variety — for example, consolidate the number of colors or sizes a product comes in. While there can certainly be value in options, there is also value in considering how many options you need to provide.
2. Clarify your mission, vision and values
Define what your company stands for and think beyond the standard definition of profit. Instead of having broad mission statements and overexplaining your “why,” try to find your singular guiding light or a more succinct way to define your mission, vision and values. Align your company with a bigger purpose. Bicycle maker Trek, for instance, created a simple but poignant mission statement: “to aid in the betterment of our planet through cycling.” While the company owner/founder may ultimately set the mission, vision and values, it is important to generate input from key influencers, including but not limited to employees at varying levels and across departments, customers, suppliers, distributors, advisors, board members and investors. Create a panel of subject matter experts (SMEs) and gather their feedback. Incorporate this data into a leadership offsite dedicated to determining purpose-led mission, vision and values statements. Announce these principles succinctly and commit to making them visible and public.
3. Give back your company in a focused way
Decades after first starting Patagonia, founder Yvon Chouinard and his family transferred his $3 billion enterprise to a trust and nonprofit to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land. Patagonia never suffered economically for its benevolence, and in fact, it became quite the opposite, with sales quadrupling in the past decade to hit more than $1 billion annually. Think about how you, as a founder, can follow this guideline and give back to your employees and the broader community. Instead of contributing on an ad-hoc basis to a wide variety of causes depending on the needs or demands in the moment, identify those more specific causes/organizations that you want to continuously support and automatically allocate a percentage of topline sales accordingly. This will allow management to approve the line item annually, leaving no room for variance based on performance. It will also establish a tangible metric that can be announced and publicized to employees and the broader community. Remember, it is not just about the number of organizations you support or the dollars you donate, but rather the quality and authenticity of the engagement itself.
4. Hold yourself accountable
Enlist an external organization to evaluate the sustainable integrity of your company. One such vehicle is registering as a benefit corporation, or B-Corp. There are now over 7,000 companies across 90 countries registered as B-Corps, many of which are now successful for-profit multinationals. Enlist your company for a B-Corp audit and build a company roadmap that aligns with the organizations’ guidelines so that you can become certified. Doing so will help ensure that your priorities are focused and tangible progress is being made.
Related: How to Calculate and Reduce Your Business’s Carbon Footprint
5. Create a lower carbon footprint
In 2020, Starbucks launched a strawless lid, reducing its plastic footprint by 9%. In August 2023, the company executed a limited-store rollout of reusable cups to go. Taking inventory of everything from office space to primary/secondary packaging can lead to greater sustainability as well as higher back-end profit. Determine how you will reduce your company’s own carbon footprint and monitor the economic results of doing so. For additional support, hire an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) consultant to conduct an audit and provide a company report or enlist a company to help your business decarbonize.
Advancements in areas such as AI, digital manufacturing, renewable energy and nanotechnology have paved the way for increased productivity and decreased consumption. As entrepreneurs, we need to do our part. We must invest early and embrace minimalism today for a future economic reward. Technology has paved the way, and the opportunity is present.