Sustainability standard especially for start-ups
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DIN sustainability standard for start-ups (DIN Connect)

In May 2019, the project “DIN-SPEC 90051 Standard Sustainability Assessment of Start-ups” was launched. Voluntary, interested experts will contribute their experience and expertise in the assessment of sustainability within the framework of a temporary consortium over the next 10 months. The consortium will be led by Constanze Trautwein from the Borderstep Institute and supported by the German Institute for Standardization. In addition to the Borderstep Institute for Innovation and Sustainability, the project initiators are the Bundesverband Deutsche Startups, the Forum Nachhaltige Geldanlagen and SDG Investments. Some project initiators have already successfully developed and published a guideline for the sustainability assessment of start-ups.

At the end of the project, the standard will be made available to all interested users free of charge and without restrictions. The standard is aimed at start-up and business development institutions, start-ups, start-up investors, corporate investors, development banks, credit institutions, rating agencies, environmental and sustainability associations and certification bodies.

Further information can be found here.


In the area of sustainability, evaluation and management approaches as well as standards already exist. Nevertheless, there is a gap in this environment. When it comes to determining their own sustainability impacts, start-ups differ from established companies:

Start-ups are in the early stages of business development. They offer products or services that are often still under development and may look quite different in the future. The exact sustainability effects can therefore only be determined potentially on the basis of assumptions and forecasts. Also the market share of the company – and thus the extent of the sustainability effects – can only be calculated ex-ante.
Unlike large companies and established SMEs, start-ups do not have a sustainability department. If they prioritize the issue early on, perhaps one person in the founding team has responsibility for sustainability, but usually in addition to many other issues. The capacity and knowledge to think about sustainability issues at an early stage and to consider them strategically in the development of a business model is therefore limited.

A sustainability standard is needed especially for start-ups

Two aspects are therefore indispensable if an assessment of sustainability is to be carried out in a new or young company: Firstly, the sustainability potential must be considered and not the current sustainability impacts. Secondly, the early integration of sustainability concerns and the evaluation of this integration should be of a manageable scope and be flexible in its application.

The existing solutions have not been developed primarily for start-ups and take these aspects into account either not at all or only to a limited extent.

Practice-oriented approach to sustainability assessment

The sustainability standard provides new and young companies with a practice-oriented approach with which they can assess their current sustainability potential. In addition, they can make strategic considerations about the further development of their business model with a view to sustainability issues and thus prevent risks.

Other support actors also benefit

But the supporting actors in the founder ecosystem also benefit. Not only investors, but also incubators, accelerator programme providers and even public support programmes can use the standard to assess the sustainability potential of start-ups in selection processes. A standard can also be used to compare different start-ups in terms of their sustainability impact.

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