Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dare to Go Green

Smart businesswomen are seeing the demand for eco-friendly products and services in the marketplace. They are developing solutions that will benefit their bottom-line profits as well as the people in their community and the planet itself--what's known as the "triple bottom line." They realize the potential for growth for those who take the initiative to become market leaders, and they say that now is the best time to go green.

Here are three reasons why:

1. It's the Right Thing to Do
When Gay Browne founded green products and services directory Greenopia in 2005, she knew it was the right thing to do. A lifelong asthmatic whose oldest son had autism, she had devoted her time to finding healthy and sustainable products and services. Realizing that other people might also be interested in the eco-friendly products and services she had found, her goal shifted from finding toxic-free items for her family to producing a guide to eco-friendly businesses that was similar in scope to the Michelin Guide for restaurants.

Greenopia offers green guides for Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. The guides contain more than 50 categories of eco-friendly businesses--everything from dry cleaners to sustainable building suppliers. In addition, you can find online green guides to 50 other cities as well as green tips for consumers on Browne expects an iPhone application for Greenopia listings to be released nationwide soon (there's already a Los Angeles iPhone app).

All companies listed in Greenopia must sign a statement that the information they provide is true. In addition, auditors may visit the businesses at any time to make sure they are up to the stringent rules Greenopia sets. "We set a very high bar for these businesses, so they really have to look at all aspects of their business," Browne says.

Today, the business of going green has really hit home for Browne. "It's been right for me to lead a healthier life . . . In terms of a business, I've been blessed to start something that is helpful for many people." She adds, "In the next few years, there will be [government] requirements. It's in businesses' best interest to be proactive and make the change before they get hit by taxes and other things."

2. It's the Smart Thing to Do
For Green Irene co-founder Rosamaria Caballero, going green was "a no-brainer." The idea of cutting energy and water costs and saving money made perfect sense. However, she and her husband, PJ, soon found that sorting through all the green products and services available to them was like having a second job. So in 2007 they started Green Irene, an eco-consulting business, to guide homeowners and small-business owners through the often confusing process of greening up their acts.

There are presently more than 400 independent Green Irene eco-consultants around the United States. Each has gone through an online training program and has access to an extensive database, plus support from the research team at Helping people set up their own businesses in their local communities is a thrill for Caballero.

Clients pay $99 for a home makeover and $250 and up for a business. In return, they get a 25- to 30-page report of specific recommendations for their home or business, which they can implement all at once or over time. "The main goal is to try to help individuals filter all the information that is out there," says Caballero, who stresses that taking small steps can lead to a significant cumulative effect. "It doesn't have to be about zero waste. It's about reducing waste and consumption."

As far as Caballero is concerned, there's never been a better time to go green. "There's the money-saving aspect, the fact that businesses and homeowners can save money, and in this economy everyone wants to save money." She adds, "Everyone is going green; businesses need to start following what their customers and their employees are demanding."

3. It's the Profitable Thing to Do
When Sharon Rowe sold out of 5,000 of her classic string tote bags within a few hours at a 1989 Earth Day celebration, she knew she was on to something. Ten years later, she launched and began selling her sustainable goods in a worldwide marketplace. Last year, Eco-Bags Products Inc. reported annual sales of $3 million.

Rowe's main goal has been to "clean up the planet one bag at a time," and she has made a very tidy profit in the process. The company also meets global fair-labor/fair-wage standards. For Rowe, the idea of going green means personally considering everything she does on a daily basis and asking herself if she could do it in a more environmentally friendly way. "Look at all of your behaviors," she suggests, "and shift maybe not all of them, maybe just one of them, but at least it's a start."

ECOBAGS now sells everything from Classic String Bags made of 100 percent certified organic cotton and ChicoBags made of 98 percent recycled content to Klean Kanteens made of 100 percent recyclable stainless steel and To-Go Ware utensil sets made of sustainably harvested bamboo and recycled PET. The company is expanding into compostable bags and bioplastics.

"Everyone is watching everyone else to see who's going to take a leadership role," says Rowe, who urges new green businesses to "get in there and stay authentic because we're starting a new wave. For everyone else, push the envelope on all your suppliers because there are more [green] options out there today." In short, Rowe says, "We need to rethink everything. If Wal-Mart can do it, then small business can do it. We need to take a moment each day and say, 'What can I do better?' "

It's a Scary Thing to Do
Fear of change is one of the most common reasons companies to refuse to adapt to new trends in the marketplace. This is especially true in hard economic times, when businesses are starved for cash and more concerned with making a sale than in thinking ahead.

But business owners who fail to take advantage of the challenges--and the opportunities--in our current environment do so at their own risk. Not only are they missing out on the chance to reduce costs by implementing more efficient energy, water and waste practices, they are also missing out on the chance to market themselves to a growing number of consumers who are demanding (and willing to pay more for) environmentally friendly products and services. Today, going green is much more than a passing fad. It's the process of embracing the future and becoming one of the leaders of the 21st century, one eco-friendly step at a time.

* First appeared in Entrepreneur magazine September 1, 2009

Thursday, February 25, 2010

THE LAST WORD: After Cap-and-Trade

It seems like a win-win scenario: the government sets a cap on carbon emissions, based on the latest scientific data and a comprehensive energy policy. Companies then determine how or when they wish to make reductions in their carbon emissions based on their own bottom line. Those who choose to make the capital investments to implement the necessary technologies and reduce their emissions end up with extra allowances that they can, in turn, sell. Those who decide it is more feasible to buy emissions allowances than to implement reduction measures may do so as well.

However, opponents of the current cap and trade proposal say that it is financial disaster. For starters, the technologies to reduce carbon emissions are simply not available, leaving energy producers with two choices—either cut operations or buy allowances. They estimate that cap and trade will reduce the GDP by $161 billion in 2020 and deliver a crippling blow to the American economy…all in the name of climate change, a scientific phenomenon that some are now openly calling into question.

In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated his commitment to clean energy and climate legislation, commending the House for passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 but failing to mention cap and trade by name. The president’s proposed budget for 2011 reportedly eliminates revenues from the sale of emissions allowances as well, leaving many in Washington to speculate that the Obama Administration might be willing to consider other options. But if cap and trade is out, then what’s next?

EPA Regulations

In December, the EPA officially declared greenhouse gasses a danger to public health and welfare, opening the door to regulating those companies that produce greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents argue that regulations are the best way to reduce and eliminate emissions pollutants on both a large scale and in a timely manner. However, opponents argue that implementing punitive measures in advance of technological advancements is not a sustainable option and will cause nothing less than an economic catastrophe.

Carbon Tax

Given the threat of EPA regulations and the apparent lack of support for cap and trade, some policy makers and businesses are opting for a straightforward carbon tax. Proponents claim that, phased in over a period of years, a carbon tax program would allow businesses the time they need to plan for reducing emissions in a cost-effective manner. In addition, revenues from a carbon tax could be rebated to Americans through dividends or tax-shifting. Opponents claim that a carbon tax has all the disadvantages of cap and trade (i.e. companies still have to retrofit existing or build new facilities) without the advantages of being able to trade emissions allowances in the marketplace.

Voluntary Goals & Incentives

Many businesses are taking pro-active steps to measure and disclose their carbon emissions via independent organizations such as The Carbon Disclosure Project. Still others are participating in voluntary public-private partnerships including the EPA’s Climate Leaders and the DOE’s Climate VISION Programs which promote energy efficiency and emissions reductions. In addition, free market proponents have recommended the government reduce regulations for renewable energy start-ups and limit litigation against clean tech ventures in order to facilitate the adoption of greener sources of energy. However, opponents argue that voluntary goals and incentives are not enough; climate change demands government intervention now. Even those who remain agnostic about the effects of climate change acknowledge the importance of energy independence from both a national security and an economic point of view. The question is: What do we do now?

Perhaps the first step is to build consensus on what our end goal is. The focus of current regulations and proposed legislation seem to imply that our end goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to acceptable levels. However, reduced emissions are actually a by-product of our end goal, which is (or should be) the creation of a domestic source of energy that does not produce pollutants in the first place. Any action that does not have that end goal clearly in sight will miss the mark.

More and more, the American public is making it clear: Environmental sustainability is certainly important, but so is energy security and economic prosperity. We need a plan that will allow us to achieve our end goals, not get side-tracked by the byproducts of those goals. And we want a government that will work with the businesses that provide jobs and economic stability—not against them—to achieve those goals. At the end of the day, we want a strategy that will actually help solve the problems that face us, not just control them.

First appeared on the Anderson Cooper 360 Blog - February 11, 2010