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


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