Archive for the ‘Green Business Opportunity’ Category

The Nation’s Chief Sustainability Officer

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

With Obama’s inauguration just a few days away, the economy is still at the top of the agenda, but this does not mean that environmental initiatives are forgotten.  With just a few days left before he takes office Obama toured the Cardinal Fastener & Specialty Company in Ohio that makes parts for wind turbines and gave a speech there about the economy.   He talked about the latest economic stimulus package being proposed, hoping to save or create 3-4 million jobs.  Many of these jobs are tied to expanded use of renewable energy, a long term investment in both the economy and the environment. 

 

The $850 billion economic stimulus plan, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, includes support for renewable energy, and energy efficiency.  The details of the plan being unveiled include $20 billion in incentives for a variety of forms of renewable energy, and $54 billion to improve the grid and to invest in energy efficiency in buildings, the electrical grid, and transportation.  In addition to solar and wind, the plan includes incentives for a broad range of other forms of renewable energy such as waste to energy, methane from landfills, and geothermal energy.

 

President-Elect Obama said in his speech:

 

“That’s why, as part of our Recovery and Reinvestment plan, we’re committing to double the production of renewable energy in the next three years, and to modernize more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes.

 

In the process, we’ll put nearly half a million people to work building wind turbines and solar panels; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to new jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain.”

 

This sounds like a big leap in the right direction, and it’s about time.  We have some leaping to do. 

 

We’ve had a great deal of grass roots action on the green front, with people, local and state governments taking the lead in the absence of environmental leadership at the US Government level.  This might be changing.  While the grass roots efforts are a wonderful start, an effective response to the problems we face requires a coordinated effort at the highest level, with strong leadership.  Many businesses these days are hiring Chief Sustainability Officers, the Chief Green.  Obama might just be our next Chief Green for the US, providing national leadership on both economic and environmental recovery.

 

During the presidential campaign (remember the campaign?), Thomas Friedman remarked that he was less concerned if we have the first black president, or the first woman president, than if we have the first green president.   The show’s not over yet, and hasn’t even started but the previews look good.  Let’s keep the green grass roots growing, and do what we can to support this kind of bold national action that moves us forward toward a brighter future.

Talking about Green Opportunities with Eric Corey Freed, Organic Architect

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Eric Corey Freed

Eric Corey Freed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They say that every cloud has a silver lining.  In the case of the cloud hanging over the building industry it seems to have a green one.  The building industry has been at the epicenter of the housing crisis, the credit crunch, and the recession, all rolled into one.  Housing starts have plummeted to record lows, but through all of this, the green building movement has kept on growing.

 

 

As principal of organicARCHITECT in San Francisco, Eric Corey Freed is a well known and highly-regarded green architect, helping the green building movement in its quest to change our buildings to be part of a more sustainable world.  Through his speaking, design work, consulting, and educational work he reaches out to the broad and growing green building community.  He is the author of Green Building and Remodeling for Dummies, and working on two books, Sustainable Schools, and Green Home Green Pockets, both coming out at the end of 2009.  I recently spoke with Eric about the opportunities in green building and the rest of the green economy.

 

While nobody is immune from our economic turmoil, green building seems to be doing relatively well.  “There have been statistics that while building was down in 2008 green building was up 30%, although this does not include the fourth quarter,” said Freed.  “Everything is slow lately, but specific, different areas have picked up.  For example, building owners who are looking to stand out in the market are turning to greening buildings.  There’s a pick up in the business for large commercial projects where green building is a good differentiator to stand out in a tough market.”

 

While green building is holding up well, the economic situation has had an impact, changing the features people look for in buildings.  “The downturn forces people to rethink priorities,” said Freed.  “I’ve seen a definite transition from green finishes which might be seen as a luxury to saving energy and saving water.”  The continued strength in green building can be attributed to the value it provides as a long term trend and not a fad. “We estimate that on average it costs about $4 per square foot to get LEED certified, but it pays for itself at a rate of $67 per square foot including energy saved, according to the US Green Building Council,” said Freed. “In times like these people bear down, turning to options like solar panels where there is an economic benefit.  We’ll see a boom in companies like Sustainable Spaces that address energy efficiency in buildings, and we’ll see businesses like this around the country.  Any contractor or home inspector could make this transition to the green collar economy.”

 

The green building movement creates opportunities for a variety of workers and businesses.  “I would say that there are opportunities for any trade that is loosely connected to energy or utilities (including water or sewer), whether manual, blue collar work, companies that are leasing solar equipment, or Joe the green plumber,” Freed said.  “The more that green building grows, the more pressure and opportunity there is for these business, but they have to change.  They have to change what they do, change their marketing, and change their priorities.”

 

Economics have a big impact on decisions and priorities, as we have seen in the wild swing in the price of gas.  “When gas was $4 a gallon, businesses had to change, and people were choosing smaller cars and smarter driving habits,” said Freed.  “The same goes for electricity.  When we have a carbon tax, when the cost of electricity goes up from 12 cents to 24 cents a kilowatt-hours, everyone will have to address energy efficiency.  The important thing is that it’s not from an abstract carbon footprint perspective, but from showing a tangible impact on the bottom line.”

 

There is a huge opportunity for businesses that improve the energy efficiency in millions of existing buildings in the US, helping to save money now and save resources.  To start a business improving the energy efficiency of buildings, some specific certifications are needed but they can be readily achieved.  “The main certification is Energy Star HERS rating,” said Freed.  “HERS raters are trained and certified in energy efficiency and building.  You have to take a class and take a test, very similar to home inspectors.”

 

These new business opportunities are part of the rising green collar economy, providing good jobs and businesses for those displaced from older, greyer, industries.  In addition to those who work on buildings, there are a wealth of opportunities for related businesses such as marketing, billing, web design firms, education, and other essential services.  “Along with the surge in companies that are part of the green economy there will be an equal surge in companies like these that are fluent in the language of sustainability, such as marketing companies that know how to speak to consumers about these things,” said Freed.

 

Beyond the first and second wave of green businesses, there will be a third wave, the teachers, Freed predicts.  “The first wave is the people doing the hands on work in the field with green collar jobs in renewable energy or green building,” said Freed.  “The second is the people doing the marketing, websites, accounting, hiring, and whatever else businesses need behind the scenes.  The third wave is teaching, at all levels.  We need people that take all of this information and make it available in an easy way for all sorts of green building topics, and other sustainable business areas.  We need good teachers.”

 

If you are thinking about getting involved by starting a green business, what should you keep in mind?  Freed advices green entrepreneurs to be humble.   “There is nothing wrong with saying we know we’re not perfect.  You can say ‘These are the things we’re doing, and here’s what we want to do that we haven’t figured out yet,” but not making broad claims about being green.  Look at the most admired companies working on sustainability, like Interface.  Ray Anderson will tell you all the things he’s doing wrong, things he is still figuring out.  Be humble and honest.”

 

“When somebody comes out and says we’re a green company, and its one green product, then they can really get in trouble with consumers.  They would be better to lay it out, to be honest, and open, to say, ‘Well, we’ve only got one green shoe today, but here is where the problems are, and we’ll keep working on it.’  Businesses don’t like it a lot of times, but there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘We don’t know how to do that yet.’”

 

Building a green business is not just a destination, but an ongoing journey.  “These things take time,” said Freed.  “It doesn’t happen overnight, but plant these seeds now and it will happen.  The more seeds you plant, the better, as long as they are the right seeds to help create the change.”  It sounds like there is plenty of room still for entrepreneurs to plant seeds today for the green businesses of tomorrow. 

 

Starting 2009 in a New Direction with a Green Business

Monday, December 29th, 2008

What’s your plan for 2009?  I’m working on mine right now, and I’m wondering what everyone else has in mind. Our economic situation is forcing many of us to rethink our lives and businesses.  I’ve got a feeling that “improve finances” is at the top of many to do lists for 2009, but hunkering down and circling the wagons may not be enough.  To really get where you want to go, it might be time to take the leap and start a new business, and going green might provide the new direction you’re looking for. 

 

Far from being finished, the green economy is just getting started.  Green choices like solar power and organic food have grown immensely in recent years, with consistent double digit annual growth, but solar power is still less than 1% of the overall market and organic food is only about 3% of the food market.  The green economy is already over $200 billion in size, but it still has huge growth ahead in the broader market.  

 

Nobody is immune from the current economy, but green businesses like Sustainable Spaces that help people to save money are doing well.   Saving energy is more important than ever for homes and businesses eager to save money.  Those in the industry who I’ve talked to such as Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, still expect the solar industry to grow rapidly in 2009, in part because of the opportunity people have to save on their utility bill.  With millions of buildings across the US wasting energy on poor insulation, weather sealing, and air ducts, fixing this problem remains a big opportunity across the country.  As energy continues rising in price in the years ahead, the opportunity for businesses improving energy efficiency will keep on growing.

 

Green markets won’t stay small because all other things being equal, consumers chose green products.  Nobody hates the planet, and consumers consistently report in surveys that they will buy green products, all other things being equal.  Well-priced products like Green Works that work well and also happen to be good for the environment are increasingly moving into the mainstream. 

 

Another trend is that the price of oil will not stay low forever, and seems likely to reverse its downward slide in 2009, moving back toward more moderate territory.  The US auto industry is in turmoil, but there are also opportunities ahead in autos.  A variety of new all electric or plug-in hybrid cars are on the way in the years ahead, and when people start buying more cars again, they will be looking for something fresh and new.

 

Want to start a green business for very little money?  Zola Goods and Green Irene are two possibilities.  Green Irene is recruiting Eco-Consultants across the country to go out to homes and perform Green Home Makeovers, providing a direct sales model like Avon.  Zola Goods works through coordinators who hold green house parties, like Tupperware, helping homeowners green their homes, and helping coordinators produce income on a flexible work schedule.  Another ready to go option is opening your own on-line green store with OnlyGreen4Me.

 

Look for big government action in 2009 that will help the continued growth of the green economy.  The Obama administration has continued to pledge its support for a renewable energy portfolio standard, green job development, and action on climate change.  The highly qualified green team he is assembling, including Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu to lead the Department of Energy, demonstrate his commitment to these initiatives. State and regional actions will also support green opportunities for entrepreneurs.  These actions will stimulate the economy not just now, but for many years to come.

 

The opportunities are not just for a few, or for the greenest of the green.  There are opportunities for almost anyone, including you.  Take stock of your assets, of which you probably have more than you realize.  Look through the many possibilities and find something that excites you.  You can do it.  You don’t need an MBA, an impressive resume, or piles of money to get started.  It will take time, energy and commitment, but you can build a successful business and take your life in a new direction.  The most important thing is getting started. 

 

Wishing you a happy, prosperous, and green New Year.   

 

Glenn Croston is the author of “75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference”, and the founder of Starting Up Green. 

Zola Goods - Green House Parties as a Low Cost, Green Business

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

 

The green business world has grown immensely, but is still just scratching the surface of the opportunities for entrepreneurs and consumers.  While increasing numbers of entrepreneurs are drawn to starting a green business, many have limited time and money.  I often get asked “What kind of green business can I start with very little money?” Consumers who want to go green can be held back by a lack of good information about what to do and where to start with green changes that make sense in their lives.  Business models that can bridge these gaps for entrepreneurs and for consumers will help bring green to the masses.  Zola Goods is working to do just this with coordinators who arrange parties bringing green products to people. 

 

Founded by Beth Remmes, Zola Goods works through coordinators who organize parties in their communities for groups interested in going green in their homes.  “There are many people who are interested in the environmental movement, but they don’t really know where to start or how they can make a difference”, said Remmes. With a mix of education, and products that green the home, coordinators of Zola parties help to meet this need.  Think of Tupperware parties, but for green products instead. 

 

As a mother of two young children, Remmes has worked herself to balance her home life with her desire to earn a living and make a positive difference in the world.  After considering a retail storefront providing green goods and information, she decided against it.  “All of a sudden it occurred to me that if women were willing to gather to talk about and buy kitchen products or make-up, then I thought they would also be interested in learning how to help the environment and save money in the process. Also, this model allows people who are passionate about the environment to help spread the message in their community and earn a supplemental income.”

 

Zola offers a wide range of products, focusing on affordable eco-friendly alternatives to everyday products.   The items they offer include those that reduce  (such as water and energy savers); items that are reusable (such as Wrap-n-Mats, shopping bags, to-go ware, stainless steel water bottles); and also items that are made from recycled material (such as foil wrapper bags, or recycled paper note cards and journals). They also provide eco-friendly candles, fun family games and other green gift ideas.

 

 

Coordinators are often moms seeking income and flexible hours, people who are seeking ways to get involved in the green business revolution without turning their lives upside down.  “This will be an ongoing process as I work to get the word out to anyone who may be interested in helping to bring about change in their communities. The only requirement is that someone wants to make a positive difference,” said Remmes.  “The most successful coordinators find a way to be of service in their community and become the hub for green information beyond Zola products.” Coordinators also let people know about local recycling information, farmer’s markets or green festivals. The start-up cost for a Coordinator is only $149 for a kit containing a number of items that can be used in daily life and for demonstrations at parties.  The kit also includes all of the training materials needed.    

 

 How do Coordinators generally find opportunities to organize parties?

“Most Coordinators have parties for their friends and neighbors and then expand outward to include co-workers, parents/teachers from the local schools or other organizations. Being green is something that so many people hear about, but they don’t really know exactly what it means. So, when they have the chance to learn more about it in a fun evening with others, people are happy to host or attend parties. From Tupperware to cosmetics - this is a model that has been successful for many years.”

 

Its worth noting that while Zola is a direct sales company it is not a multi-level marketing system and it is transparent in its operations.  Coordinators earn a commission directly on 20% of products sold, with no recruiting or sales requirements, no quotas, and no hierarchical pyramid.  “The emphasis is on education and by offering the products for sale, the parties bridge the gap between hearing the information and then acting on it by purchasing eco-friendly alternatives,” said Remmes.

 

The market for green is still wide open, barely scratching the mainstream.  Zola’s model may be one key to bringing green to more mainstream consumers, and helping entrepreneurial individuals join the green business world as well.