Archive for December, 2008

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. 

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Up until now I’ve avoided talking about a Green Christmas, but I can’t resist.  It struck me today that “Green Christmas” is more than a clever turn of phrase, a variation on a theme.  The holiday season is many things to many people, but one thing it represents for almost everyone is hope and belief in good things to come.  This is not just about presents and sugar plums.  It is also about the hope and belief in a better future, and for many of us a better future is a greener one.


My youngest is waiting eagerly for Christmas, full of belief.  She still believes fully and deeply in Santa, and knows he is coming soon.  Her palpable excitement and hope are inspiring.  Many people are full of doubt and fear, and could use such strong belief in a brighter future.  The challenges in the economy weigh heavily, and our environmental challenges remain urgent.  


If I could give everyone a Christmas gift, it would be the gift of hope to take with them and carry forward through difficult times.  For all of the great challenges we are faced with, I would give them the deep rock-solid belief in the future that a child feels at Christmas, the excitement about the great things that are coming our way. 


There is good reason to feel this way.  It can be hard to feel good about the future when things look bad, but our problems will not last forever.  Someone asked me the other day where I thought the economy will be two or five years from now.  I had to think for a second - I’m not sure where exactly the economy will be, but one thing I do know is that it sure as heck won’t be at the same low point it is today.  Things will get better.  As bad as things look for many people, the recession will pass and we will move on.  I believe the same can be said of our environmental challenges.  I believe we will take on these challenges and turn things around, building a more sustainable future for ourselves and our children.


Hope is not easy to wrap up and put in a box, but perhaps this is a gift that we each can give to ourselves, allowing ourselves to believe.  So whatever you are faced with, I hope that you have a green Christmas, full of belief in the bright future we are all going to create together. 

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.

Asking Nature for Business Solutions

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Engineers and designers are always searching for innovative solutions to the problems they face.  Are there more efficient, less polluting ways to make things?  How can cars be stronger, lighter and more fuel efficient, all at the same time?  Humans in the business world are increasingly looking to nature for solutions to these and many other problems. 


Life on earth has been evolving solutions for billions of years, innovating every step of the way.  Growing on land, plants and animals need to conserve water to avoid drying out.  Aquatic species have evolved a variety of strategies and forms to move efficiently through water.  Plants take the energy of the sun, and produce useful energy in the form of sugar, all without any emissions, and actually removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 


Many of nature’s solutions were described in the visionary book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus, first published in 1997.  I was captivated by this fascinating book when I first read it, and I still am.  Biomimicry relates the answers that nature holds to many of the challenges facing businesses.  The stories are many, all incredible.  Where chemists use extremes of heat and nasty solvents to cook up Kevlar, spiders create webs of as strong as steel (for the same weight) at whatever temperature they find themselves.  While human ceramics produced with high heat remain relatively brittle, abalone hidden under coastal rocks produce shells that surpass human efforts, all without much ado.  The list goes on. 


Biomimicry is much more than a book today.  When I was working on “75 Green Businesses” I had the good fortune to speak with Janine Benyus about the growing impact of biomimicry on the business world.  Biomimicry is a way of “learning from, and then emulating a natural design, a blueprint from the natural world,” said Benyus. 


This process of looking at nature and using what you learn is being adopted more and more broadly.  Benyus opened the non-profit Biomimicry Institute and the Biomimicry Guild consultancy to work with businesses, bringing “biologists to the design table” to attack the problems that companies are grappling with.  Looking for a new design for an impact resistant bumper?  What kind of solutions has nature come up with that provide impact resistance, from craniums to walnut shells?  Need to keep a surface clean?  Look to the leaf of the lotus plant offer for inspiration, as have producers of glass, roofing tiles, and paints. 


Benyus and her Biomimicry team have now created a database of nature’s solutions at Ask Nature, sponsored by Autodesk.  A free, on-line searchable database, you can search Ask Nature by completing the phrase “How would nature…”.  I queried the phrase ‘How would nature conserve water?’ for example and got back 430 results, reflecting the great variety of solutions that nature has come up with to this common problem faced in industry. 


If you are scratching your head over a design problem, looking for innovative solutions, this is the place to start.  Once you find something, you might need to bring in one of the biomimicry biologists to sit at your design problem with you and understand the solution that nature provides. 


Joel Makower comments on the Ask Nature site on his blog, saying that while the database was not yet complete, “Like the vast world it covers, will grow and mature over time.”  That’s the great thing about nature really - it does not rest on its laurels.  Nature is always innovating, always finding new solutions.  Maybe businesses can find nature’s secrets for this trait as well. 






Crashing Recyclables

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

There’s an interesting piece in the December 7 NY Times: “Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up.”  The story relates how the price of paper, plastic and metals from recycling has crashed along with the economy.  Untold tons of recycled material are piling up, either lacking for buyers or with those holding it unwilling to sell at present prices.  The cost of recycled tin, for example, has crashed to $5 a ton, down from $327 a ton earlier this year.  Not so long ago enormous quantities of these materials were being shipped to China to feed its seemingly insatiable apetite for raw materials.  Now the collapse in the price of these materials has people pondering the future of recycling. 

This enormous decline got me thinking.   What happens when the economy starts moving again?  China’s economy has slowed but it has not stopped by any means, projecting annual growth of 9% still rather than the previous 12%.   The price of these recycled materials reflects the general pessimism about the economy at the moment, as does the low price of oil.  If oil recovered to its previous record price this would be about a 300% increase from where it is now.  If recycled tin recovers this would be a 6500% increase.  It sounds like an opportunity to me for some enterprising individual to quietly buy up some of this tin and sit on it for a while.  The questions how long will you have to hold it and how much will it cost to hold it?  Perhaps a Warren Buffet of recycling will figure this one out and make a killing.

The future of much of the materials we use will be from recycling though and not raw materials.  In my issue of On Earth magazine from the NRDC, “Buried Treasure” on page 18 describes how the landfills in Japan are one of the worlds great mineral deposits, urban mines containing huge quantities of gold, silver and other metals in discarded electronics.  Better yet to find more effective ways to recycle this material in the first place than digging it up later, of course.

Fighting Vampires with Good For You, Good For the Planet

Friday, December 5th, 2008

The vampires in Twilight are not the only ones to worry about.  The multitude of electronic devices in our homes and businesses often drain power even when they are off because of the power used in standby mode, leading some to call them vampires.  Energy efficiency is a global issue, and a global opportunity as well.  One of the companies tackling this opportunity is Good For You, Good for the Planet (GFP-GYP), based in Madrid, Spain.  GFY-GFP has a diverse set of products under development, including one tackling the problem of standby power drain.  Standby power has been estimated to consume 10% of electricity in European homes, and as much as 26% of the electricity in Californian homes.   One no-tech solution is for people to unplug devices they aren’t using, or to turn off power strips, but as is often the case such activities are hard for even the most well intentioned individuals to keep up for the long term.  We need solutions that take care of themselves, eliminating the problem automatically without human intervention.  GFY-GFP believes this is just what they have invented with their 100%Off product. 


The problem with standby devices is that they continue to use electricity even when an appliance or other electrical device is off.  To deal with this problem some governments are requiring that new devices use less energy when on standby, but this still does not reduce consumption to zero.  The 100%Off device however can automatically switching devices completely off when it senses they are on standby mode.  When appliances are plugged into the device, it analyzes their pattern of power consumption to detect if they have gone into standby mode.  GFY-GFP is currently talking with global companies in Europe and Asia who are interested in commercializing the 100%Off device.  “We believe a big company has to take this business to do it properly and turn it into a standard worldwide,” said Silvia García Alonso, Director of Business Development.


Improving energy efficiency will often pay for itself over time, and that should be the case with the 100%Off.  “We expect a final price between €10-15, and the user will get the product repaid in less than 12 months,” said Alonso, although the final price will depend on the company that commercializes it worldwide.  “With our technology we can have different configurations, as a power supply or a power strip.  A range of products can be launched to fix all the needs around the standby for all kind of appliances, and in a pretty cheap way.”


GFY-GFP has a number of other products in various stages of development, including the Wicler, a gadget that fits on the handlebars of your bike providing radio, playing MP3s and Bluetooth access to your phone.  Biking is a green alternative to using cars, and more cities worldwide are considering increased use of bike lanes to reduce pollution, traffic, and climate change.  With its built in speaker, the Wicler can avoid the safety concern of bikers who might tune out their surroundings with earbuds, and it even comes with a built in light and a bell for an all-in-one bike appliance.  The Wicler is already marketed in Europe, and GFY-GFP is talking with potential distributors in the US. 


As well as developing their own products, GFP-GYP is also open to working with others to help them move their ideas forward.  If you’re interested, take a look at their website, and perhaps you may see your product there in the future as well.