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75 Green Businesses » 2009» January

Archive for January, 2009

Book Review: “Build a Green Small Business” by Scott Cooney

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Sometimes a book really resonates with how you think about things.  That’s the feeling that I got when I read “Build a Green Small Business” by Scott Cooney recently.  Cooney’s book is full of great businesses that a wide range of entrepreneurs can pursue. The many intriguing businesses outlined include “Organic Foods Caterer”, “Wedding and Event Planner”, “Green Shuttle Services”, “Printer Cartridge Refiller Store”, and many others.  One of the questions people ask me is “What kind of business can I start?”  I don’t think that there is a one size fits all answer to this question because everyone is unique, but with such a broad range of ideas, there is bound to be something for everyone. 

 

Green or not, these businesses still must deal with the practical issues like attracting customers and setting the right price.  For each business Cooney provides a description of the idea, how to green it, how to green it, how to find customers, and deciding how much to charge.  For all of these the advice is simple and practical, and interspersed with stories of successful green entrepreneurs.

 

When I met Cooney recently and we talked for a bit, we found that we share many ideas.  Like Cooney, I believe that there is no choice to be made between the economy and the environment.  Green businesses, particularly the small ones, are the engines that hold the key to helping both the economy and the environment in this critical time.  What I like the most about this book is that it is talking about practical solutions rather than problems.  We need more solutions these days.   If you are looking for a new direction in your business life, one that holds financial promise and the connection to a greater purpose, “Build a Green Small Business” might hold the solution you’ve been looking for.

Obama’s New Day: Doing Our Part with Green Businesses

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

With Barack Obama’s inauguration, a new day has arrived.  Today he became the 44th president of the US.  Throughout his campaign he has promised change, but perhaps the promise was not necessary.  Like it or not change has come to us; it is up to us to greet the change and adapt to it. 

 

In the midst of unprecedented challenges, President Obama’s tone in his speech was somber but hopeful.  Speaking of the many challenges we face, he emphasized the responsibility we each hold to rise and meet them.  He restated his commitment to having the government help, but he also laid out the necessity for each of us to do our part. 

 

From Obama’s inaugural address today:

 

“This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

 

He touched today again on the need for cleaner energy to revitalize our economy:

 

“The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.”

 

I feel like we are turning the corner.  Even with the economy down, the world is ripe with opportunity for those who take this responsibility and get into action moving forward with solutions.  Those in business, government, and individual citizens must all do our part.  In the business world, one way to contribute is with businesses that provide clean energy solutions, getting our economy moving today and investing in a better world for the future.

 

To help make this happen, Obama’s team has proposed as part of the economic stimulus plan a major new investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  This hasn’t happened yet, but is likely to pass quickly, reflecting the urgency of the need for action.

 

These efforts are not going to happen with the government alone, but with the government creating the right conditions for businesses in these fields to thrive.  Beyond renewable energy, a broad range of other green businesses will also see great opportunities continue to unfold as they make our economy more efficient, and more sustainable.  As I describe in “75 Green Businesses” and at Starting Up Green, there are opportunities for people from almost any background to get involved and start a green business that provides a brighter future for themselves, for our country, and for the world.  I speak all the time with green entrepreneurs who tell me that despite what is happening in the rest of the economy, they are seeing their business continue to grow, helping both the economy and the environment.

 

The journey has just begun, and Obama will not solve all of our problems for us. He will be a busy man in the months and years ahead, but he won’t be alone.  We must all work together to translate words into action, to rise and meet the challenges we are faced with and move beyond them.  These are big problems and won’t be solved overnight, but we can do it and we will.  Lets get started.

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.