Green businesses are booming, showing consistent double digit growth in important industries like solar power, wind power, and organic food that are emerging as the biggest opportunities of our time. As it grows rapidly the green economy is continually generating new opportunities, but green businesses are not immune from making mistakes. There are many strategies to build a successful green business, avoiding practices that lead in the wrong direction. The best practices established by green business leaders who have paved the way can help guide others and keep them on track. By avoiding these pitfalls entrepreneurs can do a better job ensuring the continued growth of their business and protecting the future of the planet we all share and rely on.
1. Claim too much for your green efforts
For green companies to succeed they must be credible in their environmental efforts. While businesses are eager to publicize their environmental efforts, consumers are increasingly skeptical about green claims and those making exaggerated claims about green efforts can damage their company’s credibility. The Greenwash Guide published in 2008 by Futerra Sustainability Communications reports that only 10% of consumers trust green information from industry or government. There are solutions to avoid greenwashing though. Jim Hartzfeld of the InterfaceRAISE consultancy advises green entrepreneurs to be fully transparent in reporting their environmental progress, telling it like it is. Hugh Hough of the Green Team advises businesses to avoid claims of greenwashing by being careful to “just state the facts”.
2. Ignore how business operations affect the environment or people
Building a green business is not just about the end product, the goods or services that a business sells. Green companies are judged not just by their products, but how their business operations affect the environment, including their entire supply chain upstream and downstream. Companies are being asked by stakeholders to produce sustainability reports, tracking and reporting their greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and other environmental factors. Producing a product that looks green on its own, but leaves a trail of environmental damage behind will not be a credible approach to going green. Even the largest of companies such as Wal-Mart are taking on the challenge of measuring and improving the impact of their whole supply chain on the environment, a trend that others will be obliged to take on as well. Often the definition of “green” and what it takes to build a sustainable business also includes the impact on people, including the lives of workers and consumers both at home and abroad. Thinking broadly about what green means can help avoid getting caught in disputes about what green means to different people.
3. Forget that it’s a business
The motivation for businesses going green is often concern about environment challenges we all face and the desire to build a better world, and that’s not a bad motivation. There are some big challenges such as climate change that need to be addressed, and a growing consensus that the business world will play a central role in finding solutions. For a business to succeed though helping the environment is not enough. A business must sell goods and services, and make a profit if it is to succeed and endure. The only difference is that the profit for a green business cannot come at the expense of natural systems or people. Making money does not have to pit environmental progress against economic growth and business success. Finding ways to reduce waste, reduce emissions, and find innovative business models that connect to green markets can both make money and make a difference at the same time. If a business does not make money it will not last, and if it does not last it will not achieve its desired environmental impact anyway.
4. Forget about the market and promotion.
In the oft-quoted line from the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner said “build it and they will come.” It’s a good vision. If customers don’t know about green products though, they will not find them or buy them no matter now great they are. Green consumers are a large, diverse market with a variety of motivations. For some consumers going green is about saving money on their utility, water and gas bills by investing in greater efficiency. For others, it’s about leaving a better world for their children. For some its concern about the impact of climate change on wildlife, while for others it’s about avoiding the impact of agricultural chemicals on our bodies. To sell your product or service you will need to define who are selling it to and how you can reach them. According to Melanie Frenkel of Signature Green Public Relations (www.signaturegreen.com), too many green entrepreneurs some up with great products and spend all of their capital getting their business started, with no money set aside to promote themselves and their product. Planning up front for the right marketing and promotional effort ensures that the business is able to reach the intended market, and the rest of the money and time invested realizes its full potential.
5. Avoid criticism
Criticism can be hard to take. Sometimes the critics are wrong, off target, or make things personal. But nobody thinks of everything, and critics light up your blind spots, bringing up questions you would not think of or know about on your own. The most annoying questions that really get under your skin are probably the ones that are not easily dismissed, maybe the ones that play to concerns you have had yourself. Don’t think you have to go it alone. Bringing in your critics, seeing what they have to say, and taking their comments to heart can be hard, but redirect your efforts in a more productive direction. In the book “Green to Gold”, authors and green business experts Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston describe the strategy of companies working with environmental groups and listening to their concerns to improve rather than fighting them. McDonalds worked with Environmental Defense to reduce the amount of packaging it was sending to landfills, for example. Believe in yourself, it is often said, and this is good advice, but it does not mean ignoring critics. Have enough confidence in yourself to listen to your critics and even change course if they happen to be right.
6. Do Nothing
The hardest step in any significant move in our lives is often the first one. Starting a green business is a big move and sometimes people set the bar so high, envisioning so many hurdles ahead in their path, that they never get started. It’s better to take small steps and at least get started moving toward a greener, more sustainable business. “Too often we let the perfect be the enemy of the good”, says Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farms yogurt company. The worst thing a green business can do, the one thing that will guarantee it will achieve nothing, is to never get started.
This article was written by Glenn Croston, author of 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference. It originally appeared on www.evancarmichael.com.