WHAT IS A GREEN BUSINESS?
Green businesses can be roughly divided between those which are ‘deliberate’ in their being green, and those which are ‘incidental’ in being green. A ‘deliberately green business’ is one which is made specifically to alleviate or reverse environmental, social, and economic maladies unaddressed or underrepresented by existing state and private infrastructure. By contrast, an ‘incidentally green business’ is one which adopts environmental, social, and economic standards more than what the state mandates, often saving money by doing so.
WHAT IS AN ECOPRENEUR?
An “ecopreneur” is an entrepreneur focused on creating and selling environmentally friendly products and services. Ecopreneurship is a new way of doing business – a way to create sustainable business models and work together with (and for) the environment. Using innovative approaches to old problems, ecopreneurs are looking for ways to capitalize on the environmental problems that our world faces. Who are these ecopreneurs? How did they get their start?
Some of the world’s most well-known business magnates are ecopreneurs. Elon Musk is probably the greatest example of a green business celebrity. As Elon Musk becomes more and more of a household name, electric vehicle sales continue to rise home, and solar panels are lining more roofs. He got his start in a 90s software start-up that was not ultimately related to sustainability, but it’s clear from his ambitious business ventures that human sustainability has been his primary concern since at least his college years.
Not every ecopreneur is verified on twitter, however. Darren Chapman of the Tiger Mountain Foundation is a great example of someone making a big difference in their city, without millions of venture capital dollars. Darren saw something fundamentally wrong with his neighborhood – crime, hopelessness, and seemingly endless cycles of violence and poverty. Simultaneously, this same neighborhood suffered from a serious lack of access to real food. Liquor stores, convenience shops, and fast food were the only walking distance options for significant portions of south Phoenix. Darren saw these problems as being closely intertwined and foresaw a solution to address both. It began with a single urban garden and has grown into multiple garden sites, youth mentorship and education programs, on the job skills training for formerly imprisoned persons and at-risk youth with a landscaping team dedicated to building and maintaining sustainable, edible landscapes in areas with little or no access to fresh food.
WHERE CAN THE ASPIRING ECOPRENEUR MAKE THEIR MARK?
There’s no shortage of sustainable outcome gaps that need bridging, and market solutions are preferable to state and policy mandates in many of these cases. The ‘sustainability marketplace’ is just beginning to blossom with opportunity as nature’s threat reveals itself worldwide. Consumers need new options for less wasteful and less pollutive products, packaging, transportation, and energy. For every consumer product or service that needs replacing, there is a green business opportunity waiting to be realized.
State mandates and consumer choice have sparked a demand for clean and green energy. Solar energy is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide and may be too saturated in some states. Wind power turbines and home battery systems might have a little more industry wiggle room. In some countries, entire power grids are being overhauled as market restrictions eliminate some methods of energy production in favor of cleaner alternatives. Here are some excellent examples.
· First Solar, as their name suggests, makes solar panels in the United States and is the 3rd largest solar cell manufacturer worldwide.
· Tesla, having acquired SolarCity, is also a producer of solar cells in the form of their stylish solar roof, which is modeled after classic roofing materials like French slate. However, it’s Tesla’s power wall battery storage for homes that may have the most profound market impacts for consumers.
· Vestas produces wind power turbines for the international market but finds many of its customers right at home in Central/Northern Europe, where demand for clean energy production is high.
Sustainable agriculture means farming and grazing in a way that doesn’t work the soil to death or deforest to make way for croplands. Sometimes it’s as simple as rotating crops on a plot of land to allow the soil a season or two to rest or switching from chemical fertilizer and pesticide to compost and organic anti-pest solutions. Oftentimes it also includes more humane treatment of livestock, like better food, living conditions, and physical mobility. Here are a couple of companies doing it right.
· Land O’ Lakes is a good example of a company founded for sustainable agriculture, even before the word ‘sustainability’ entered the common parlance.
· Freight Farms repurposes old shipping rig containers into mobile greenhouses to better utilize space and keep these containers from going to waste.
Compost and Food Waste Recycling
The benefits of recycling food waste to enrich the soil have been known for thousands of years. Diverting food and yard waste from landfills is already good, turning it into potent organic compost to enrich soils and croplands is even better. Some companies even go as far to rescue the food before it gets thrown away, picking the food up from grocery stores, bakeries, cafes, and restaurants and taking it to where it’s needed most. Here are three companies addressing waste issues.
· Recycled City takes the basic compost concept one step further by allowing customers to store food waste at home, in a sealed vessel provided by the company, until it is picked up by company agents monthly.
· While many cities have municipal composting programs, those that don’t might benefit from a door-to-door composting service – like Compost Cab in Washington DC.
· Replate connects businesses with excess food to communities facing food insecurity, food from the waste bin to hungry mouths who are happy to have it.
Biodegradable, Reusable, and Eco-friendly Consumer Products
The age of one-time use products has wasted our resources and filled our landfills, our cities, and even our oceans and beaches with garbage. Trace amounts of man made plastic have been found as deep as the Mariana Trench, and as high and secluded as Mount Everest, and it’s becoming more and more clear to people worldwide that the problem is getting out of hand. There are many examples of green products.
· The products we use to clean surfaces and appliances in our homes and businesses are frequently inorganic and potentially harmful to waterways and soils they end up in after passing through municipal water treatment. 7th Generation aims to provide cleaning products that get the job done, without jeopardizing the environment with foreign and insoluble chemicals.
· Eco Friendly Cards provides exactly what their name would suggest – biodegradable replacements for otherwise highly wasteful cards.
· Great Wrap makes 100% compostable cling wrap for food in homes and businesses, seeking to replace the wasteful single-use plastic wrap currently dominating the market.
· Printing and publishing is yet another typically wasteful industry where new green businesses are eager to replace firms with more wasteful practices and materials. Living Ink creates biodegradable ink and printing solutions for the eco-conscious publisher and consumer.
· Even our cosmetics and shampoo can be optimized for lesser impact on the Earth. Earth manufactures beauty and skin products made with organic materials.
Eco Friendly Distribution, Shipping and Packaging
Many things will change in the future, but people and things will likely still need to be physically transported from place to place. That means our vehicles, shipping materials, and logistics will all need to be cleaner and smarter than ever before if we’re to reduce pollution and waste while simultaneously continuing to provide products to our growing population worldwide. Here are some companies making supply chains more sustainable and efficient.
· Eco Enclose is a one stop shop for eco-friendly packaging and shipping solutions for all product shapes and sizes.
· Electric Vehicles allow people and things to be transported from point A to point B without polluting along the way. Tesla cars are the best-known examples for their sleek designs and startling speed capabilities (much in contrast to early electric vehicles), and other consumer car companies have begun trying to catch up with electric vehicle projects of their own.
· DHL manages green shipping and logistics for customers worldwide, and they’ve set the ambitious goal of achieving zero emissions status by 2050.
Consulting and Advisory
Businesses and entire industries are finding it increasingly difficult to navigate the regulatory environment as restrictions regarding pollution, consumption, and human rights become more far-reaching and consequential. Advice from industry professionals on green best practices will be invaluable in the age of the great sustainability shift. Industries that directly cause damage to the environment, like mining, timber, petroleum, and natural gas, will face especially steep efforts to stay afloat – and will be doubly in need of well-considered recommendations.
While not traditional start-up spaces, legal firms and policy groups can also have powerful impacts on the global sustainability effort by influencing future regulations and by executing the authority of existing regulations. Here are a few consulting companies who have carved out interesting green niches.
· Wood Mackenzie specializes in consulting for companies which extract, refine, and broker natural resources – like mining and petroleum firms. While it may seem like these industries can’t help but be destructive to the environment, green best practices can make the difference between a careful and considered approach and a reckless one.
· Sustainable agriculture consulting is invaluable for farms of every shape and size to remain productive and profitable in the long run. The Rodale Institute offers professional recommendations on crop cycling, organic pesticide/herbicide use, and soil health for longevity.
· The Sustainable Oceans Alliance is a collaborative conglomerate of legal experts, activists, academics, ecopreneurs, and advisors – all joined together for the common purpose of arresting and reversing human-caused damage to Earth’s oceans.
· Attorneys of the Sustainable Law Group fight for climate and human justice in the courtroom, as well as providing an assortment of legal services to green businesses.
Finance and Startup Development
Nothing big in this world happens without money, and sustainable development is no exception. Sustainable finance professionals connect willing investors with businesses and projects in need of funding. Green businesses receive funding that would have otherwise been invested in more traditional places, and the investors earn healthy returns while making a positive difference. Money isn’t all a start-up needs, however, and a whole space exists for organizations dedicated solely to helping new start-ups develop in a safe and contained environment – often physically sharing space with other start-ups. Here are a couple of companies focused on green financing.
· Generation Investment Management provides investors with an outlet to make a difference while making a healthy profit as well. This venture capital group brings funding to green businesses that create sustainable development progress with their product/service.
· Startup incubators provide ecopreneurs with the industry guidance, working space, and moral support they need to launch with success. Echoing Green focuses primarily on incubating start-ups in the sustainability space.
· Green Business Bureau provides businesses with software to manage sustainability programs and a green certification program for companies that want to demonstrate their sustainability to their stakeholders. Almost every start-up should consider promoting their sustainability using a credible 3rd party source like Green Business Bureau or B Corp.
BIG OPPORTUNITIES FOR GREEN ENTREPRENEURS
There’s no shortage of market opportunities for solutions that help consumers and businesses become eco-friendlier and more sustainable. The sustainability industry is taking off across dozens of categories. As we’ve discussed, consumers need new options for less wasteful and less pollutive products, services, packaging, transportation, and energy. If you’re an ecopreneur or planning on becoming one, we hope the 25 green business examples we shared here spark an idea that helps you join the other ecopreneurs in creating a greener business world.