Studies have shown that customers are increasingly choosing green alternatives as long as the price premium is reasonable. Even potential employees prefer sustainable companies in sustainable buildings. Therefore, you may risk losing business to competitors by not exploring green options. Whether you are an existing business or seeking to start a new venture in the green economy, you need to know the new economic paradigm and find your niche.
It’s Not All or Nothing
To stay competitive, start by expanding your current suite of products and services to include green options. If you make or sell a product, then produce or sell a green version of that product. For example, Dwell Studios, which sells baby products, has dipped their toe in the green market by offering an organic crib set in addition to their existing line of bedding. The same holds true for a service provider. For example, a professional organizer can help clients reduce waste as well as organize their stuff. While this may seem elementary, the point is that you don’t have to, and as a matter of fact shouldn’t, go all green right away. Not all of your products and services need to be green today. It is an evolution. In fact, be selective about your green offerings based upon what clients are most likely to request and what is the most cost effective for you to achieve. Then, over time, replace existing products and services with those that are more sustainable.
What do you excel at? Provide it to others.
What is the main product or service that you offer? Can you apply it to the green economy? If your business provides professional services, such as architects, engineers, designers, and the like, learn about green building and add this specialty to your offerings. Attorneys are advising clients on how to reduce regulatory risk or avoid litigation risk related to potential health issues or neglecting corporate social responsibility. Marketing firms are helping companies market their sustainability initiatives and programs, develop new logos and branding.
Marketing is required not just for potential clients, but internally for employees to educate and motivate them as to their company’s sustainability efforts. Accountants are ensuring their clients are aware of and taking rebates and other tax incentives as appropriate. Technology companies have a great opportunity to provide green IT audits that identify the most efficient configuration of systems for clients. They can then increase sales by making the upgrades for those clients. Transportation companies can provide car or van pooling services for employees that match people and their transportation requirements.
Gain competitive advantage and thus increased sales through certification. There are many different types of certifications small businesses can qualify for. Green Seal and the Forest Stewardship Council are the most well-known certifications for products. Recognizable buildings certifications include The US Green Building Council’s LEED certification and Energy Star. Businesses can also earn certification and for business practices. Not only does the Green Business League certify businesses that sustainable practices, but they also offer training programs.
By promoting your green efforts by including certification logos on your website, email signatures, and other marketing materials, you are assuring customers and prospects that you are not just greenwashing. Customers who make sustainability a priority in their own businesses or in their own lives will look to you over the competition who just claims to be green.
Green Financing is in Demand
Another area of opportunity exists in financing. There is a huge need for green financing. Banks aren’t lending like they used to. Government rebates basically only cover energy efficiency upgrades and alternative energy and don’t cover the entire cost. There is a real need for financing the whole range of actions related to taking steps toward sustainability. Financing is required for small businesses all the way up to large corporations. Buildings and product developers need assistance, too.
Opportunities in this area do not just apply to banks. Private equity and investment funds are springing up, and more are needed. In addition, financing packages are needed to reduce the initial investment outlay and facilitate a company’s decision to take steps toward sustainability sooner rather than later. Such a package could include rebates, vendor financing, a vanilla loan as well as a loan tied to performance / cost savings.
Walk the Walk
It isn’t enough to just offer greener alternatives to your clients. Businesses have to adopt a more responsible culture. Examples of simple culture changes include:
• Ask customers and business partners how you can help them go green. Even if the ideas are not income producing, they build goodwill and retain a happy customer.
• Stop sending paper catalogs in the mail. Use online billing instead of paper bills. Reduce your packaging.
• Make your products easier to recycle.
• Host online client meetings when appropriate, as an alternative to them travelling for face-to-face meetings.
• Provide employees with Internet/Intranet-based training instead of travelling to attend live training.
We are a society of convenience. If you make it easy for people and businesses to change and go green, you will find opportunities for increasing revenue with your green incentives. Go the extra mile for clients and be the facilitator. From consumers to governments, the call is clear: in order to have a truly sustainable society, we each need to provide sustainable products and services to each other. The green movement is gaining momentum, but is still in its early stages. The opportunities are now.
Michele Moran is a green business consultant and owner of M&M Green Solutions, LLC (mandmgreensolutions.com).