There are more resources than ever available to America's eco-friendly entrepreneurs. Take advantage and help your green business stand out from the pack.
By Max Berry
It's common knowledge among small business owners that going green has a positive effect on the environment. Perhaps less known is how to successfully manage your green business in a world where more and more entrepreneurs are laying claim to the word. The secret may lie in the acknowledgement that words alone will only get you so far. "Anyone can say they're green," says Joel Makower, Executive Editor of Greenbiz.com. "These days, to gain marketing penetration to a significant level, you have to have a system as well as a standard."
Indeed, with so many businesses branding themselves as green, simply wearing the color is no longer enough for those looking to stand out. You need to prove, to your employees and associates as well as your customers, that the green you wear is more than just fashion.
The first step to success in any business, green or otherwise, is a devoted team. And a little green never hurt morale. "
Whether you're new to the world of green business or a seasoned pro, making yourself known to your eco-business brethren is never a bad idea. There are countless industry-specific associations committed to introducing, educating, and uniting green business owners. The Organic Trade Association (ota.com) bills itself as an "association for all sectors of the organic industry, from farm to retail, and for all other types of products." The International Ecotourism Society (ecotourism.org) is a non-profit organization providing similar services for the most eco-conscious members of the travel industry.
There are also more general resources available for those with earth-conscious business models. Green Options Media (greenoptions.com) provides a network of blogs focused on sustainable businesses in all industries. Makower's own Greenbiz.com offers blogs, case studies, and environmental news for all forms of green businesses.
Taking advantage of services like these-or taking part in any other activity that helps you stay in touch with like-minded entrepreneurs and keep abreast of the latest green innovations and trends-will supply you with ideas to help you maintain your own patch of ground on the green landscape.
Getting to the Customer
Once you've surrounded yourself with a reliable network of cohorts and colleagues, the next order of business is the customer. And there are just as many resources available for green-minded consumers as there are for eco-friendly entrepreneurs. Green J (greenj.org) and Eco Firms (ecofirms.org) are search engines designed to connect consumers interested in greener products and services with the businesses they seek. Also available are similar industry-specific services. Eco Hotels of the World (ecohotelsoftheworld.com) is, as the name would suggest, a database of the world's greenest hotels. Green Home Guide (greenhomeguide.com) provides the same service for those looking for eco-friendly home and garden products. Registering your business with a consumer service like this will make it easier for the green-minded customers you're after to find you. Taking the time to associate your business with this sort of network will also be an indication to consumers that you are serious about your commitment to sustainable business.
B2B: Consider Certification
Business-to-business firms face even more pressure to prove their commitment to sustainable business practices, as their clients, considering the needs of their own end consumers, are becoming more aware of the demand for environmentally safe goods and services. "In some industries, being green is table stakes, says Makower. "It's the price of entry, so you have to say it. But in a B to B, you have to prove it."
The problem then becomes how to go about proving it. As Makower concedes, "We don't have a definition of green business. We don't have an answer for how good is good enough."
One way to assure your buyers of the ecological integrity of your product or service may be to have it certified as environmentally sound. OneCert (onecert.net) is a certification service, accredited by the USDA, which gives an official stamp of approval to qualifying organic agricultural products. This kind of federal certification does not exist for every industry, but many local governments offer similar certification programs for green businesses. As Makower points out, all nine of California's San Francisco Bay Area counties offer certification programs for sustainable businesses.
As a nation, we have not yet reached the point where this type of certification is federally and comprehensively regulated. But seeking some form of certification (greenj.org offers a list of certifiers) will, in the worst case, show you ways in which your business can do more to help the environment. And bearing the endorsement of an outside agency will demonstrate to customers that you are serious enough about your commitment to greener business to invest the time in proving it.
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