Going green is a big business trend, so big in fact that it’s not one trend but several. Going green will not go away, but the various trends within the green business movement will change direction, creating opportunities for new products and new businesses. Looking forward, here are five green trends that entrepreneurs can capitalize on to make money while making a difference.
Early green consumers were true green believers who were so devoted to the cause they did not worry about the price of green products. Being green can still command a premium, but as green goes mainstream and reaches more consumers it is expanding into products that compete with non-green products head to head. Being green is an added feature, but not the only one in products like the Prius, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and green cleaning products like Green Works.
One consequence of the shift is that green products become less about sacrifice and moral virtue, and more about having better qualities than the competition, providing overall value. They become more about providing efficient heating and insulation that save money, and less about wearing sweaters indoors on cold days.
How to capitalize on it: Find a product or service and make a competitive greener version of it that provides good value for consumers and the environment.
The Ultra Greens
Even as some products target the mainstream market, others are moving to distinguish themselves by being ultra-green, raising the green bar by setting their goal as zero waste, no net greenhouse gas emissions, 100% sustainable, cradle to cradle and fair trade certified, and all around great products. No business is fully sustainable yet, but green businesses are declaring these ultra-green goals as their own, moving to distinguish themselves from more moderately green products.
Ultra-green products target ultra-green consumers. Price is less of an issue for these products and having solid green credentials is more of an issue.
How to capitalize on it: Take an existing moderately green product, and see how it could be greener. Build a café that is greener than Starbucks, produce food that is not just organic, but organic, locally grown, using sustainable agriculture methods, and with less of a carbon footprint.
Examples of Opportunities: Organic and local food, or low-carbon groceries
More and more eco-products are the result of regulatory mandates by governments at various levels encouraging the growth of green products to help both the environment and business. Growth in the markets for reusable shopping bags, low-flow toilets, and cool roofs are all being driven by government mandates, at the local, state and national level.
Climate change legislation will be a biggie, and there is a growing consensus that the US government will take action on climate change in the next few years. Government action on climate change in a cap and trade system would grow carbon markets to be worth hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars. You don’t move trillions of dollars from one place to another in the economy without creating a great deal of opportunity along the way.
How to capitalize on it: Look for products that are already being mandated elsewhere (other states, different countries) and see how the trend will grow into new regions. The mandates for reusable shopping bags are likely to expand to more of the US and other countries. Take-back programs for e-waste, mandated reductions in landfill waste, and renewable energy mandates are additional opportunities.
Examples of Opportunities: Reusable shopping bags, cool roof installation, or green plumber installing water conservation hardware.
Green as social justice
Going green means different things to different people. For many people green is all about the impact of products and services on the planet. Increasingly though going green is also about the people we share our planet with. The impact of products on society, improving the lives of people, is increasingly important as one measure of their greenness. If green is going to be mainstream it transcends borders, and cannot merely export pollution or problems to other countries.
How to capitalize on it: Help companies examine and improve their supply chains to include information on human capital, the people involved in the process. Find ways to label and certify a broader range of products for their impact on people. Replicate what fair trade has done for coffee in other products. Help people in developing countries to lead healthier, more productive lives.
Certification and Transparency
The rapid growth of green business is not without its challenges, including the scepticism of some green consumers toward increasing numbers of companies and products claiming to be green. If greenwashing is the problem, then transparency and certification are part of the solution. First, know where you stand, auditing your business’s impact on the environment and on people. Then, be open and honest in reporting this to others, providing numbers and not just pretty pictures in brochures.
How to capitalize on it: Find better ways to measure your environmental progress, certify your greenness, and then report on your progress. If you are a green business, become certified with one of the existing schemes. If the existing schemes do not cover your business, there might be an opportunity to improve them or to create a new certification.
Examples of Opportunities: Green building certification, auditing and certifying green business practices, or sustainability reporting