What is Green Entrepreneurship?
A green entrepreneur is someone who starts a business to make or offer a product, service, or process that benefits the environment.
Much of green is about solving old problems in new ways. For example:
- How can we create energy without polluting the environment?
- How can we produce or sell goods using as few resources as possible?
- How can we keep our houses warm in winter and cool in summer without burning fossil fuels?
- How can we build vehicles that use as little gas as possible?
Green entrepreneurs are people who have (or seek out) the knowledge, initiative, and resources to solve these problems or find innovative ways to bring existing solutions to market.
Is Green Entrepreneurship for You?
Although green entrepreneurs may start their businesses for different reasons, the process comes with many of the same challenges as traditional entrepreneurship. You must be diligent, flexible, and willing to work hard to get your business started. Conducting market research, writing a business plan, securing financial support, and marketing the product or service are all steps in starting a new business.
Though many aspects of entrepreneurship are universal, some are specific to green. Read through the special considerations for green entrepreneurs below to learn more.
- Getting capital to get started. Getting the money to start a new business is a challenge for any budding entrepreneur, green or not. But it can be even tougher when you're trying to make the case for a product that's technology-intensive, takes years to get to market, and/or is untested. Green is often all of these.
- Green work can be technology- or science-intensive. For example, generating and transmitting energy from wind or solar panels, or developing plastics from bio-based products, like corn or other organic material. People working on these products say it can take more than ten years to go from the initial idea to a product on the shelf.
- Educating the customer. If you're a green entrepreneur, you may need to make special efforts to educate your customers, or convince them that your product or service is superior to a similar non-green product — especially if your cost is higher. Think about organic or sustainable farming. It's usually far more costly and challenging to farm without chemicals and pesticides that are damaging to the environment. The extra work is generally reflected in the higher cost of organic products.
- Underdeveloped labels, standards, or certifications. Since green applications are still fairly new and sometimes very complex, there are often no quick ways to show consumers the value. Certifications like Energy Star or LEED have helped to establish a recognized green standard for homes and appliances, but many such certifications or standards for other green products do not yet exist or are not yet commonly recognized.
- Finding appropriate training. Since green products, services, and processes are still emerging, green entrepreneurs need to take the initiative to find the most up-to-date, relevant, and industry-accepted training. Depending on the type of business you're starting, this might include general contractor or other licensure, green-related certifications, post-secondary green training, or an apprenticeship. To stay marketable, be prepared to stay up-to-date in technological advancements and find the best training to help you keep your skills current.
- Fighting "greenwashing." Some companies have hindered true green efforts by making false claims about "environmentally friendly," "all-natural," or "energy-efficient" products. Companies that legitimately strive to make a true difference for the environment at times have to confront consumer skepticism due to others' practices.
What do experts say about how to start a green business? Consider three different approaches to thinking about your green idea.
1. Create a Brand New Green Product, Service, or Process
- Think about existing products and services that are bad for the environment. For example, plastic food packaging, electronics waste, disposable diapers, demolition, or coal-fired electric generation.
- Analyze the trends in the STEM industries (science, technology, engineering, and math), where many green innovators get their start. Some examples include nanotechnology, green chemistry, and storage techniques for renewable energy that are able to capture wind or solar power and store it for future use.
2. Support an Existing Green Company
- Think about what in-demand skills you have that could help a green entrepreneur or small business. Examples include grant writing, research, accounting, public relations, and building a website.
- Market your knowledge and understanding of the regulatory environment or legal system. Help guide entrepreneurs through the process of meeting regulatory compliance or standards or commercializing products.
- Find innovative ways to bring entrepreneurs together with specialized networking events or advocacy groups that foster entrepreneurship.
3. Translate or Expand Existing Green Services to New Customers