In the summer of 1989 I was taking a subway home with some friends that I co-founded an environmental non-profit with here in Brooklyn. I remember complaining about how tired I was of having to search and buy eco products in mail order catalogs (this was pre-internet days).
Basic eco-products like toilet paper made from recycled and non-chlorine bleached paper.
Back then there were no stores in NYC that sold it. In order to get it, you had to buy a case via mail order. A case of 96 rolls.
I remember complaining, “What am I going to do with 96 rolls of toilet paper in my small apartment!”
And that is when it hit me. What about having a retail store that screened all its products for their environmental impact? The task of researching and learning about the environmental (and social) issues that go into making products can overwhelm most customers.
I asked them, “So what if we created a store that did that for the customer? And you did not need to buy 96 rolls of something to get it.”
At the age of 25, that was the beginning of Earth General, which opened two years later in 1991.
Within six years Earth General grew to being one of the largest environmental retail stores in the country with over 3,000 products all screened for their environmental impact. Things like organic cotton clothing, natural body care, green cleaning products, recycled office supplies and stationery, all natural gardening products and so on.
Yet while our stores were popular in New York City, the concept was a bit ahead of its time and my investors and I closed them in 1998. Today, 10 years later, they would probably do quite well.
In fact today, most things (authentically) “going green” are looking very promising. For example, one of the mainstream issues on everyone’s mind is energy. And of the many things being developed in the energy sector, one segment to really watch in the very short term is nanotechnology.
If you are not familiar with nanotechnology, you need to be, as it looks likely to be dramatically changing our lives within the next couple of years.
According the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. It is all about building things and using materials at a very small level. From this things like new, lighter, yet sturdier materials can be built.
For example, imagine cars made from materials as light as plastic, yet sturdier than steel. Lighter materials in our automobiles mean more energy efficiency, which in turn means more miles per gallon.
For more about this as well as a sense of the many, many applications currently being researched in nanotechnology, read “GreenBiz” recent article, Sweating the Small Stuff: A Market Opportunity.
Still need convincing that going green is a wise choice? On May 12th, The Wall Street Journal published an excellent story, Does Being Ethical Pay?
While the authors found consumers would be willing to pay a premium for ethical products, they also found consumers would also punish an unethical company… to a much greater degree (by only buying that company’s products at a steep discount.)
Perhaps it’s time for you to consider ramping up your green factor?
10 Steps to Determining Your Green Product / Service:
1. Pick your passion- what about the environment are you most passionate about? What do you notice really “burns your bacon”? For help, refer to January 30th’s Power Boost: Top 10 Business Issues into Environmental Opportunities.
2. Define your target-who is your market? What customer base are you most comfortable serving?
3. Get in their head-what is the need of that customer base? What are their pains? Remember to relate this to what you are most passionate about in the environment (remember my frustration that created Earth General?)
4. Relief is on the way!-what is your solution to your target market’s pain and to their needs? Especially if they do not even know they have it! Be clear as possible on this one. Make it really stand out.
5. Support is the key-who is on your team? What expertise do you need and who will have it? What are these people’s motivations for working with you (hint: your vision on where you would like to take your business.)
6. Name the players-who is your competition? How are you better and/or different? How can you authentically show your strengths over them? No competition, then your product/service niche is too small!
7. Be a hurdle jumper-what are the barriers to entry for competition to join you down the road? Is it difficult to gain entry? If not, how can you make it difficult or how will you retain customer loyalty (hint: focus on the green/social impact of what you do!)
8. Keep clearing those hurdles-how to keep in front of the barriers to entry. As the market continues to develop, what new, cool, authentic green (and social) components can you add to the mix? Stay ahead of the pack. Stay on top of your market research.
9. It’s all in the girth-and how scalable your product/service is. Compare it with how big you want to go with this idea. Look to balance the two. It’s OK if you want to stay small, just get clear before you take off.
10. Review your passion-how do you feel about your product/service? If you feel something is off, you must address it before moving forward. If not, it will bite you in the butt later. Don’t step over this. Find solutions to what is keeping you from really playing full out.
Once you’ve worked through these 10 steps, you should be ready to rock. I’d love to hear what cool, unreasonable green business you’re ready to launch.
Action Steps for the Week:
Whether you’re working for the man or the man is working for you, it might behoove you to examine your green business game plan.
If you have one, review it again and see what of the 10 steps (from above) might need some refining. And if you’re new to the subject, really take inventory on how and what to implement into your business.
The more thought you put into this, the more likely you’ll be whistling Dixie later on.