There’s nothing like the satisfaction of building a company while supporting the environment. But what does it take to run a successful green business? How are our challenges as green entrepreneurs unique? How can we run successful small businesses while staying focused on sustainability?
When we were preparing to launch our electric lawn care business, we faced these questions every day. We believed strongly – and still do – that eco-conscious entrepreneurs are crucial not only to the health of our planet, but also to the health of our local economies and communities. As a Gainesville, Florida-based business, we’re lucky to be surrounded by other entrepreneurs who share these beliefs.
And there are more on the way. Over the past few years across a range of industries, green businesses have grown at exploding rates compared to their traditional counterparts. And there’s evidence that investors are paying more attention to their funding’s carbon footprint. As the green business landscape continues to grow, we wanted to reach out to our peers in sustainability to ask what drives them, what challenges them, and what advice they have for aspiring green entrepreneurs.
When one green company succeeds, we all succeed. We’re excited to pass this expertise on to you to start building a more sustainable world together.
Four Gainesville Entrepreneurs On Running A Successful Green Business
I believe that there is a draw to do good, and the consumer wants to do it. I believe there is a large pool of customers out there that make buying decisions based on the environmental repercussions and that sustainable businesses attract them. Finding a niche always helps improve your business, if there are customers interested in that niche. These days, it’s not all that different to be “green,” it’s becoming more the norm, and that is a wonderful thing for the environment! It is just making the business owners in that market have to be a little more creative.
Educating the masses about the importance of green building materials for builders, consumers, and the planet, has been one of our biggest challenges. As a small sustainable company, it’s difficult to compete with the marketing capabilities – and sometimes dishonest “green washing” marketing – of bigger box stores. We’re still learning how to tackle that challenge. Educating consumers on our price points has also been significant. When “green” first came on the scene it was almost double the price of traditional products, but now many of our products cost the same as the traditional ones.
One benefit to our company has been our location in Gainesville, which is a very progressive town and I believe the general public here truly cares about supporting small businesses as well as businesses that are here to help the greater good. This community has rallied and fundraised more than once to save local small businesses that were threatened by higher rents. This to me says it all. Keeping our local economy sustainable is part of the big picture, and as a local entrepreneur it’s important to feel supported by my neighbors in this way.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a sustainable business owner has been that most of the general public is unaware of the toxins residing in “regular” cleaning products. Unfortunately, people can be uncomfortable with this inconvenient truth. Therefore, it takes educating people – but it can feel overwhelming to try to educate the general public about the effects of toxic chemicals on human health. Ultimately, I realized that some consumers are aware of the effects of the chemicals on their health and that is who we will be marketing to for now.
On the positive side, I feel that as a sustainable business, we are at an advantage because I see that Gainesville is more conscious of being green than some other cities I have visited. It seems to be a little more progressive, and people seem to be a little more aware of sustainability here. I think that sustainable businesses are supported in Gainesville by leaders in our community. Our tree protection regulations are an example of the belief system of guarding natural resources, which coincides with sustainability.
My advice to other sustainable business owners would be to get out into the community as much as possible, continue to learn as much as possible about topics relevant to your business and community, stay on top of local laws that affect your business, and look at ways that you can positively impact the community. And keep a positive attitude. There are always challenges in business.
We keep our business sustainable by managing the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. We provide sustainable designs (homes, commercial and industrial spaces, neighborhoods and towns) to individuals and contractors through our architecture and engineering firm. Our mission is “to transform spaces and places to improve efficiency and function, safety and health, beauty and happiness while making the transformation authentic and accessible to all.” What does that mean? We design for efficiency, we design for useability, we design for durability, we design for comfort and health – and our designs are timelessly beautiful. That maximizes your return on your investment. That is how we define sustainability.
The challenge? Sometimes people don’t get it. They don’t understand why we don’t design showers with fifteen shower heads, or recommend carpet, or why we specify a more expensive (but much more efficient) window, or that we might suggest a mini split HVAC versus a conventional system. But we press on with the mission and we try to help customers get the design they paid for. After all, if you come to a company called “The Sustainable Design Group” you are expecting to get a sustainable product.
We’re also committed to keeping our company eco-conscious on the inside. This includes trying to minimize packaging, recycling everything we can, reusing paper on the reverse side for draft prints or internal documents, and using cloth napkins and real dishes in our break room. Yes, it is a little extra work and sometimes extra money, but it sets an example and it makes for a much more pleasant experience and a healthier, happier workplace – which we believe is more profitable. We also ask this question during employee interviews: “How do you incorporate sustainability into your own life?” We have found that people that have worked to become more sustainable are typically more conscientious all the way around.
Overall, running a sustainable business gives us a unique pride in our work. Just recently, we ran into the owner of a new house we had worked on. She thanked Jennifer, the architect, for designing a beautiful home, but also shared that her house payment AND her utility bill were less than just her utility bill used to be. That is a nice thing to think about when you go to sleep at night – it puts a smile on your face.
To any aspiring entrepreneurs out there that want to leave the world a better place, commitment to the environment is essential. Ask, for every choice you make: “Is there a more sustainable solution?” And don’t underestimate the importance of involving your firm in the bigger picture: join green building organizations like the local US Green Building Council; beautification organizations like Keep Alachua County Beautiful; or volunteer groups that keep a section of road or trail clean. A few good choices can have a big impact. If we all make a few better choices the effect is exponential.
As green business owners, I believe that we are at an advantage because the old ways are slowly, but surely, giving way to the 21st century mentality for sustainability. I see it in the millennial generation college students I work with. They are more concerned with renewable energy and sustainability than their counterparts from 10 or 15 years prior. It is also nice knowing that you are doing something that is good for the world even though it may not be the fastest way to make money. It is a very satisfying way to make money.
One of the challenges, however, is that it can be difficult to convince everyone of the value of renewable/sustainable products and services. In our society it is so easy not to care about an individual’s impact on the world that it requires a lot of education from our end. Unfortunately, when fuel/energy costs are low, it can be difficult to convince people to spend slightly less or more from the energy they get from a solar array like the ones we provide. That means we’re required to be patient and spend enormous amounts of time explaining the benefits of solar power. Sometimes it falls on deaf ears but more often than not our clients understand the benefits and value and decide to move forward.
Here in Gainesville, consumers do tend to prefer locally sourced food and materials, and are more into sustainability than in many areas of the state. It’s also a progressive city as evidenced by the sheer number of social programs, environmental conservation efforts, outdoor activities, health awareness programs, and solar photovoltaic systems installed per capita. Of course, there is always opposition to progress, as in any society.
My advice to aspiring green entrepreneurs is this: keep doing what you are doing. Do not cut corners. Run your business in a way that makes you proud of what you do and allows you to live with a clear conscience. Enjoy it!
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