If you are an entrepreneur or business owner, then you have the power to decide, change, and create. You have the power to leave a green legacy. Yes, there will be obstacles. But entrepreneurship itself is no walk in the park. The question is, ‘What kind of difference do you want to make with your business?’ Maybe you’re wrestling with the voice in your head that says ‘Green is expensive and nobody wants to buy ‘eco-friendly products.’
At this point, it’s important for me to point out that if you DO decide to go down the green business route, it should be for the right reasons. It’s essential that your product or service is, in fact, eco-friendly. You should not be doing it purely to capitalize on the perception that green products are more expensive. Consumers will find out one way or another if you are selling genuine green products, or whether you are just green-washing. Bear in mind, the power of social media these days. Word spreads quickly!
If you sell something that everyone else sells, you have competition forcing margins down. If you sell something special that few people offer, then you can sell it as a higher value product with higher margins.
It is also important to be transparent about what makes your product green, as many consumers have been disappointed time and again by false green marketing that has created a lot of confusion and distrust towards green products.
When we look at greening a business, we have two options: either green an existing business, or start a new green business.
GREENING AN EXISTING BUSINESS
These are a few questions you should ask yourself for starters:
• What is our annual electricity bill?
• What is our annual water bill?
• Are there efficiency measures we can put in place to reduce our electricity and water consumption?
• How much money do we discard by turning raw materials into waste?
• Can we reuse any waste material as raw material, or can another company use it?
• Do we have an environmental policy and management system in place such as ISO 14001? Should we have one?
• What are our main environmental impacts and how can we address and manage them?
• Do we have a green team or people focused on efficiency and waste minimization?
• Do we have green procurement guidelines?
• Do we have green design criteria for new product or systems development?
• What green principles should we adopt for our buildings and new construction or development projects?
• What are the green policies of our customers?
Some of these questions are about minimizing your environmental impact and preventing pollution and hazards. Yes, I know it’s a lot to take in, but it’s all about taking one step at a time. Implement small changes first, and once you build up your comfort level and start seeing results (particularly in terms of minimizing energy consumption and waste generation), you can move on to the next level, and the level after that. To be perfectly honest, I know that a lot of business people simply don’t care. They only care about profits. Yes, we all need to make a living, to provide for our families, and to live a comfortable life. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t or are not capable of caring about the environment. Do you want to be one of those people who only care about making tons of cash, and nothing else? If your granddaughter would ask you now, or in the future, whether your business helped the planet or damaged it, what would your answer be?
Preventing negative impact is important, and it is your ethical responsibility. Some people say that if a businessperson does a huge amount of damage to the planet, there will come a time in the future when the business and the people involved in it might have to pay the price. You may call it the Universal law of ‘karma’ or cause and effect.
Instead of wasted electricity, wasted water and wasted raw materials, all representing a huge waste of YOUR money and resources, why not opt for resource efficiency, yield maximization, zero waste, and cleaner and leaner production? These and many other concepts can help you focus on a simple reality: We can do well for our business and for the planet IF we eliminate waste.
STARTING A NEW GREEN BUSINESS
The world is your oyster, and you have a blank canvass in front of you to do with as you please. But first, do your research. Maybe you’re an aspiring entrepreneur working on launching your own business, and you’re genuinely passionate about helping Mother Nature. Great! Bring it on, but remember that motivation alone doesn’t guarantee success. I’ve known several young and enthusiastic eco-minded people who’ve started up green ventures and failed in getting them off the ground. The truth is that starting a green business is no different than starting any other business. You need a good understanding of the market, your target customers, competitors, the product cost, competitive pricing, and the effort required to make a sale. It is best to do detailed research first on the minimum volume and margin of sales you need to grow as a healthy business. Often people start with a product they’re passionate about and convince themselves that it will be a hit. I’ve gone through the same experience myself. There are people I know who have been trying to commercialize their inventions over the last decade and have still not had a breakthrough. I believe it’s all about striking the right balance in business.
You can fail and try again and again. We have famous examples such as Thomas Edison with his light bulb and Walt Disney with his business. Only after many failures did they finally succeed. The key lies in minimizing your risk of failure and maximizing your chances of success. But it rarely happens immediately, so don’t lose hope if you don’t make it on your first attempt. SEERS, a Malaysian water heater manufacturer, is a good example of a new green company driven by passion, international research, and home grown innovation. Every building needs a water heater; the market is huge. And if your product can save money and eliminate the risk of electrocution then you are in business. What makes the SEERS product particularly attractive for property developers is the savings generated on the power supply infrastructure compared to alternative water heaters.
So what steps should you take if you want to start a new green business?
1. Identify your passion, e.g. the thing you love doing
2. Identify what the market needs and is willing to pay for
3. Decide on a product or service in that field as the focus of your business
4. Estimate existing offers, pricing, and what the market is willing to pay
5. Identify your capabilities of developing it yourself, your cost of production, or the cost of outsourcing production
6. Identify your strengths and role in the business and additional resources you require to make it a success
I’ve often debated this with many people, particularly in Asia. Often the society around you influences your path, or your parents want you to study a certain field as they believe it is the best path for your future success. I was told by my late dad not to waste my time hugging trees. ‘You can’t make money with that! When I was your age I already was earning a lot of money.’ But I decided to follow my own path and studied environmental science management. It’s not easy standing up to external resistance, but ultimately the choice is yours. My experience is that your field of study isn’t even all that important. It only matters if you want to enter a specific professional field (like medicine, engineering, or IT). If you want to become an entrepreneur then the doors are wide open for you. The ONLY question that matters is, ‘What kind of difference do you want to make with your life?’