5 Green Businesses You Can Start

Green businesses providing solutions for environmental problems are growing rapidly even as the broader economy faces unprecedented challenges. The opportunities for green startups are found in a wide variety of fields, including transportation, green buildings, food, farming, water, services, and renewable energy. Many entrepreneurs are eager to go green, but unsure what type of business they can start. Some believe that starting a green business requires extensive knowledge of environmental issues or a large investment researching new technology. There are a wide range of green business opportunities that can be started quickly though and without an extensive background in environmental fields. The place to start is with a vision. What starts small with a vision of a greener future can grow over time into a large successful enterprise. These are a few of the many ways that entrepreneurs from many backgrounds can join the green business revolution. The challenges are great, but the opportunities are even greater.

1. Reusable Shopping Bags

Over 500 billion disposable plastic shopping bags are produced each year, over 100 billion in the U.S. alone. These bags contribute to depletion of oil, and most end up in landfills where they are highly resistant to breaking down. Many end up dispersed in the environment on land and at sea, causing further problems.

Recognizing the need for change, consumers and governments are searching for alternatives. From San Francisco to Australia, governments are banning disposable plastic bags made from non-renewable resources and using incentives such as taxing disposable bags to encourage the use of reusable bags. The growing wave of regulation to push alternatives, and the growing desire of businesses and consumers to do the right thing for the environment, are driving a rapid shift from disposable to reusable shopping bags.

Bags can be produced from a variety of eco-friendly materials including organic cotton, hemp, bio-plastics or recycled material. Entrepreneurs making bags can start small, working at home, and sell bags locally or on the internet. While bags are simple to create, there is no limit to the demand for creative and attractive new variations on eco-friendly reusable shopping bags. There is also plenty of room for a bag business to grow by increasing the variety of bags produced and increasing the scale of production. One great resource to start with is the website www.reusablebags.com.

2. Air Duct Repairs

Air ducts in homes and businesses commonly leak up to 30% of the energy used by heating and cooling systems, wasting money as well as energy. The more costly that energy becomes, the more motivated consumers become to have their ducts properly. Sealing and repairing air ducts to reduce energy losses is generally straightforward, but air ducts are often neglected, out of sight and out of mind. Even while thousands of dollars are spent on new energy-efficient furnaces and air conditioners, much of this money is wasted with bad duct work.

Sealing air ducts commonly involves securing and sealing joints with mastic (duct tape does not work). Although sealing air ducts is straightforward with training most homeowners don’t do it themselves or don’t do it correctly, leaving the opportunity for contractors to do it for them. Specializing in duct work and partnering with furnace and air conditioning installers creates natural synergies, improving the performance of the overall system. Increasing the efficiency of air ducts by 30% allows a 30% smaller, and cheaper, furnace to do the same work, for example. Becoming a contractor in the field requires knowledge and training, and time to build a business, but the need is clear and everything needed to fix ducts is available today. Another problem is that air ducts are often put together poorly, resulting in uneven air flow and further inefficiency. Reconfiguring ducts and vents to produce more even air flow is one way to expand the business.

3. Cradle to Cradle Products

We throw away vast amounts of material, disposing of more than 250 million tons of waste in the U.S. in 2006. Throwing away this much material consumes valuable resources, degrades the environment, wastes money, and creates environmental problems from material buried in landfills. This problem is also an opportunity for those who can find new uses for material we throw away, giving it another life.

Recycling programs help to divert waste, creating a ready resource of recycled material. Shredded plastic bottles are finding their way into jackets and other clothing, for example. In addition to conventional recycling, creative entrepreneurs are capturing other materials to give them a new life, diverting objects from the landfill by giving them new uses. Examples include:

• Salvaged building material, used in remodeling and construction

• Recycled clothing, renovating and redesigning old clothes to give them a new life

• Recycled furniture, created from material that would otherwise be headed for the landfill

• Art made from recycled material of almost any sort.

In their seminal book Cradle to Cradle, Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart describe a future in which there is no waste, a future in which everything we manufacture cycles in the economy like an ecosystem. We have not achieved this vision yet by a long shot, but businesses like these are a step in the right direction. The raw materials are cheap, and the biggest resources many entrepreneurs in this field will need are their creativity, time, and skill.

4. Green Fast Food Franchises

Americans love fast food but are increasingly looking for healthier alternatives. Don’t expect all Americans to give up fast food to improve how they eat though. Coming up with healthier fast food options is an opportunity whose time has come, providing food that fits in with consumers’ lifestyles while still allowing them to eat food that is better for their body and for the world. To meet this demand, green food entrepreneurs are developing new concepts in healthy and environmentally friendly fast food.

Vegetarian fast food is healthy, good for the environment, and also tastes great if done well. The U.N. estimates that growing meat contributes more to climate change than transportation, meaning that eating vegetarian food also fights climate change. James Tu opened the first Zen Burger vegetarian fast food restaurant in Manhattan in 2007, with plans to expand rapidly with franchises in the U.S. Their proprietary food is tasty, served in a familiar format, and well-priced, but without the down side of beef or chicken. In addition, they serve food with renewable bioplastic cutlery and are taking other steps to green their restaurants as well as their food. Starting a franchise of a green fast food restaurant such as Zen Burger is one way for entrepreneurs to join the green revolution with less time and risk than developing their own concept from scratch.

5. Green House Painting

Traditional paints emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some of which have been associated with health issues. VOCs can be emitted from a variety of materials and accumulate indoors to levels higher than pollutants outside the home. To help people green their homes, avoid unhealthy exposure to VOCs, and help the environment, many paints are now available with low or no VOCs. These products are available with an increasing array of options and colors, helping them compete with regular paint. Specializing as a green painter, using only no VOCs paints, will help a fledgling paint company stand out in the crowded painting market. The concept is still the same (painting is still painting) but going green may help you carve a niche in the market with the growing number of people who are eager to do the right thing for themselves and the environment.


Glenn Croston is the author of the book “75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference”, coming out in August 2008 with Entrepreneur Press and available on Amazon.com. The green economy is estimated at $300 billion and growing quickly as businesses in many industries go green, building a sustainable economy and a healthy environment. 75 Green Businesses give entrepreneurs from many backgrounds the starting point to join the green economy, describing innovative green bus...

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