Looking for gold in them there green hills?

You’ve probably heard that green is gold. While nothing is quite that easy, the business case for green is solid, and its fundamentals extremely strong. A green business is not much different than a conventional business in many ways: you still have to create a product or service people want, market it, deliver it, and manage customers and other stakeholders.  Obviously the difference comes in quite quickly when you start to think about that product or service. So where do you start?


Here’s a list of startups that just might get you there.

  1. Consignment Store – A wonderful business model, consignment stores are basically resellers of other peoples’ stuff. By giving products a second life, you’re preventing waste and dramatically decreasing the carbon footprint of production and consumption of tangible goods. Consignment shops typically focus on a particular niche: sporting goods, women’s clothing, or outdoor gear, for examples. The beauty of the model is that you can fill your entire store with inventory without paying a dime for any of it. People drop off their gently used stuff for you to sell to your customers, and only after they sell do you pay the person for the product. Your main costs upfront are cloud computing software that allow you to sell and manage your inventory online (if you so desire) while you also sell in your store, and the cost of setting up your retail store.
  2. Organic Food Wholesaling – What was once a marketplace dominated by Kraft, Heinz and other giant manufacturers, many factors are aligning to make organic food wholesaling a viable business model. First, many people are turning to locally produced foods as a way to make their diets more interesting, tasty and low carbon footprint. Second, many retailers are looking to incorporate more locally produced goods, to satisfy this increasing customer demand, to be better corporate citizens, and to decrease their reliance on unstable gas prices and a global supply chain. Safeway, Whole Foods, and Wal-Mart have all made clear commitments to local foods. Third, the number of farmer’s markets continues its exponential growth. There were less than 1,800 farmers markets across the country in 1994, and today, due in no small part to the Obama family’s commitment to local organics, that number has climbed to 5,274 by last count. Farmer’s Markets are terrific outlets for selling goods directly to consumers and building customer loyalty and word-of-mouth buzz. Whether you do pesto, salsa, a small scale farm with fresh produce, nut butters, fresh soft drinks, kombucha or fresh juice, there’s a growing market for fresh, local, and delicious.
  3. Mobile Food Vending – While a restaurant is typically a large investment, starting a mobile cart might be just the low budget alternative to getting your feet wet with making delicious, organic, and low carbon food, ready to eat, and sold direct to customers. Progressive cities like San Francisco and New York have changed their municipal code in recent years to allow these entrepreneurs additional licenses to bring healthy, organic, fresh and local food to areas that desperately need it (i.e., impoverished areas where unhealthy fast food may be the only option, or near schools in poor communities). Expect more of this kind of reform from progressive cities and towns. In addition, social media is making mobile vending more capable of attracting a consistent clientele and building brand loyalty and customer awareness. Many mobile carts send out tweets every day letting people know where they are setting up.
  4. Green and Healthy Cleaning Services – Residential maid services and office janitorial services are easier to do green than ever, thanks to ever increasing eco-friendly cleaning compounds, growing customer demand for chemical-free services in home and office, and the principles of LEED certification, which state the a LEED certified building needs to use eco-friendly cleaning services to maintain its rating. Startup costs can be extremely low, depending on the equipment you need to get started.
  5. Fitness Training and Diet Planning – As our population gets older (and let’s face it, plumper), helping people find healthy food and lifestyle choices will be a huge economic opportunity. The complete lack of education offered to students throughout high school and college on aspects of nutrition leave a glaring gap…and a good business possibility. If you can plan healthy low-carbon meals, train people in healthy eating and cooking, and introduce them to healthy lifestyle elements such as meditation, yoga, walking/running, and cycling, you can coach someone to a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle, and make good money doing it. Main guidelines for healthy, low carbon eating include: local, organic, and mostly vegetarian. There are certifications you can get for fitness training and diet planning (you can become a Certified Nutritionist, for example), but even without these certifications, if you’re good and your customers are happy, you can make a good living helping people live sustainably for both themselves and the environment.


For more information and more green business ideas, please visit GreenBusinessOwner.com’s green startup section.


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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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