Although plenty of established corporations have begun to embrace niche areas of the green movement, they’re often slow to change. Consequently, achieving true sustainability can take a long time — but it doesn’t have to. Thanks to a new breed of disruptive entrepreneurs, the majority of vertical markets are tackling green initiatives and spurring widespread interest in smarter stewardship of natural resources.
This evolutionary process toward greener values, policies, and models hasn’t been lost on stakeholders. From the consumer to the employee to the potential new hire, people universally are increasing their expectations of brands when it comes to aligning with their environmental values. Investors know this innately; even larger ones are peppering their portfolios with sustainable — and profitable — investments.
Without founders willing to drive positive social and environmental issues to the top of their missions, the green ideal would take too long to achieve. Fortunately, startup visionaries don’t need to forgo profit for the greater good. Those that offer green, fair, and equitable products and services in a space where they’re not readily available can, with the right exposure and marketing, expect to snag significant market share.
Of course, the most natural way to leverage greenness is by incorporating sustainability into the fabric of a business model. Activewear outfitter Patagonia is an excellent example of a company founded on eco-friendlier practices, well before it was in vogue. Its continued success can be attributed in large part to its core values — values that were its early differentiators and continue to hold relevance today.
Eileen Fisher, the clothing design company, has also led the green charge since its inception. The business offers new models of worker ownership, supports female leadership programs, backs women-owned businesses, and provides for local communities — all while making American-constructed, responsibly sourced garments.
At Earth Friendly Products, we’ve spent more than 50 years centering everything we do around social responsibility and sustainability. Our model has paid huge dividends over the years, and we don’t have to incur the pain of trying to transition to “green” midstream; we’re already there.
Although not every business is born with environmental consciousness, it’s easier to practice the three Ps (people, planet, profit) while young. Thus, as an American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) board member, I routinely encourage entrepreneurs to approach sustainability as a way to add value from their organization’s inception. ASBC and other nonprofits help founders build their companies based on a successful triple bottom line focused on social, environmental, and financial elements.
Does this mean only new companies can catch the attention of consumers demanding greener, safer, and healthier solutions to everyday needs and problems? Not really. Any number of small and midsized American companies can make the switch, even if they’ve been in business for years. So, too, can large firms, leveraging their power in the supply chain to create momentum. For instance: Organic produce was squarely the domain of farmers markets and small grocers just a few years ago. Now, conventional and mass retailers are the largest global purveyors of organic foods.
Regardless of age, every organization can commit to greener protocols, activities, and relationships. Three steps have been particularly valuable to our company:
Utilize renewable energy sources. Reduce waste and water use. Pay employees a living wage. These are all ways to prove that being green is more than lip service; they’re also catalysts for competitive advantages.
At our four facilities across the United States, we manufacture everything as sustainably as possible. We have achieved the “trifecta” for sustainable manufacturing: water neutrality, carbon neutrality, and platinum-level Zero Waste certification at all our facilities. We switched to 100 percent renewable energy in 2013, and we divert more than 95 percent of our waste from landfills. Plus, we support programs that restore more than 10 million gallons of water annually to critically endangered rivers and wetlands across the nation.
Make sure you’re sending out genuine, transparent information. That way, the public will know where you stand and what you’re about. Case in point: We list our ingredients on all our ECOS™ cleaning product labels so consumers know what’s in the products they bring into their home.
But know that not all environmental certification programs are created equal. We choose to partner with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice program, the gold standard for helping consumers, businesses, and purchasers find safer products for human health and the environment.
We’ve been active in federal and state legislation to support ingredient transparency and safer chemicals for consumers and workers, including California’s historic Cleaning Product Right to Know Act, which became law in 2017. In other words, we’ve made it known on a very public stage that we’re invested in sustainability.
If you want to drive home a point about your corporate green beliefs, don’t stand on the sidelines. Support reform legislation. Get involved at local, national, and international levels. Speak your beliefs. Although it can be easier for smaller businesses to do this faster because of a lack of bureaucracy, larger corporations shouldn’t feel afraid to get into the fray.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead’s words hold true for so many societal aspects, but certainly, too, when it comes to entrepreneurs greening the business marketplace.
Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks is the president and CEO of Earth Friendly Products, maker of ECOS™ products, including its well-known laundry detergent, as well as more than 200 other environmentally friendly cleaners made with plant-powered ingredients. A U.S.-based company, Earth Friendly Products has twice received the U.S. EPA’s coveted Safer Choice Partner of the Year award. Follow Kelly on Facebook and Twitter.