Go Green or Go Home

Time’s up. The green economy is making significant headway and will soon be woven into the fabric of business. Unfortunately, many small-business owners and entrepreneurs need to play catch-up.

In recent years, we’ve realized the green economy impacts nearly every industry. Businesses—especially those that are minority-owned, which have historically lagged in participating—need to learn how their operations, products, and/or services can utilize green innovations and seize the opportunities. It doesn’t require a complete overhaul of processes and procedures, but a long-term strategy for establishing a solid footprint in this space should be the goal.

Consumer demand for green products and services is on the rise, and businesses are evolving to provide the supply. U.S. patents for clean-energy technologies in 2009 were at an all-time high, with 200 more patents filed than in 2008, according to the State of Green Business 2010 report by industry website GreenBiz.com. And, according to The Clean Energy Economy report by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Pew Charitable Trusts, the clean energy segment of the green economy alone includes more than 68,000 businesses and 770,000 jobs in all 50 states. Taking an active role in the green economy and looking for ways to incorporate sustainable resources and green energy will help solidify your place in the changing business landscape.

I know the green space is unfamiliar territory for many entrepreneurs, and some of you are hesitant about the cost and time it takes to see a return on investment. But resources exist for you to get there. The Obama administration invested $80 billion in clean energy programs last year. And organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Small Business Administration are available to help teach business owners about existing programs and opportunities.

Noble Strategy L.L.C. is an example of how an existing business model can be adjusted to participate in the green economy. The South Orange, New Jersey, construction management and consulting firm’s president and CEO, William S. Parrish Jr., received his LEED accreditation (a certification developed by the U.S. Green Building Council) in 2004. He now uses his expertise in sustainable design and construction practices for clients in the private and public sector. Revenues for 2009 were almost $3 million, 20% of which came from green or sustainable projects. And Parrish anticipates that figure to reach 35% by year-end.

Government and nonprofit organizations have a strong incentive to help businesses go green because the implications extend beyond dollars toward saving the environment before it’s too late. The Gulf of Mexico is being devastated by the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. Both the ecosystem and small businesses that depend on the Gulf for survival are suffering. Looking forward, sustainability offers small businesses the opportunity to execute three goals: help the environment, help your business, and help the economy. Who’s ready to get started?

Tennille M. Robinson is BE’s small business editor.

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