door, says Joel Makower, a consultant on green business practices and the executive editor of GreenBiz.com, which provides business and environmental news, tools, and resources. “We are at a really early stage in this,” Makower says.
Identifying an Opportunity
One of the biggest questions is how to find a niche within the green economy. The truth, green entrepreneurs say, is that there is such broad demand from consumers, businesses, and government agencies that the biggest challenge now may be whittling down the list.
Indeed, experts say just about any kind of business can be re-envisioned as one that is more environmentally friendly. Consider a greened-up version of a Main Street business such as a dry cleaner, a printer, or a hardware store. How about an environmentally friendly travel agency or landscaping firm? The beauty of the green movement is that the grassroots demand is already there, waiting to be harnessed, says Michel Gelobter, founder and CEO of Cooler Inc., based in Oakland, California.
It was just last summer that Gelobter launched his business with $350,000 from angel investors. The former head of Redefining Progress, a nonprofit sustainability think tank, Gelobter knew that nearly 40% of every American’s carbon dioxide emissions come not from, say, heating a home, but from the manufacture of goods and the delivery of services the consumer buys. Sensing an opportunity, Gelobter, 46, jumped to the private sector to create a virtual shopping mall where participating retailers pay for carbon offsets.
Gelobter’s company operates the online retail hub ClimateCooler.com. On the site, visitors can shop at more than 350 Internet stores, among them Circuit City, eBay, and Macy’s. Buying products on the site does not cost consumers any extra, but retailers selling through the site pay, on average, a 6% premium on an item’s cost to Cooler Inc.–which in turn invests a significant portion of that premium toward renewable energy and pollution prevention projects to offset the greenhouse gases produced by the manufacture of the purchased item. The projects are approved by well-known environmental organizations such as Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
One such project is Holsum Dairies, a Wisconsin dairy farm that captures the greenhouse gas methane from livestock manure and converts it to fuel, Gelobter explains. Cooler Inc. also consults with businesses to figure out how to reduce or eliminate their global warming impact.
Gelobter expects annual revenues at his three-employee business to jump from $1 million to as much as $45 million within five years. His revenue projection is based on a goal of driving 0.2% of U.S. consumer spending through his business within five years.
Determining a Target Market
While Gelobter is betting much of his business on individual consumers, there is a great case to be made for targeting businesses as customers. “For the most part, the most robust market now is the b-to-b market,” says GreenBiz.com’s Makower. “Companies and institutions increasingly have self-imposed mandates to be greener and cleaner.”
Target Corp., for instance, has its own environmental services group that’s charged with setting environmental goals for the