The Color of Money

There’s no shortage of opportunities for small businesses to break into the green economy, says Christopher Womack, executive vice president and president of external affairs for Southern Co., an Atlanta-based electricity producer serving the Southeast. Small businesses can manufacture parts for solar or wind technologies, or pitch in with state and local methane conversion, landfill, and water conservation projects. And they can profit from caulking, weather-stripping, and roofing homes to make them more energy efficient.

The trick is for small businesses to find a green niche at the intersection of their expertise, market demand, and government priorities, and then take action. “There are a number of renewable areas being explored around the country, among them solar, biomass, wind, and energy efficiency,” Womack says. “Small businesses must understand these technologies and determine which areas fit their business model.”

And the jobs within various green sectors are just as diverse, says Kil Huh, director of research for the Pew Center on the States, a division of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. “We found a number of jobs in the clean energy economy that cut across both the skills and educational spectrums,” he says, based on his organization’s count and analysis of actual jobs, companies, and investments nationwide between 1998 and 2007. “These jobs have been growing over that 10-year period much faster than jobs overall and are poised for explosive growth.” To find your place in the clean energy economy, consider these four areas of entry:

1. Manufacturing: Making the equipment, parts, and products that clean energy companies need is a booming business that requires a range of workers from chemists and engineers to project managers and machinists.

2. Installation: Electricians, plumbers, and others are profiting by setting up and installing the green products and technologies that others have produced, from energy efficient lighting to smart irrigation systems. “Installing solar panels on roofs or energy efficient water heaters in homes presents opportunities for small businesses in the clean energy economy,” Huh says.

3. Consultation: If you have an environmental sciences background, sustainability consulting and compliance coordination may be a good business opportunity. Vocational teachers are also needed to train new workers in every aspect of the clean energy economy.

4. Support Services: Don’t think scientists and manufacturers are the only ones in this space. Lawyers, finance experts, and researchers are also developing clean energy expertise to meet the demand for specialized professional services.

Check out the June 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine for more on the Business of Green. Click here for more BEing Green articles on African Americans, energy, and the environment.