Small businesses are no longer cutting edge by calling themselves “green.” Big corporations like Wal-Mart and Nike down to the corner cafÃ© are cultivating a greener image as consumer demand for environmentally responsible products and operations quickly goes mainstream.
What this means: Businesses genuinely trying to limit their environmental toll must now work harder to authenticate their green practices and convince consumers they’re for real – not just throwing around green lingo.
The next phase of green business evolution will focus on businesses being more earnest an all-encompassing about their environmental sustainability practices and marketing. Here, then, are some green trends to pay attention to in 2010.
1. Transparency. Consumers want to know where products are sourced, what they’re made of and why they’re better than the status quo. Businesses are responding by giving them more information than ever before. Some restaurants, for instance, include the name and location of the local farm it buys chickens from and the conditions they were raised under. A “green” dry cleaner might describe its cleaning process on its Web site, so customers understand why the process is less environmentally harmful than traditional dry cleaning.
2. Measuring footprints. To be transparent, businesses must themselves know how much carbon they generate, how much water they use and other factors contributing to their environmental toll. What’s more businesses are paying more attention to environmental friendliness of their supply chain. Many big companies have take steps to measure their carbon footprints. But small businesses increasingly are, too. Some online tools are making it easier for businesses to calculate their footprints. Find some tools here.
3. Engaging customers. Savvy green businesses aren’t just trumpeting their own environmental good deeds. They’re engaging customers in the conversation. Some are starting their own green initiatives, such as handing out reusable bags or encouraging customers to recycle products they buy. One green cleaning service I know hands out customer tip sheets on how to clean green, using household basics like baking soda, vinegar and lemons.
4. Green buildings. It’s no longer enough just to sell a green product or service – businesses are realizing they must practice what they preach in their own facilities. President Obama has pushed energy efficiency into the national spotlight, and provided money to governments to hand out to businesses in 2010 for energy upgrades . Many utilities, being held to stringent energy-reduction standards, are also throwing money at customers who make upgrades. This year, many businesses are finally looking to take advantage of the incentives.
5. Managing e-waste. Office electronics, such as computers and printers, create hazardous waste. So more small companies are turning to recycling and learning how to dispose of equipment in eco-friendlier ways. But you have to be careful which recycler you use  – some are less green than others. Manufacturers are also rolling out more “green computers” and other green electronics.