Why Green is Still Gold

My fellow Small Biz Trends columnist Joel Libava recently wrote a thought-provoking post asking: Are Green Businesses Still Golden? He points to some possible signs that the green business movement may be sputtering, such as the temporary shutdown of Chevy Volt production and solar panel maker Solyndra’s high-profile failure. He questions whether businesses will continue to invest in sustainable business models and products as the economy recovers, or if they’re simply too focused on making up for lost time and money.

gold coins grass

I offered some initial reaction in the comments section, but thought I’d give a more formal response.

I agree with Joel about the financial pressures small businesses face and how these could be slowing the green movement – especially when it comes to high-priced and high-impact investments, such as installing solar panels or wind turbines. However, there are plenty of signs that green business is alive and well, and will continue to be into the future.

For one, corporate spending on sustainability continues to grow – likely because they have the cash reserves and profit incentives to do it. Small businesses often compete against these companies and will have to keep up.

Also, consumer interest in environmentally friendly products hasn’t abated as much you might think, despite the recent slow economy. Surely, some consumers stopped buying green products due to the economy, but more consumers also started buying green products regularly. Consider the growing movement toward sustainable agriculture and organic foods. More consumers are paying a premium for healthier, sustainable foods. The Toyota Prius, which costs a good $8,000 more than typical subcompact cars, is still a hot seller. (The Chevy Volt is a different beast, considering it’s 1.) electric and 2.) costs $43,000.)

That said, there are certainly products that have suffered in the bad economy. While consumers may be willing to spend an extra 50-cents on organic grapefruit, they may not be so willing to spend an extra $200 on an office chair made of 100% recycled materials. It comes down to their priorities and perceived value. They may be more willing to devote money to eco-friendly purchases as the economy picks up.

Looking to the future, businesses that market themselves as “green” may have more of an uphill battle because so many mainstream companies are integrating eco-friendly practices and products and services into their business model. Just being green isn’t enough anymore – a business’s products and services have to be the more user-friendly, well-priced and better designed than their competitors.

Gold Photo via Shutterstock


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

3 Reactions
  1. Great points-counterpoints, Kelly.

    I’m rooting for more small businesses to start moving towards becoming greener, and I always encourage it.

    As both of us shared in our posts, it’s not always possible for today’s small business owners to make green purchases a priority these days. Hopefully, as the economy continues to improve, the decision to become more green will be a lot easier for them (us) to make.

    The Franchise King®

  2. I support each business taking the step into being more green. However, as far as I know, being green = expensive. The cheaper options are always less green-friendly.

    If our government somehow donate incentives, that would be fantastic though.

  3. I think the real issue is that consumers are able to see through “green washing.” They will not pay more for a product just because the label claims that it is “natural.” Instead, I’d like to think that we are choosing the solution that is better for the environment, and our budget, but that might not be better for companies, such as buying used, reducing what we buy, and getting more out of what we have.