As the “green” buzz continues to become more mainstream, there is a staggering number of products, websites and communities popping up in an attempt to capitalize on today’s eco-conscious consumer. But the onslaught of information may actually be a deterrant to embracing a green lifestyle for novice consumers who are forced weed through overwhelming amounts of data with little knowledge around how to distinguish hype from fact, or even where to begin. Enter Green By Design, a new blog-slash-product-review-slash-ecommerce portal focused on connecting users with journalistic-quality green content and products that elevate eco-awareness, and reduce the barriers to adoption. Funded by Noribachi, a venture accelerator out of New Mexico, Green By Design aims to fill a very targeted segment of the green market. One that is dedicated to debunking green myths, providing top quality products that meet rigorous standards and deliver on their environmental claims, and guides and reference materials for successfully integrating sustainable practices into your daily life. Somewhat of a personal green advisor, Green By Design scours the eco-web and handpicks the stories, products and resources that make living sustainably simple. You might say it’s by design.
1. Why did you decide to launch Green By Design?
Our beginning was little unusual. I was approached by Noribachi, a venture accelerator in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to start a new business adding to their portfolio of clean tech companies. Noribachi is backing several other startups, including Qnuru, which creates artfully designed solar powered lighting for public and residential spaces, and Visible Light Solar Technologies, a solar engineering services and retrofitting firm (website under development).
In starting this new venture, Noribachi wanted to develop a web presence for their own companies and participate in the broader consumer green movement. Because of my strong business background in consumer behavior, e-commerce, social media, and software developmen — combined with my personal commitment to the green movement and entrepreneurial spirit — I was a great fit to join them as founder and CEO.
We formed the company last fall, and I was given carte blanche to define the business strategy. As a new entrant in the world of green business, I could see right away that there was tremendous opportunity to reduce green noise and serve as the consumer advocate. What struck me was the tremendous wealth of content — hundreds, if not thousands, of green websites, blogs, newsletters, and columns — and very few ways to help consumers bridge the gap between awareness and action. Given my background, that’s the perfect challenge and a fun problem to solve.
2. Tell us more about the site.
We launched the website in January of this year by building on an existing blog under the Green By Design name. Together with Sam Leppanen, author of the original Green By Design blog and publisher of Green@Work Magazine, we built a site that brings together excellent, journalism-quality content with a marketplace of carefully selected products for the home. For every product we sell, we create and display a Green Scorecard that details the key elements of its lifecycle: what materials it’s made of, where and how it’s manufactured, whether it can be recycled and the business practices of the manufacturer.
Our goal is to make it easier to be green. We offer a sweet spot between education, inspiration, and entertainment. As you know, no product is perfectly green, and no person behaves with zero impact. We’re bringing our knowledge of human behavior and decision making to make it more likely people will choose the right action and, ultimately, make a lifelong commitment to being greener.
Did you happen to read “Why Isn’t the Brain Green?” in last Sunday’s NYT Magazine? The article captures the essence of my academic and business background and explains why creating the green mindset may not be as simple as we think.
3. What has been the response so far?
We’re definitely hitting a nerve because the response to the site has been fantastic. For a brand new startup, we’re very pleased.
Traffic is growing at a strong clip, and we’re gratified to see spikes of 20,000 visitors to some of our articles. More important than traffic, though, is the qualitative feedback we get from everyone — consumers, vendors, advisors, investors: everyone feels good about our brand. To use Hemingway’s phrase, our site is a “clean, well-lighted place” where people can trust what they read, engage with other consumers and us, and shop with confidence.
4. What is your long-term vision for the initiative?
Today, Green By Design offers media (articles and guides) and a marketplace. It’s our vision to connect consumer awareness with action, whether it’s shopping on our site or not. We all know that we can’t shop our way to sustainability, so you’ll see us introduce more interactive ways for consumers to make their own lives green by design.
We want Green By Design to be the destination people choose when they want to green their lives no matter how — whether it’s energy use, transportation, water consumption, food, building materials, furniture, clothing, household goods, or travel. My experience tells me not to say anything more until we’re ready to launch.
5. What advice do you have for others who want to start an eco-focused company?
Let me touch on a few thoughts here, though I could easily write a whole book on this subject. With the exception of the last item, this advice is true for any startup, not just an eco-focused company:
- As in all businesses, start with a compelling value proposition. Are you clear about what problem you’re solving? What, exactly, is the pain point? What makes your solution superior?
- Be prepared to operate on a shoe string. This economy is brutal (all contrarian cheerleeding notwithstanding) and funding is mighty hard to come by. Are you prepared to bootstrap your way to profitability?
- Ask for help. Do you know what skills your business needs to be successful? Are you honest about your limitations and willing to seek help? Are you open to listening and integrating what you hear?
- Create a dream team. Even if you don’t have any employees, surround yourself with the very best talent you can find. Your passion and clear thinking are enough to motivate great people to help you.
- Acknowledge the industry’s problem of green noise, fog, and fatigue. What are you doing to alleviate that? How are you making it easier for consumers to be green, not adding to their burden?
Right now, I’m reading three books that are sparking lots of great ideas:
- The Gort Cloud by Richard Seireeni: helping me focus the Green By Design brand
- When Growth Stalls by Steve McKee: universal marketing and strategy guidance, not just for big companies
- The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss: so I don’t kill myself making this startup fly!