Book Review–Starting Green: An Ecopreneur’s Toolkit For Starting a Green Business From Business Plan to Profit by Glenn Croston

starting greenGlenn Croston’s latest book, Starting Green:  An Ecopreneur’s Toolkit for Starting a Green Business From Business Plan to Profits (Entrepreneur Press) is a useful resource for entrepreneurial types looking to enter the green economy.

Croston describes the green economy as entering Green 3.0:  the stage where business is beginning to make green its focus, bringing the other 95% of consumers (in addition to the 5% that do it because the environment is the #1 thing they’re concerned with) into the green world by making it easier for them to do so.  In Green 4.0, according to Croston, “Everything is green.”

It’s an exciting time, as the transition of our economy begins to go mainstream, with business slowly starting to take a leading role, and Croston’s book draws attention to the oft-overlooked little guy.  While so many authors and consultants specialize in bigger business (as that is where the quickest impact, and, let’s face it, biggest bucks are), Croston tells the tale and leads the way for the entrepreneur interested in green.  The ones who create 70% of all new jobs.  The ones that will lead us out of this economic slump….if only enough of them have the know-how and tools needed to get started in this green economy.

Starting Green starts with green business vision and planning, goes through the details of marketing a green startup, options for raising money, and offers many lessons from leaders in the green economy interviewed in the book.

I’ll put aside the broader generalizations Croston makes in the book about the green economy (to be covered on another blog perhaps), in order to focus on some of his key insights aimed directly at the green entrepreneur, the stuff I think most 3P readers are most focused on, and I believe, also very much Croston’s strength.

In Chapter 2, Croston describes the circumstances in which many entrepreneurs find the right opportunity, but don’t act on it:  he calls is a mind trap.  If they have an idea and no one is doing it, there’s probably something wrong with it, right?  Perhaps not, says Croston.  He offers a guideline for choosing good opportunities that are right for you, based on your previous experience, expertise, and internal and external resources.  All very useful, but his best addition is to “Choose Excitement”.  In short, if something makes you so excited you can’t wait to get started and do it all the time, this is a tremendous clue to what opportunity may make you a successful businessperson.

Chapters 3 and 4 are also quite inspiring.  Setting an eco-entrepreneurial plan in motion and getting financing to begin your dream are two crucial elements of the success of any small green business, and these chapter give great insight into how to do exactly this:  from what kind of entity your company should be to the variety of ways (and strategies) to raise money, Croston’s right on the money.

Chapter 5 takes a business apart and shows how each part of it can be green, or greener.  This chapter includes a few terrific how-to resources, including a couple of independent certifying bodies that will help businesses conduct self-audits and green their operations.

In Chapter 6, Croston tells the all-too familiar story of the disconnect between what Americans say in surveys (82% very concerned about the environment), and their spending habits.  Croston breaks down the consumer segment to analyze why.  Consumers associate with brands (you’ll hear someone say they’re a Ford person, for instance), and Croston analyzes some of the most successful green brands to find out what they’re doing right, and how green entrepreneurs can use some of this green branding mojo on their own company.

The rest of the book focuses on opportunities for aspiring green entrepreneurs, including a lot of information on green franchises that are ready to go for those who don’t want to start from scratch.  (In fact, of the many times I caught myself laughing out loud while reading this book, this particular statement was perhaps the most riotous.  When describing franchises, Croston says, “there are many benefits to buying a franchise compared to starting a business from scratch.  The first is that you don’t have to start from scratch.”  It is this deadpan, informal, ‘well duh’ delivery of genius moments that I enjoy most in Croston’s writings.)

My review of this book is mostly very positive.  I think overall, it’s got some great stuff for eco-entrepreneurs to help them succeed.

A few things I didn’t like about it, however.

I think the book tries to do too much.  It tends to lose its focus on the small entrepreneur by delving into a lot of high level thinking on government incentives, broad market trends, and interviews with heavy hitters like Hunter Lovins and Joel Makower.  Not that these aren’t useful, and in this case well done, but I wonder if these  are really helpful in a ‘toolkit’ for a startup entrepreneur.

I also think there’s a few points in the book where practical advice, as opposed to general thinking (or at least following up general thinking) would be more helpful to the entrepreneur.  Just for one such example, in Chapter 10, a part unintentionally might scare an entrepreneur away from going green at all:  “With the green label can come high expectations; many customers will expect everything about your store to be green, from one end of the building to the other.  Some may be keen to look for nongreen aspects to raise the rallying cry of ‘greenwashing!’.”   I think Croston accurately describes this situation, but gives the impression that this may be an everyday occurrence, and further, misses the opportunity to follow this up with easing the entrepreneur’s trepidations.  Simple steps to avoid situations like this, including transparency, can make this sort of scenario an extremely rare case, and perhaps a complete non-issue, and are the kinds of practical advice entrepreneurs need.

This book earns 4 stars out of 5 (I rarely give 5’s, so understand I believe this book to be very good).  One of Croston’s real strengths as a writer is to make a strong case.  One of my favorite moments in the book is in the preface:  The Seven Deadly Assumptions About Going Green.  In it, he really closes the case on whether green is here to stay, and in doing so, also provides some terrific lessons and ideas for how to be successful in the green economy.

Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business:  Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and thinks very similarly to Croston.  The small green entrepreneur has the power to change everything.  Croston’s book is one powerful tool to help this happen.

Scott Cooney, Principal of and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.