As we enter 2017, the business case for sustainability has never been stronger. Smart/clean tech is on the cusp of disruptively reshaping our buildings, vehicles and businesses. This mega trend is the business opportunity of the 21st century.
I actually predicted this in a 2008 Entrepreneur.com article that projected a $1 trillion annual global green economy by 2017. I called this projection a Green Economic Revolution. The social media reaction at the time ranged from a few calling me a visionary and more than a few calling me a green idiot.
Today, the Green Economic Revolution annually generates trillions of dollars in annual sales and investments. Over a dozen ‘Green Giant‘ businesses like Costco and Target sell at least $1 billion annually in more sustainable goods and services. Companies from Apple to Walmart are saving billions of dollars annually using sustainability best practices like zero-waste manufacturing and green supply chains. Global investment in renewable energy is growing at a rate projected to reach $1 trillion annually. And financial data increasingly documents that sustainably-managed companies deliver higher returns.
The coolest response from my 2008 article were the emails from a then-emerging group of green entrepreneurs. Inspired by how they were making money and a difference, I took on the goal of telling their stories. To do so, I created a website called Earth 2017 to host articles profiling their best practices.
Two years later, I started a YouTube channel called Earth 2017 TV. I use this site to host video interviews with CEOs, business owners, and community leaders that are pioneering how to grow jobs and win customers by going green.
Today, these two sites have hundreds of articles and videos. They are a gold mine of proven green best practices for saving money, growing sales and making a difference. Both of these sites are available without charge, ads or requests for your email address.
Green does build business
In early 2011, I moved from observer to practitioner. The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce assigned me the task of designing and implementing a coaching program for business owners. Walmart committed the funding for this coaching program that the Chamber called Green Builds Business (GBB).
Through GBB, I worked with hundreds of business owners covering every imaginable industry across 11 cities. The coaching provided business and community attendees with:
- A survey lecture on proven green best practices
- Assistance in designing a green project that could make money in 90 days
- One-on-one coaching
My favorite GBB coaching project was with a Hispanic father and son who owned a Salt Lake City auto body shop. They tried for years to win a government or corporate contract. And they chose to become a green auto body shop in the hopes of finally sealing a deal.
Building a green auto body shop was a huge investment challenge for this small business, so we focused on low-hanging fruit. The father and son agreed to invest in higher-efficiency lighting and water-saving technologies to save money and reduce the business’ environmental footprint. We also developed a plan for investing in lower-emissions paint technologies. At that time, these combined actions gave their business competitive advantage.
Within 90 days of starting their GBB project, this father and son won a competitive bid with their local police department. Shortly afterward, they won a contract with a national rental car agency. Being greener than their competitors had opened the door to their sales success. Today, this company is truly a green auto body shop — thanks to its continued investment in green technologies and best practices funded by its sales successes.
I could not be prouder of them, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Walmart and our country! To me, this is how America is supposed to work together for business success and a greater good.
I did not envision Election 2016 10 years ago. My enthusiasm for the future blinded me to the backlash created by disruptive change.
But here’s the insight every business person must recognize about the Green Economic Revolution: Its growth was never based on politics.
The Green Economic Revolution is driven by green products winning on price. It is anchored on smart/clean technologies gaining manufacturing economies of scale to drive down prices. One example is that we enter 2017 with utility-scale solar and wind being lower in price than coal or natural gas power plants.
The Green Economic Revolution is also a customer revolution led by urban millennials. Urban millennials are driving innovations in lifestyles and work practices around diversity, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, connectivity, mobility, renewable energy and health. Their innovations will grow our economy. Their adoption of smart/clean tech will restore our environment and improve human health.
Look no further than smartphones, companies like Patagonia or Toms with strong corporate responsibility programs, and the renewal of downtowns across America to see the influence urban millennials are having on our economy. This influence will surely continue in 2017 and beyond. And if the past is any indication, it will continue to drive low-carbon technologies into the mainstream.
This article is the first in a series on Earth in 2017. I hope you find them engaging and thought provoking. Most importantly, I hope they provide you with at least one best practice that you can implement during 2017 for making money and a difference.