Eco-Friendly Startup Opportunities With Low Capital Requirements


You’ve probably heard that green is gold. While nothing is quite that easy, the business case for green is solid, and its fundamentals are extremely strong. A green business is not much different from a conventional business in many ways: you still have to create a product or service people want, market it, deliver it, and manage customers and other stakeholders.  Obviously the difference becomes clear quite quickly when you start to think about that product or service. What’s an entrepreneur with a green outlook to do?

Here’s a list of startups that just might be your ticket.

  1. Consignment Store – A wonderful business model, consignment stores are basically resellers of other peoples’ stuff. By giving products a second life, you’re preventing waste and dramatically decreasing the carbon footprint of production and consumption of tangible goods. Consignment shops typically focus on a particular niche: sporting goods, women’s clothing, or outdoor gear, for example. The beauty of the model is that you can fill your entire store with inventory without paying a dime for any of it. People drop off their gently used stuff for you to sell to your customers, and only after they sell do you pay the person for the product. Your main costs upfront are the cost of setting up your retail store and the cost of cloud computing software that allows you to sell and manage your inventory online.
  2. Local Food Wholesaling – What was once a marketplace dominated by Kraft, Heinz and other giant manufacturers, many factors are aligning to make organic food wholesaling a viable business model. First, many people are turning to locally produced foods as a way to lower their carbon footprints while making their diets more varied and healthy. Second, many retailers are looking to incorporate more locally produced goods, to satisfy this increasing customer demand, to be better corporate citizens, and to decrease their reliance on unstable gas prices and a global supply chain. Safeway, Whole Foods, and Wal-Mart have all made clear commitments to local foods.
  3. Mobile Food Vending – While a restaurant is typically a large investment, starting a sustainable mobile food cart might be just the low budget alternative to getting your feet wet with making delicious, organic, and low carbon food, ready to eat, and sold direct to customers. Progressive cities like San Francisco and New York have changed their municipal code in recent years to allow these entrepreneurs additional licenses to bring healthy, organic, fresh and local food to areas that desperately need it (i.e., impoverished areas where unhealthy fast food may be the only option, or near schools in poor communities). Expect more of this kind of reform from progressive cities and towns. In addition, social media is making mobile vending more capable of attracting a consistent clientele and building brand loyalty and customer awareness. Many mobile carts send out tweets every day letting people know where they are setting up.
  4. Green and Healthy Cleaning Services – Residential maid services and office janitorial services are easier to do green than ever, thanks to ever increasing eco-friendly cleaning compounds, growing customer demand for chemical-free services in home and office, and the principles of LEED certification, which state the a LEED certified building needs to use eco-friendly cleaning services to maintain its rating. Startup costs can be extremely low, depending on the equipment you need to get started.
  5. Fitness Training and Diet Planning – As our population gets older (and let’s face it, plumper), helping people find healthy food and lifestyle choices will be a huge economic opportunity. The complete lack of nutrition education offered to students throughout high school and college leaves a glaring gap…and a good business possibility. If you can plan healthy low-carbon meals, train people in healthy eating and cooking, and introduce them to healthy lifestyle elements such as meditation, yoga, walking/running, and cycling, you can coach someone to a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle, and make good money doing it. Main guidelines for healthy, low carbon eating include: local, organic, and mostly vegetarian. There are certifications you can get for fitness training and diet planning (you can become a Certified Nutritionist, for example), but even without these certifications, if you’re good and your customers are happy, you can make a good living helping people live sustainably for both themselves and the environment.

For more information and more green business ideas, please visit’s green startup section, or sign up for Global Exchange’s webinar November 11th featuring me and Global Exchange Co-Founder Kevin Danaher.

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.

2 responses

  1. Great ideas for green start ups.Thought I should mention another great low cost,low maintenance start up which would be creating a green shopping site.We’ll sign on 4 more websites that do the front end selling while we do all the dirty work of shipping in the back end and of the 4 sites, two will be smaller,more dedicated webstores which I expect to do much better than the big webstores.

  2. I’ve pondered the food cart idea. So many people want everything done for them these days. At this point I am sticking with the website showing them how to do it yourself, but I think its true that any service you can provide that will put healthier food right in people’s hands will probably do great.

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