THE BLOG

Crash Course for Green Products

06/28/2013 05:47 pm 17:47:35 | Updated Oct 22, 2013

Have you ever wanted to develop a green product for your business? Or showcase how your product is beneficial for people and the environment? As a green entrepreneur, I've spent my entire career growing my business to do both of those things. I've also had the opportunity to train hundreds of business owners through the Sustainable Design Entrepreneurs at FIT on how to transition from a tradition business into green companies. Here are 5 critical elements to turn your product into a world-class-green-must-have purchase.

First, don't skimp on the details. Lots of folks are calling themselves green these days, but aren't actually creating anything uniquely green with their products. Today's green consumer is much more savvy and aware of greenwashing. Take the time to figure out what is actually sustainable about your product before you make claims about it. Work with your team or outside consultants to actually quantify them. Then, make sure to effectively communicate how these factors add value to your customers and the environment.

Second, admit that you are not perfect. This isn't easy within a competitive culture of business. But in my experience, imperfection offers a much more customer-centric gateway, because, in all honesty, your one green product or product line isn't going end all suffering in the world. So don't say it will. Though you aren't going to solve all our global problems, what you are creating is a way to invite your users into your process of getting better and better. What I mean by that is, you will discover over time how to improve the greenness for your product. At launch, say, you have 1 or 2 things green about it such as it saves 10% on water or it is 5% more energy efficient than its alternative. As you develop the product, you'll likely find new features that increase its water and/or energy efficiency as well as other ways to avenues such as donating to wildlife conservation or global warming research. So embrace your faults as well as your achievements. It's a great strategy for letting people into your story. This allows consumers to feel part of your dynamic process and grows loyalty. Each day, month and year, you slowly make your product better and better, more and more green and good for the environment. Be imperfect, ask for feedback, and expand your consumer base. Overtime you will be the biggest winner.

Third, get third-party certification for your product. There's nothing more annoying to the general public than a company making claims about its product's "greenness" without verification. Plenty of ways exist to show you are the real deal, so verify your claims. For example, the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Standard evaluates products across five categories of human and environmental health with the ultimate goal to encourage innovation and the design of products that effectively and positively impact people and the environment. If you are within the electronics world, Energy Star rating is worth checking out. Wood products should look to the Forest Stewardship Council for certification and most other product types can apply for Fair Trade certification. Many of these programs take time to certify your products, so get started as soon as you can. As you wait, take the opportunity to communicate with your customers the process...the good and the bad. Also, ask them what certifications are must important to them...or if they even know what these things are. If they don't, use your social media platforms to educate them with info that's easy to digest and understand.

Fourth, if you aren't profitable as a company, you're ability to save the world will be greatly compromised. Cash flow, balance sheets, P&L...these are just as important to a green company as it is for non-green companies. Even small businesses of 1 to 5 people should take on the challenge of creating a yearly growth and marketing plan. Embraced your company's true size and used tools available to you. For really small companies this means things like $100 or $200 ad campaign with Facebook, starting a blog or being a contributor to an established online magazine, going to tons of networking events, signing up for daily HARO emails and good ol' business development. Studies should the easiest way to get new business is from existing business, so work those relationships you already have.

Lastly, having a small business can be a lonely road, but the green community is always looking for new faces. So develop a network of likeminded people that believe in what you are doing. This can be a mastermind group of entrepreneurs that you meet with on a weekly or monthly basis. It can be an action partner that you connect with on a daily or bi-weekly basis to make lists of Things to Do and Things Accomplished. There are support groups, Meetups, trade events, programs like 10,000 Small Businesses and thousands of other programs geared to help you succeed. I've used all of these things since I started my company to improve my business pitch, service offerings and overall direction for my green products.

We need a greener world. Business is one of the most powerful tools to build that better world. We need super successful green entrepreneurs growing, profiting and creating jobs. As you master one level of green with your product, start moving to the next level of green - like net zero, zero waste or restorative benefits. The more successful you are, the more you will inspire and empower others to go after their dreams to create environmentally sound products. Your business can be the change you want to see on the planet.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.