How Going Green Can Make Your Business Money
Fourth-generation egg farmer Jesse Laflamme says going organic saved the family business.
"We were nearly out of business," says Laflamme (pictured), co-owner and CEO of Pete and Gerry's Organics in New Hampshire. "My parents had the foresight to convert the farm to organic. Without doing that, we wouldn't have had a chance."
Embracing humane, environmentally responsible and sustainable methods of egg farming gave the company a niche and the means to survive against massive commercial competitors.
A new survey [PDF] by Green America, EcoVentures International, and the Association for Enterprise Opportunity found that embracing green practices is likely to boost a small business's bottom line.
Of the 1,300 small-business owners surveyed, nearly half (49 percent) said they saw an increase in sales of green products and services and that customers prefer their businesses because of their "environmentally beneficial practices." Three-quarters (75 percent) of respondents whose companies offer green products and services said that even during a down economy they saw an increase in sales.
"We were really lucky doing the right thing at the right time," Laflamme says. "Organic has exploded across all categories. Consumers buying our type of product are investing in where their food comes from and the health of that food and how the animals are cared for."
What's more, Laflamme notes, his company's green practices take the family farm back to its roots. “My family just wanted to be farmers; they didn’t want to do agribusiness. Back when my grandfather started, everything was cage-free and antibiotic-free. We've taken that to heart in how we operate and partner with other small family farms to supply our eggs."
From Rural Farm to Urban Retail
A trip to Alaska made Susan Aplin reevaluate the condition of the planet and her impact on it. The co-founder and CEO of Bambeco, a retailer of 100-percent sustainable home decor and furnishings, says her company is providing the types of earth-friendly items customers want to buy.
"We offer consumers a choice to buy sustainable and stylish home products vs. non-sustainable options," Aplin explains. "This allows consumers to live their environmental values."
Bambeco's green practices don't begin and end with the merchandise. "Our company was built from the ground up on sustainability values and practices," Aplin says.
That includes: operating out of a renovated warehouse in Baltimore with water that is heated by solar panels and a geothermal heat pump; giving employees five hours of paid time off each month to volunteer for environmental causes; and supporting those causes by donating 1 percent of sales.
"We are moving the needle even further to[ward] become a retailer that is carbon neutral," Aplin says. "This is significant and will absolutely give us an even greater competitive advantage."
Aplin's experience backs up the Green America survey findings that even during the economic downturn her business became stronger.
"We stayed nimble while the larger market and premium home companies struggled," Aplin says. "We stayed committed to sustainability and our model and, as a result, our business has continued to grow and prosper. The market has clearly validated our original vision to build a sustainable company."
Carla Turchetti is a veteran broadcast, print and digital journalist who is passionate about small businesses and the stories behind them. Carla is a small-business columnist at the News & Observer, the regional daily newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina.