From the December 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

Franchise development follows a typical cycle: Market characteristics determine what's hot, consumers eat it up and franchises follow suit. In the green scheme of things, the same holds true, says Mark Siebert, CEO of consulting firm iFranchise Group. "The trends you see with consumers are what you'll see in the franchise world thereafter," he explains. "You're not seeing a lot of pure green concepts yet, but the first wave [in green franchising] is just getting started."

That means franchising is rife with environmentally conscious opportunities in a variety of categories, including organic pizza shops, eco-friendly dry cleaning and green hotel chains. "Sometimes it's a matter of adding a green product line, and sometimes it's creating a whole new franchise," Siebert says. Either way, franchisors are trying to meet consumer demand first, then appeal to the franchisees who have a green streak.

On that note, Siebert advises against searching for a green franchise: Just as with any franchise search, he says, "I would look for companies that meet my passion, then hope that [they're] environmentally responsible."

That's how it worked for Todd Sterchi when he bought his NiteLites franchise in 2004. Seeing potential in the growing Charlotte, North Carolina, area, a colleague posed the idea. The landscape and architectural lighting franchise's focus on energy efficiency was just a bonus. "Four years ago, everybody was just spending money like crazy and didn't care if it saved power [or not]," says Sterchi, 40, who explains that the energy of 10 low-voltage NiteLites equals that of one standard flood light.

In the works for the NiteLites franchise is new low-voltage LED lighting. LED lights have always been extremely energy efficient, but they've never been great for lighting large areas, Sterchi says. "It has really started to gain momentum. NiteLites is very proactive about product development." While the franchise encourages innovation from its franchisees, Sterchi stays busy with day-to-day operations, bringing in annual sales of about $500,000.

For Maid Brigade franchisee Mary Ellen Hoffman, who works on the franchise's green innovation team, being green is a big part of her job. She purchased her residential cleaning franchise in 2000 and joined the franchisor's support team two years later to help it move from clean to green clean.

During Hoffman's first years of franchising, green cleaning was a foreign concept. But by the end of last year, all the company's more than 250 franchisees had been green certified and now use products and procedures that meet a strict set of standards.

As the company switched directions, education for franchisees and their employees and customers was a big project--one Hoffman was responsible for as assistant director of training. "We turned our whole marketing approach around to say, 'Yes, we're still a cleaning company, but we're just trying to do it better,' " explains Hoffman, 50. "We wanted to be good stewards of the earth [while focusing on] the health and safety of our employees and customers."

So even though she didn't intentionally search for a green franchise, it was the perfect match for both Maid Brigade and Hoffman, earning her Milwaukee-area franchise $1.6 million in sales this year. But more important, says Hoffman, "It's made my business more meaningful to me."