What can one green entrepreneur do? Business author Paul Hawkins attributes one entrepreneur, David Gottfried, with the founding and building of "the most important green trade organization in the world.where thousands of people and companies are playing inside it, creating the best standards in the world," producing global levels of energy and material savings, toxins elimination, greenhouse gas emission reductions and human health benefits.

Gottfried is the entrepreneur dynamo who founded the U.S. Green Building Council and its LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which has emerged as the standard for an industry seeking to satisfy growing consumer demand for green buildings. From this inspiration, he launched the World Green Building Council with green building councils; now in 50 countries. This year's U.S. Green Building Council Greenbuild Conference is set to have 30,000 attendees with participants coming from around the world to hear about the latest technologies and business practices for achieving sustainability in the U.S. construction industry.

In this first installation of a two-part series on lessons in green entrepreneurship, we take a look at how Gottfried took a vision and turned it into a profitable business. His vision "greening is my life" is both simple and bold; it inspires and engages. Like most entrepreneurs, Gottfried's story is one of a long struggle. He helped launch the USGBC in 1993; 15 years later he looks like genius. That is the essence of entrepreneurship, believing in your vision so strongly that it inspires a 15-year effort of pushing the envelop.

The rock upon which Gottfried built his vision was supported by a strong team of industry coalition partners. Sustainability is a green vision backed up by the data. What Gottfried and USBGC created in LEED was a by the numbers understanding of how to build and operate a sustainable building. LEED was built on research on the inflow and outflow of material and energy, as well as the associated occupant health and productivity impacts during a building's construction and operation. This research led to how tos on design and implementation. The results from this research, and development of implementation practices: Buildings that have lower operating costs offering inhabitants superior indoor air quality.

"If you are toxic in life and sitting in a Prius you are still toxic. The problem of climate change is human behavior. The solution is putting the 'e' back into human to create humane behavior and results," Gottfried said.

Simply put, sustainability is not a patch on our way of life; it is revolutionary change from our current behavior. When we have a national energy system built upon importing 75 percent of our oil, the sustainable solution is not an incremental change in gasoline consumption. Furthermore, when scientific reports on climate change indicate the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in amounts greater than all the emissions produced by electricity plants that provide 50 percent of our electricity supplies, the sustainable solution is not an incremental change.

As you think about your business and the emerging green economic revolution, please consider the word revolution. That's exactly what Gottfried did 15 years ago, and the impacts of his revolutionary thinking have resulted in global entrepreneurial opportunities; particularly evident with green construction growing at a rate of 30 percent in a depressed market.

Another bit of insight from Gottfried's efforts is the value of incremental learning. One of the innovations of the USGBC was its development of the LEED green building rating system. Such a system allows participants to start at one level and learn their way to higher levels of sustainability. It is a way to reach the broadest range of participants by having numerous entry points by offering a range of prices, quality and quantity. So too with green entrepreneurship the vision needs to be encompassing, the scale of innovation needs to push revolutionary boundaries, the research needs to be pioneering and the path to implementation paced by the speed of stakeholders' changes in behavior.

If you are an entrepreneur looking to employ more sustainable business practices remember these how tos:

  1. Think big . Sustainability is a global revolution creating a permanent change in human behavior. You must be thinking about how your business will be impacted and begin to position it for change.
  2. Act incrementally . Insight gained from global change agents like Bill Gates, Sam Walton and David Gottfried is that big changes are implemented incrementally. Global change can result if lessons learned at one stage are successfully incorporated into the next stage. Get started on something that fits your budget and capabilities today and use that experience to build toward bigger opportunities.
  3. Be numbers driven . The green economic revolution will challenge your traditional financial analysis. Whether you run a pizza restaurant, an airline or an office, your success in sustainability will impact your bottom line and competitive cost positioning.