Natural Order

Struggling to Be Green

Stumbling into natural capitalism isn't always an easy fall. Just ask Eloise Gonzalez-Geller, founder of Miami-based interior finishing contractor Commercial Interior Contractors Corp. (CIC). Her $1.2 million company does everything it can to help the environment. Employees write notes on waste paper. Recycled glass is used as an aggregate in the company's terrazzo floors, and CIC donates leftover tiles to a local school's art department. Then Gonzalez-Geller decided to expand her effort and successfully bid on removing carpet from government renovation projects, usually at airports, where it frequently contains trace amounts of jet fuel. But the program is a frustration: "No private companies will pay to recycle their carpets. It's cheaper to throw them in landfills," Gonzalez-Geller, 39, laments. "At this point, I'm losing both money and energy with the carpet-recycling project." Even so, she believes that in the long term, she'll overcome those companies' hesitation and earn not just environmental benefits but financial ones as well.

A Crackdown Cometh

Just can't bring yourself to care enough about natural capitalism's financial and environmental advantages? Take note: As an entrepreneur, you're the new target of federal and state environmental agencies.

Regulators increasingly view aggregate small-business waste as a potentially large source of air and water pollution, which experts say may lead to a crackdown. Therefore, it makes sense for entrepreneurs who aren't already thinking green to start.

As the environmental practices of small companies are placed under the microscope of regulators, you need not go it alone. A growing number of government and private-sector programs have been developed for the small-business market. For example, the EPA has a Web site tailored to entrepreneurs, marking an end to the purely adversarial approach of days past. It's a dramatic change.

On that first Earth Day in 1971, a canyon of enmity and misunderstanding sat between business executives and environmentalists. Thirty years later, that canyon has narrowed to a crack, which environmentalists and entrepreneurs easily hop. Maybe it's because today's entrepreneurs have greater control of their companies. Maybe it's because many of them are from a more environmentally attuned generation. Maybe it's because being environmentally sensitive is just the right thing to do. In the end, the reason doesn't matter. What does matter is that more entrepreneurs are discovering the benefits of natural capitalism. More are working to do what they can to strike a balance between business and the environment. In doing so, they'll not only preserve the environment, but they'll also create more efficient companies, a concept even Adam Smith would applaud.

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This article was originally published in the November 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Natural Order.

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