Click to Print

10 World-Changing Green Trends

Capitalize on these developments and boost your bottom line.
October 8, 2009
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/203646

This article has been excerpted from Starting Green: An Ecopreneur's Toolkit for Starting a Green Business--From Business Plans to Profits by Glenn Croston and available from Entrepreneur Press.

Trend No. 1: Oil and natural gas get more expensive

The price of oil has plunged to around $40 a barrel because of decreased demand during the economic crisis, but the long-term trend toward higher oil prices still holds. The price will go up again as the economy improves and consumption goes back up. As oil prices continue to rise, alternatives such as electric vehicles become more cost competitive. We will switch from oil before we run out because oil will be the expensive option, as well as the polluting one. Sheikh Zaki Yamani, a former Saudi Arabian oil minister, once said, "The stone age did not end because they ran out of stones." And so it goes with oil.

Taking advantage of this trend
What will be the impact of expensive fuels? The more expensive oil gets, the more fuel efficiency becomes en vogue. Small cars will rule the roads when the economy recovers and oil prices rise again. Electric cars will do better when they start to market gas as more expensive. We will start to see the fuel conservation trends of the summer of 2008 with gas at $4.50 a gallon again. There will also be a big increase in car sharing and ridesharing, and higher interest in alternative fuels. If you need to buy a corporate car, it's best to buy a small car or a hybrid while the economy is down and prices are cheap, if you can. Think about the impact of oil on driving habits and where you locate your business for customers to come to you, or for you to go to them.

Trend No. 2: Producing greenhouse gases will get more expensive

Today, dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is free for most businesses in the United States and China, leaving everyone else to pay the price. Climate change is a problem that will require decades of concerted global action and cooperation on a scale never seen before. Change is already on the way, by putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative includes a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by utilities in 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. In California, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (also called AB 32) requires that greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. Long-awaited action by the U.S. government to limit greenhouse gas emissions is looking likely, and global action on climate change by putting a price on carbon will ratchet up in the years ahead.

Taking advantage of this trend
Businesses that get on board early will have the upper hand in the low-carbon economy of the future. One opportunity is to provide innovative solutions to reduce emissions in carbon-intensive industries like cement, power and steel. Renewable energy businesses are beneficiaries of the move away from coal, one of the biggest global sources of greenhouse gases. Businesses that provide offsets in areas like methane capture may also do well if offsets are included in the eventual legislation and regulation.

Trend No. 3: Waste less water

The world's population is growing steadily, but the supply of fresh water is not. Our economy may run without coal or oil in the future, but we cannot survive without water. Pollution, dwindling groundwater and climate change will continue to reduce the water supply in many parts of the world, a trend well under way already in places like the U.S. Southwest, Australia and China. One consequence is that water will either be rationed or its price will rise closer to its true cost, increasing the incentive for businesses and consumers to be more water frugal. The more water a business uses, the more frugality becomes a key factor for success. Agriculture, semiconductors, beverage production and other water-intensive industries will be affected the most.

Taking advantage of this trend
Water conservation technologies will be hot. The best water source is the water we already have, using and reusing it to get the most out of it. Conserve water in your business from day one to save money and gain a competitive advantage. Create businesses that help others conserve water as well.

Trend No. 4: Waste less energy

We waste billions of dollars worth of energy every year. In many cases investments in energy efficiency pay for themselves in two years or less, the equivalent of an investment with an annual return rate of 50 percent. The logic in not wasting all of this energy is overwhelming. In some cases all that is needed are more creative ways of financing energy efficiency. Governments and utilities are doing more to promote energy efficiency, and businesses are realizing that the opportunity to save money helps their bottom line, no matter how they feel about the environment.

Taking advantage of this trend
Get efficient and start saving right away. Businesses that continue to waste energy are throwing money out the door and will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Getting efficient also contributes to your green brand. The opportunity for businesses that help others save money is immense.

Trend No. 5: Produce clean renewable energy

Wind and solar power are clean, renewable and proven technologies. Both have grown rapidly and, with new incentives at the state and federal level in the U.S., they will likely grow even faster. While they produce less than 1 percent of our energy today, President Obama has called for this to double in three years (by 2012), and to provide 20 percent of our electricity by 2020. This trend is global, with countries around the world investing heavily in renewable energy. Many states have renewable energy mandates for utility power production, requiring a growing percentage of energy to be from clean sources like wind and solar. Obama has pledged support for a national renewable energy mandate.

Taking advantage of this trend
Be a part of the renewable energy industry with a solar integrator business, for example. If you don't work in the renewable energy field directly, get involved in a related business (training, parts, maintenance, marketing, sales).

Trend No. 6: Have stronger green certification

What is green? It's hard to say sometimes, but various certification schemes are trying to make this evident by setting clear, open standards judged by independent third parties. There is a clear need for certification to avoid the confusion some feel about the word "green." In the same way that having the FDA provide specific guidelines for the use of the term "organic" helped the organic food industry to grow, defining the word "green" will reduce consumer confusion and encourage the growth of green products. There are still a variety of certification standards for different products and different markets. It's not clear today which certification standards will be around in the long term, but it's likely that we will see one or more of them broadly adopted.

Taking advantage of this trend
Get certified. It will make you more credible as a green business.

Trend No. 7: Cleaner food and better health

OK, this may be optimistic, but so be it--our health is not what it could be, but I think we'll do better in the future. There is a strong financial motivation for improving our health. Those paying for our health care have a great incentive to get us back on the right path, since the cost of poor health and its impact on the bottom line are staggering. Look for more money to be spent by insurers, governments and businesses on preventative medicine, which saves those who pay for health care a great deal of money--and keeps people healthier.

Taking advantage of this trend
Get involved in the production, distribution, preparation and provision of healthy, local, whole, organic and sustainably produced food. Finding ways to make this food fit into people's lives and improve their health as well will be a winning combination. Exercise trends, yoga, boot camps, personal trainers, stress relief, healthy diets and education all play a role.

Trend No. 8: The flat world

In his bestselling books The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded and in his columns in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman describes the impact of the flattening world economy. Today we are not just competing with other workers and businesses in the U.S., but with workers around the world. We find ourselves in early 2009 embroiled in an economic crisis of epic proportions. It's not just Americans losing their jobs, but many businesses are continuing to turn to offshoring as a cost-cutting measure. As our economy restructures itself, the pressure on American workers and businesses to compete in the global marketplace will be intense. The U.S. can take on this challenge and make the most of this historic opportunity to create millions of high-value jobs here, particularly green jobs, with innovative entrepreneurial ventures leading the way.

Taking advantage of this trend
Start an innovative green business doing work that cannot be easily outsourced.

Don't get complacent; keep innovating and working to be better. Businesses tied to the local environment are one niche that resists the tide to move business offshore.

You can't send buildings to China for weatherproofing, as environmental activist Van Jones and author Thomas Friedman have pointed out.

Trend No. 9: Raising the green bar

While certification provides standards about what is green and what isn't, these standards will not stand still over time. What people think is green today may not be considered green tomorrow. Today, the bar is relatively low as businesses start to consider sustainability. Over time the standards for being green will evolve. Green businesses will need to keep innovating because of competition, changing attitudes and certification. Taking advantage of this trend

Start the journey today, getting ahead of the pack, and keep on looking for ways to be better and greener to stay ahead of the pack.

Trend No. 10: The conserver economy

In early 2009 the consumer economy slowed to a crawl amid the credit crunch, millions of lost jobs, rising fear and plummeting home values. But as the consumer economy shrinks the conserver economy is growing. The current economic crisis won't last forever, but the impact of this crisis won't pass quickly. Like the green economy, the conserver economy emphasizes being efficient with resources, but it is more closely connected to pocketbooks than to polar bears. In the conserver economy people are wasting less, saving more and thinking of the long term.

Taking advantage of this trend

We are seeing the economy shift in a new direction, a shift with long-term implications. The shift from consumer to conserver holds a wealth of opportunities for businesses that share, repair, reuse, rent, rethink and rebuild. Start a business in one of these niches in the new conserver economy.