5 Green Businesses You Can Start at Home These low-cost options can supplement your income or become a full-time gig.

By Glenn Croston

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If anything's hot in today's economy, it's saving money, including a broad range of green businesses helping people save energy, water and other resources. For those seeking flexible hours and low startup costs, these five green businesses to start at home may be the best way to join the green business wave:

  1. Green Irene Eco-Consultant
    Founded by PJ Stafford and Rosamaria Caballero Stafford, Green Irene trains people from all walks of life to earn part-time income as eco-consultants. Green Irene has more than 150 eco-consultants in 35 states that take pride in being a force for positive change in their communities. As part of the $99 Green Home Makeover, a trained eco-consultant walks through a person's home with the homeowner and proposes specific changes and products that can save energy, water and money. Green Irene has screened an array of green products, helping customers and consultants avoid the confusion of sorting through these on their own. Calculators show the return on many purchases, such as $7,000 (over seven years) for a $133 two-bathroom water conservation kit. Eco-consultants also offer a green office makeover for offices of two to ten people ($250) and 11 to 50 people ($450).

    Using a direct sales model, Green Irene is like the Avon of green, a business model that provides flexible hours, low costs and the ability to work out of your own home. The $450 startup cost includes a large collection of products sold by Green Irene, customized marketing materials, hours of online training and ongoing support to build business. While becoming an eco-consultant requires commitment and energy, it doesn't require extensive prior knowledge.

    Startup cost: $450
    For more information:
  2. Zola Goods Home Party Coordinator
    Founded by Beth Remmes, Zola Goods enables people to work from their homes arranging Tupperware-like parties but for green products.

    "There are many people who are interested in the environmental movement, but don't really know where to start or how they can make a difference," Remmes says.

    Zola coordinators educate people about eco-friendly products and help bridge the gap between hearing the information and taking action. Zola uses a single-level direct sales model and there are no recruiting or sales requirements. The startup cost for a coordinator is only $149 for a kit containing green products that can be used daily and for demonstrations at parties. Coordinators are often moms seeking income and flexible hours, and people who want to get involved in the green business revolution without turning their lives upside down.

    "The only requirement is that someone wants to make a positive difference," Remmes says.

    Coordinators inspire others to help make the world a better place and often become a hub for green information in their communities.

    Startup cost: $149 for a startup kit
    For more information:
  3. Green Internet Store
    Though running an internet store out of your home allows you to reach a broad market with lower startup costs than a physical storefront, it can still take a great deal of time, energy and money to get started. You need to get your website ready for e-commerce, create a billing system, market your site, ship products and track deliveries. Another solution for eco-entrepreneurs is to work with a pre-packaged internet eco-store created by OnlyGreen4Me. OnlyGreen4Me delivers a turnkey online eco-store with more than 6,600 green products, and it takes care of inventory, shipping, billing and collection. OnlyGreen4Me provides a way to hit the ground running with a store months earlier than doing it all on your own. There is a $2,500 setup fee, which includes the first-year hosting and maintenance fees.

    Startup cost: $2,500 for initial setup fee
    For more information:
  4. Energy Efficiency Auditing--Pro Energy Consultants
    We waste billions of dollars worth of energy in the United States, but this problem is finally getting the attention it deserves. Pro Energy Consultants, created by Mark Canella, Kris Simonich and Derek Sola, is selling franchises across the U.S. for entrepreneurs to build their own businesses as energy auditors. Canella has run his energy auditing business in Cleveland for 13 years, and is now using this as the foundation of the franchise business. To help homeowners, Consultants use specific technology such as an infrared camera that lets homeowners see where their homes are losing energy.

    "The visit includes consulting--listening and talking with the homeowner--and the technical component--the audit," Simonich says.

    To purchase a franchise, you need to go through a qualification process to meet the founders and start what will be a long-term partnership. Franchisees receive a territory, sign the agreement, go through training, pay the initial franchise fee and are ready to get started.

    Initial franchise fee: $29,900
    For more information:
  5. Making Gold Out of Garbage
    We throw away mountains of garbage every day, but much of this garbage can be converted into new products and given another life. TerraCycle may provide a model for the kind of business others can build by making useful things out of what would otherwise be garbage.

    "Garbage is one of the few things we pay people to take away from us," says Tom Szaky, founder of TerraCycle. The company started packaging worm poop fertilizer in used plastic soda bottles, and today it's working with big companies like Target. Target disposable bags are transformed into reusable shopping totes, juice pouches are made into lunch boxes, and granola bags into shower curtains. If they do it, they can show you how, too. This business can start out small at home in your garage, but there's plenty of room for growth.

    Startup costs: $100s to $1,000s for overhead costs
    For more information:
    See examples at TerraCycle.net

    Getting involved can be more than donating to a charity or starting a nonprofit. With these double bottom-line business models, you can endorse your environmental activism while making money to be self-sufficient.

Glenn Croston, founder of Starting Up Green, a sustainable-business practices firm in San Diego, Calif., is the author of 75 Green Businesses and Starting Green.

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