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Managing Your Business

9 Green Small Business Ideas You Can Start Today

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This Earth Day, millions of Americans are thinking about the planet and what they can do to minimize their carbon footprint. If you're passionate about sustainability and the environment and looking to make a difference, you might consider starting your own green business.

What Is Green Business?

Green business describes eco-friendly and socially conscious businesses that use sustainable practices and materials. A green business aims to have zero negative impact on the environment — even a potentially positive impact. A company with a sustainable business model also works to help its consumers and community reduce their carbon footprint. Green businesses span every industry, and if you're looking to start a small business soon, a green business model might be the right decision.

Why Is Green Business Important?

With global warming and climate change set to completely redefine our planet in the near future, it's no surprise that business owners are doing their part to help the environment by switching to green business models. It's now more important than ever to do your part to reduce negative impacts on the planet and offer goods and services that actually help the environment.

Consumers are increasingly considering the environmental and social impact of the businesses they purchase from. According to a report by IBM, 57% of consumers are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce negative environmental impact. Nearly 80% of consumers said sustainability is important to them.

As people ponder how they can help the environment, they’ll choose to spend their money at certified green businesses. By starting a green business, you can show that you care about the environment and the community that you serve.

In honor of Earth Day, here are nine green small business ideas you can start today.

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1. Package-free Retail

It's no surprise that we generate a lot of packaging waste throughout the year. While recycling is on the rise, so is plastic and packaging production. The EPA estimated that 14.5 million tons of plastic containers and packaging were generated in 2018 alone. Much of that plastic cannot be recycled. Even the waste that is recycled goes through manufacturing and processing that leaves its own carbon impact on the environment.

Some stores are moving to package-free or zero waste products. These include household products like soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, dish brushes, and more, all made with sustainable materials and sold entirely package-free. The goal is to help consumers minimize their waste and help clean up the planet in the process.

Many package-free stores operate online and can ship materials to the consumer, but to really minimize waste effectively, brick and mortar stores are the way to go. Customers can drop by the store to buy products and refill their containers of laundry detergent and the like without the carbon footprint of cardboard packaging or delivery travel.

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2. Eco-friendly Cleaning

Green cleaning businesses are now more popular than ever, and eco-minded consumers will look to green cleaners over traditional cleaning companies. With the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, many people have started to take cleanliness seriously to stop the spread of viruses.

Many traditional cleaning products are made with harmful chemicals, but products made with sustainable or plant-derived materials can work just as well. Consumers want their homes or businesses cleaned with products that not only benefit the environment but are safe for people and pets as well. If you're someone who enjoys cleaning, a green cleaning business could be the right move for you.

To read about a successful eco-friendly cleaning company that's doing good work, check out Spotlight: Lave Wash Does the Laundry for Those Who Can't.

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3. Secondhand Store

Secondhand stores are a great way to reduce, reuse, and recycle clothing, books, and other items. They're great for the planet as well as consumers' wallets. Manufacturing clothing, books, and other products drains the planet's resources, creates greenhouse gasses, contributes to climate change, and abuses cheap labor across the globe. Recycling goods by selling them to new owners is an excellent way to minimize the environmental impact of fast fashion or the publishing industry.

A great way to get started in second hand sales is to sell your upcycled goods online. Online resale stores are booming these days, especially in our post-pandemic economy. According to a report by resale service ThredUp, online secondhand retail is set to increase by 69% between 2019 and 2021, while the broader retail sector is set to decrease by 15%. Your own business could be among those crushing the traditional retail competition.

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4. Green Publication

If you'd like to share information about the environment or ways to live a sustainable lifestyle, consider starting an environmental publication. You can create anything from an online newsletter to a print magazine published on post-consumer recycled paper. 

You can write about policy, energy, technology, wildlife, or green business practices. Maybe you can write about recycling programs in your community or advertise for green businesses in your neighborhood.

The power of the written word is a strong influence on socially conscious individuals, so if you're someone who enjoys writing, a green publication might be the best green business idea for you.

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5. Community-supported Agriculture

Starting a community-supported sustainable agriculture business is a great idea for those who understand the harmful effects of commercial agriculture on the environment. Consumers have started to think about the high carbon footprint of their produce and the "food miles" associated. 

Food is often grown and processed in different parts of the world, then shipped to supermarkets, racking up thousands of supply chain miles. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is the answer for many people trying to lower the negative environmental impact of their food.

Community-supported agriculture is a business model in which community members invest in a farm by purchasing shares of the harvest. The CSA shares are then sold as boxes of produce to community members. The really exciting news is that consumer interest in community-supported agriculture is growing. According to an article by Civil Eats, the CSA business model boomed during the pandemic, especially as people spent more time and cooked more meals at home. 

If you'd like to learn about a green agriculture business that's working, read How Everybody Wins With SIMPLi's Ethically-Sourced Food.

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6. Bicycle Shop

Cars are a significant contributor to global warming through carbon dioxide emissions, but bicycle travel is a great way to cut down emissions. Riding a bicycle on your commute contributes only a fraction of CO2 to the environment. Bike travel is also an excellent way to stay in shape and keep your heart healthy.

If you're mechanically inclined, starting a bicycle shop in your town can encourage your community to switch to biking instead of driving. You can do repairs and sell bicycles, bike parts, and accessories. Additionally, you can offer community bicycle repair classes and bike building workshops. 

Bonus, if you want to double up on the greenness of your business, combine this idea with the secondhand store idea and sell used bikes. It'll keep your inventory costs down while minimizing the environmental impact of manufacturing.

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7. Landscaping

From nitrogen-heavy fertilizers to gas-powered lawn mowers and water-guzzling irrigation systems, traditional landscaping techniques can leave your lawn a sinkhole of wasted energy and water costs. It's no wonder consumers are interested in eco-friendly alternatives. Green landscaping businesses can help those looking to lower their yard's carbon footprint.

Green landscaping businesses use eco-friendly lawn maintenance equipment, organic fertilizers and compost, and native plants. Some people are switching from the traditional grass lawn to native groundcover plants, like creeping thyme or English ivy, which grow only a few inches tall, eliminating the need for mowing. Native plants are also ideally suited to your region, which means they can thrive with less maintenance, fertilizers, and pesticides than a traditional lawn. 

Consider offering community classes on eco-friendly lawn alternatives, drought-tolerant plants, and keeping your yard organic. Use battery-powered or low-emission yard equipment, and offer green options to traditional irrigation systems. Eco-friendly landscaping is a fantastic way to go green — literally.

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8. Green Restaurant

According to a report by the National Restaurant Association, around half of consumers say that a restaurant's sustainability influences where they choose to eat.

There are many ways to go green in your restaurant business. Using energy-efficient lighting and equipment is a great way to start, as are recycling, donating food waste, reducing plastic and styrofoam, and purchasing sustainable foods. 

The farm-to-table restaurant model, where the restaurant purchases food directly from local farms, is increasingly popular. Serving hyperlocal food, grown in your own restaurant garden, is another way to ensure your restaurant is as green as can be.

Starting a restaurant can be a challenging process and a lot of hard work, but it can also be a rewarding and profitable experience. If you love food and hospitality, it might be the best option for you.

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9. Sustainable Construction

Construction might not be everyone's first thought when considering green business options, but there's no reason construction shouldn't be a sustainable industry. Eco-friendly construction has been growing exponentially in the past few years and doesn't appear to be slowing down. 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that residential and commercial buildings account for roughly 40% of U.S. energy consumption. Green construction businesses can help decrease this number by constructing more energy-efficient buildings that use solar or wind energy sources.

A combination of sustainable building practices and sustainable building materials can make all the difference to a green construction business. Sustainable construction materials such as bamboo, recycled plastics, or hempcrete can be good alternatives to more traditional materials. Sourcing materials locally can reduce the carbon footprint of building projects instead of shipping products across the globe.

Start Your Green Business Now

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of what we think about business, but it's also shown us that consumers consistently want to support green business, even in an economic downturn. If you're passionate about the environment, it may be just the right time to start your green business venture.


Interested in other ways to make a difference with your business? Check out Business With a Conscience: the Rise of Social Enterprise and The Pros and Cons of Starting a Social Enterprise.

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