Category Archives: Green Business

Restaurants, Bootstrapping, Good Stories, and Divine Intervention

This is a great look at one example of a successful restaurant business. Jonathan Fields calls it “bootstrapping with a bit of divine intervention.” That story is about four minutes in. The whole interview is interesting, and a good background look for anybody curious about the restaurant business, particularly one successful restaurant business, not stylized for cable TV.

If for any reason you don’t see the video, click here to get to the original on YouTube.

This is a really good interview, with a lot of good stories, about real life in the restaurant business.

And while I’m on the subject, this is part of a series Jonathan is doing called the “Good Life Project.” It’s a great collection. You can find that here on YouTube, on Jonathan’s Career Renegade channel.

Federal Charges For Fake Organic Corn

It’s interesting and reassuring to see that apparently somebody follows up on fake organic claims, according to a story in my local paper, the Eugene Register Guard.

Register Guard regular Karen McCowan reported the man is charged with adding $193,169 to his profits by misrepresenting a conventional crop. He faces a federal wire fraud charge for allegedly selling more than 4.2 million pounds of conventional corn falsely labeled as organic.

The alleged fraud came to light after the grain milling company that bought the organic corn found ‘inconsistencies’ while auditing the corn to verify that it complied with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program regulations. “We have to have a good paper trail for organics,” a spokesperson explained.

I’m glad to see this story. I don’t know or care about innocence or guilt in this case; I’m glad to see that somebody checks these things. It seems so easy to just label foodstuffs “organic” and increase the price. Here’s a case where it supposedly happened, and, whether it did or not, authorities are following up with prosecution.

I think a lot of us worry about fake organic, or greenwashing, so we want to know that the label means something.


Stewart Brand’s 4 Environmental Heresies

I’ve been a reader of, and kind of a fan of, Stewart Brand for just about 40 years now, since the first Whole Earth Catalog came out while I was in college. To me he stands for the long-term component of so-called “hippie” values that have since become mainstream, because they make sense. Among them, caring for the environment.

So that makes it more interesting to me when he comes out in a TED talk with some surprisingly new thoughts on the environment, now and in the future, and how we need to change behavior to solve major problems.  For an amazing 30-second video clip, a train cohabiting the slums with people, make sure you get to the seventh minute in the presentation below.

This is a 16 minute talk. If you can’t see the video here, then you can click this link to get it at the main TED site.

Which — going to the source site — might be a good idea, regardless; there are some very interesting, informed comments below that video. These are important topics, not to be taken lightly, not obvious in any way.

Branding as Soul, Karma, and a New World

The boom in social media, my happy association with some very smart Generation Y people, and a good book or two (Me 2.0, among them, and Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz) have me very intrigued with a broader application of branding.

I was taught to think of branding as a collection of visuals that should work together: logo, letterhead, signage, packaging, business cards, newsletters, websites.

More recently I’ve started to see it as something much deeper than look and feel; something as core to existence as identity.

  • With an individual, it’s the you that you and the world create together: not just your resume, not just you as you are for your family and friends, but you as you appear to others on the web, in your writing, the way you dress, your behavior at meetings, the way you speak, the way you deal with other people.
  • With a company, there too it’s what you and the world create together. Aside from the obvious trappings above, it’s your location, your space, the way you treat customers and employees, the decisions you make about pricing and service and product development, decisions you make about finance and investment and payments and receipts. It’s your accumulated integrity or (heaven forbid) lack of integrity.

Several religions incorporate a consciousness of a soul or something like it, that carries a person’s life deeds around on it like a permanent record. I was taught a Roman-Catholic-in-the-1950s version that had to do with sins as stains on the soul. I see it now as more of a Zen-Karma-like thing. But those two, and your idea of the same, don’t really contradict each other.

And I like that idea as it applies to companies, particularly your company and my company, small businesses, and personal businesses. Every small decision you make, every interaction with customers, every product detail, every financial transaction, is your brand. Cut corners, cheat people, stretch the truth, and it changes your identity as a company. Your accumulated brand, over time, isn’t what you say it is; it’s what you actually do that affects people and the world.

I am not just asserting as true something that I’d like to have be true. I’ve seen it in business over and over again. And I see it more than ever, these days, with the new business landscape making our businesses more transparent every day. Reviews, tweets, comments, it’s all something like word of mouth but magnified, like word of mouth cubed.

You want proof? Me too. All I’ve got so far is the increasing evidence that green environmentally and socially conscious companies do better on the stock market, in the long term, than the opposite. And lots of anecdotal evidence about companies that treated customers well, or badly, and were paid in kind.

Charity Add-on: Does it Work? Is It Real?

(Note: I posted this first on Small Business Trends, and I'm reposting it here for convenience of readers of this blog. Tim)

I got an email over the weekend from an online retailer asking me to post about its new offer of donating "5-10% of the company's profits to charity." A press release explains that there's a drop-down menu at the end of the online purchase process, offering a choice of charities including MADD, Teach for America, Doctors Without Borders, and so on.

Frankly, that's not news. Local supermarkets and such have been doing that for years. Other websites do it.

But it interests me, so I ask you: does it work? Are you going to seek out the online retailer that does it? Is this real, or is it just a ruse, as in a cynical attempt to spin?

I'm quite cynical about giving a percent of profits. I think it's kind of a ruse. I don't doubt that they actually do it, but "profits" and "percent of profits" is a deceptive term. I think it's often used to quietly trick people into thinking "percent of sales price" when it's really just a percent of that tiny bit that's left over after all costs and expenses are paid.

The whole illusory nature of profits comes to mind again after that annoying flap in the presidential debates. I'm sure a lot of people misunderstood how big a company has to be before it produces $250,000 of profits before tax. Profits sound like money, when they're really just the leftovers.

In my mind, after 30 years of running my own business, profits are third priority, after cash flow as first, and growth as second. Even in good years, giving even 10 percent of profits in most businesses means less than a penny per dollar of sales price.

Furthermore, I really wonder, aside from the profits gambit, how much do people take greater good into their purchase decisions? Do you?

And, if you do, are you going to seek out retailers who offer up a percent of profits, as opposed to goods made in developing nations, or not made in sweat shops? How are you going to sort through that?

And, if you do, are you still going to be doing that these days, when you're worried about your house value, or the threat of widespread recession hitting the sales of your own business?

Race for Green Credibility

Check out GoodGuide for yet another effort to sort through green claims in products and evaluate what’s green and what isn’t.  It just won an award at last week’s Web 2.0 conference, and it was a TechCrunch 50 finalist as well.

With greenwashing running rampant these days, we need some way to sort through it all.

Let’s hope it doesn’t become like the low-calorie disaster, everything from light beer to low-fat yogurt, which became a free-for-all and eventually lost — I think — all credibility. And then there’s light vs. natural vs. organic vs. locally grown … really, what’s the good green buyer to do here?

Green is supposed to mean good for the planet. Or is it just not bad for the planet? Or perhaps, a trumped-up marketing claim to take advantage of the trend.

Let’s hope it doesn’t end up like “user-friendly” is to software: after a while it became a meaningless term because every software product published claimed to be user friendly. How long has it been since you’ve seen software making that claim?

And green also means more expensive; at least, that’s what it means in our local shopping arena. Whether that’s local or organic or natural, it’s definitely more expensive.

My cellphone provider made a pitch about going green a couple of months ago when what they were really doing was saving printing and mailing costs by delivering my monthly bill via the Web. Come on, please, why not just pass those savings on to me? And if that’s green, then what’s saving the whales?  Greenwashing is coming all over the place.

It’s not that GoodGuide is necessarily the answer, or, for that matter, that it isn’t. It’s just that there are so many claims made, and they show such a wide range of definition and validity. Where do we go for reliable validation?

The Future: Hot, Flat, Crowded

On Monday I posted some predictions from the World Future Society, what I consider to be an interesting list of believable possibilities for the next 25 years.

Today I want to add another view. I’ve heard several interviews with Thomas Friedman lately, and over the last week bought and read his latest book Hot, Flat, and Crowded.  This looks and feels to me like another very valuable view of the future, also very reasonable, well documented, and well written. In the end, although it delivers bad news, it’s important bad news, and credible.

Hot, because climate change is real and it threatens humanity. Flat, because we’re in a world economy now, with very few borders, and a very level playing field. And crowded because, well, do the math. Our numbers double every generation.

What this book and the thinking behind it should mean, if there is any common sense left in the world, is a big investment boom for clean technology and alternate energy technology.

In regards to new business, and especially emerging business, and growing small business, Friedman is calling for an all-encompassing new wave of political, social, and economic resolve, which he hopes will be led by the political, to change the way the human race consumes energy.

Drilling for oil, in Friedman’s picture, may or may not be useful as a drop-in-the-bucket stopgap measure, but in the broader view it gets in the way. It obscures the real picture.

What we need, badly — and that’s not just we the United States, although we’re the worst of it — is to focus our efforts on new sources of energy, using new technologies, to end the economic dependence on something we don’t have much of and we need a whole lot of: oil.

If Friedman had his way, the U.S. would jump on new alternate sources of energy in a way that would greatly surpass our efforts to get a man on the moon after the 1961 John F. Kennedy call to action, and also the technology revolution of the personal computer a generation ago and the Internet in our current world.

Announcing the Energy Climate Era: Hot, Flat, Crowded

The buzz is growing very fast on what might have been the keynote speech at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week. I picked it up at Huffington Post, in a post titled Thomas Friedman Calls for Green Revolution. Here’s the lead: 

At the Aspen Ideas Festival Thursday, New York Times columnist and The World Is Flat author Thomas Friedman gave a preview of his new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America, which comes out in September. The book’s main argument is that the convergence of global warming, global flattening (the rise of middle classes all over the world), and global crowding (the population boom) is driving five key trends that will define the 21st century.

Friedman argues that those five trends — energy and resource supply and demand, petro-dictatorship, biodiversity loss, climate change, and energy poverty — have all been driven past a tipping point such that they have created a new era of history: the energy climate era.

I heard second hand, from someone who was there, that all the buzz was about that speech. The summary on Huffington today includes three short videos you’ll want to see. Here’s the link again: Tom Friedman Calls For Green Revolution.

Alltop’s New Green Page

Even if it weren’t an Earth Day tie-in, I’d still be adding Alltop Green to my regular visits. I like browsing the Alltop small business section, which is usually my first view in the morning. It reminds me of the early Yahoo!, streamlined, quick, and easy. Most days I get lost in there and I end up pulling out to jump to Windows Live Writer to post related to something I’ve seen there.  This new green version, a joint effort with Flock timed for Earth Day, gives me the same streamlined view of Flock’s favorites from treehugger on down a pretty substantial list.

I think Green is going to be steadily more important from now on, so it’s definitely part of my agenda. And I do mean green as in environmentally and socially sensitive, and, in my case, with special emphasis on implications for startups, business planning, and small business.

Online Buyers Pay Green for Green

Given a choice, four out of five online buyers say that when they have a choice, they prefer green. And they are willing to pay for it. Here’s a quote:

"Consumers, when choosing between two similar products, prefer environmentally friendly products; 83 percent indicated they are extremely or very likely to choose the environmentally friendly option. "

That’s from a study released last week by online advertising giant DoubleClick. It surveyed 1,087 adults.

‘Not only are consumers interested in green products and companies, our survey shows that nearly half of them will pay at least five percent more for them,’ said Stuart Larkins, senior vice president of search at DoubleClick Performics. ‘With so many consumers online researching and purchasing products, retailers should include relevant environmentally-conscious information throughout their paid and natural search campaigns, affiliate promotions, display ads, and e-mail.’

Additional data from the DoubleClick Performics’ ‘Green Marketing Study’ revealed factors reported by consumers to influence their attitudes toward online buying:

"Of all online advertising sources, search engine results pages had the highest influence, with 32 percent of consumers reporting their impact on the purchase decision. Most consumers (65 percent) provide feedback about an online purchase at least some of the time. Approximately three fourths of those who make online purchases say a recommendation from a friend, family member or co-worker is valuable when purchasing online."

I do however want to add one note of caution. This is what people say, not what people do. When the phone rings and you take the survey, are you going to tell the pollsters that you don’t care to pay for environmentally sensitive options? Surveys record what people say, which is not necessarily what they actually do.