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Cultivate the green economy by nurturing small businesses

Arguably the most powerful green substance in the universe is still money. So I’ve been considering how we, as an industry, can use some of ours to cultivate the green economy and multiply green-collar jobs.

The green sector is probably the most entrepreneurial business genre in today’s economy. It is, if you will forgive the pun, a grass roots business movement populated largely by sole proprietors and small operators who are turning out some of the most original products and services we have seen since the advent of tech.

Trade show purchasers buy a large volume of goods and services for a variety of purposes: food and beverage, paper products, printing services, cleaning services, shipping, waste removal, etc. Think of what could happen if a conscientious effort were made by our industry to make a sustainable choice every time. We could impact more than the environment. We could help to shape the green economy.

The first rule of sustainability is buying locally. Buying locally results in supporting regional economies, lower product costs, as well as limiting CO2 emissions generated by long-distance shipping. By taking a few minutes to search close to home for green alternatives, purchasers might be surprised at what is available.

The next benefit is that use of a local small business may provide the exposure they need to expand their business — and ultimately to create jobs. Many companies with innovative ideas for products and services operate in local marketplaces with limited budgets for marketing. Think of the many national and international vendors and attendees who visit large shows. Purchasers could literally launch fledgling green companies into the national/international marketplace with a single show!

Many opportunities to practice sustainable buying exist in local food markets. For instance, could you coordinate with a farmer’s market to obtain regionally-grown food products? In addition, you may find vendors for everything from environmentally friendly gift baskets, to natural fiber t-shirts, to organic and ethical soaps and lotions. Many communities also have regional vineyards where surprisingly good wines are available at reasonable prices.

A great example of this concept in action appeared in an article featured in Bloomberg Businessweek. Miller Farm, an Amish farm located in Pennsylvania, more than doubled its annual sales of nutrient-dense food products to $1.8 million in 4 years due largely to its promotion through trade shows. Amos Miller, the farm’s owner, has been able to meet cooperative buyers from all over the country who now regularly order his products. Miller now relies upon 4 other farms to help fill the orders.

Another type of business that may be relatively easy to find in your area is a green commercial cleaning service. Green Clean is a company in Las Vegas, Nev. that has been operating since 2003. One of the services it provides is post-event clean up. Green Clean has been chosen as an affiliate with the Clorox Company to use and promote its Green Works commercial products. Green Clean utilizes green cleaning methods that focus not only on safely sanitizing surfaces, but on removing dirt, allergens and contaminants from the business environment. They are qualified to clean and maintain LEED certified buildings.

A company that I particular like, Sustainable Party, is an online provider of biodegradable plates, cups, and flatware (you can actually compost them), as well as eco-friendly event signage. They are located in New York, but can ship anywhere if items like these are not available in your area.

Admittedly, many large purchasers often shy away from ordering products and services from small companies who have relatively short track records and/or small annual sales, due to concerns about reliability. This is a legitimate challenge and one that may be solved with adequate planning. A small supplier may require more lead time to fill a large order or staff for a large venue. Fortunately, long-term planning is an advantage we usually have in our industry.

A good way to find legitimate green businesses is to check with local chambers of commerce for green businesses designations. Many chambers and trade organizations are making efforts to distinguish eco-friendly companies among their membership.

Green tip for March:
The long distance shipment of cargo is often unavoidable in our industry. Make shipping arrangements in advance so that cargo can be shipped via ground rather than air freight. Harkening back to last month’s column, also consider using a service like Greenshipping.com. This site offers a way to track any shipment with a major company and measures and offsets carbon emissions generated by your cargo’s journey.



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