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True Green: Integrating Eco-Awareness Into Your Business Model

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know that "green," "eco," and "sustainable" are the catchphrases of the 21st century. Simply put: The market wants green products.
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Ladies Who Launch believes in conscientious launching for several reasons: One, the trend is quickly moving toward not only green businesses, but businesses that actually give back significantly to people, animals, the earth, or society. This goes for both nonprofit and for-profit worlds. Check out this useful article by Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff on sustainability and end the confusion on how to go green. Enjoy.

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Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know that "green," "eco," and "sustainable" are the catchphrases of the 21st century. Al Gore may have made us aware of the problems, but it's good old-fashioned supply and demand that's giving us the answers. Simply put: The market wants green products. And companies are jumping over each other to supply them. Think Wal-mart, which Fortune magazine crowned the world's biggest purchaser of organic cotton in 2006. Or Toyota's joyride with the Prius hybrid, which was its third-best-selling car last year, according to CNNMoney.com.

According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development some businesses may be going green for the simple reason that it puts more green in their pockets. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. "Corporations will drive sustainable practices into the mainstream, yielding tremendous environmental and social benefits while generating increased corporate profits and shareholder value," Deloitte Consulting's Peter J. Miscovich predicted in a 2007 article for WBCSD, which goes on to describe the "and she told two friends, and she told two friends" viral spread of green information.

But if you think you can stick a "natural" label on a chemically fragranced soap or an artificially flavored drink and sell a million, think again. This is a skeptical market. And it believes in karma. "Greenwashing," as defined by the groundbreaking WorldChanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century, "is the act of painting a green facade on something to cover up what's underneath ... Now that true sustainable business has taken root, we can demand transparency of supposedly green companies. Those who seem to be covering something up generally don't pass the greenwashing test." Simply put: If you're not honest about greening your business, don't try to fake it.

On the other hand, except for a small percentage of hippie holdouts, green-minded consumers are also fairly forgiving. If you're truly doing the best you can to make your business as eco-conscious as possible, talk about what you're doing and don't try to hide what you're not.

Let's talk about what you are doing. For example, are you using organic ingredients?

• If you're using less than 70 percent, you can claim "organic ingredients," but not on the face of your packaging.
• If you're using 70 percent or more, you can use the term "made with organic ingredients" in marketing your product.
• "Organic" products contain 95 percent or more organic ingredients.
• "100% organic" means it contains--you guessed it--only organic ingredients.
• If a product has a USDA Organic seal it means it's certified by the government to contain 95 percent or more organic ingredients--if you've reached this point you probably know all about it.

This is not to say that you can claim "organic ingredients" and wash your hands of the whole business. But if you are, you should think about including this information in your marketing--and working toward a higher percentage as a long-term goal. Case in point? For years, Heather Stewart has made her world-famous Lilyfield Cakes with organic eggs, flour, milk, and butter sourced from farmers who live nearby her property in Winnipeg, Canada. When she thought about marketing an organic version of her best-selling cakes, the idea was daunting. But the more she thought about it, the more she realized that half the battle was already won. By the time the Isca cake launched for the holidays last year, she had sourced recycled packaging, non-toxic glue, and reclaimed chicken feathers to decorate the boxes--and worked out a partnership with a company that would plant a tree for every cake sold.

The point is, once you start thinking about sustainability, it becomes a fascinating puzzle that challenges you to replace pieces of your business with eco-friendly alternatives:

• Are you a jewelry designer and concerned about the environmental impact of cyanide-based metal mining? Check out recycled gold and join an organization like Ethical Metalsmiths, which is working to move the industry toward more sustainable mining.
• Do you make cosmetics or personal care products? Take a look at the Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database for the dirt on ingredients that you may want to eliminate from your formulas, and consider becoming a "cruelty-free" company that doesn't test its products--or ingredients--on animals.
• Are you a clothing manufacturer? The Sustainable Cotton Project has mind-blowing information about the amount of pesticides and insecticides used in the production of cotton, as well as links to suppliers of bamboo and organic cotton alternatives. If you import fabric or materials, you should also think about sourcing fair-trade ingredients, which basically means paying a fair wage for goods and services, especially in places like Africa and India where government regulation doesn't enforce this practice.
• Interior designer? Take a look at the first-ever Chic Eco materials directory, a sourcing guide of all eco-fabric suppliers in the world, designed to help fashion and interior designers go green.

Isn't all this do-gooding going to break the bank? "They're slightly more expensive, but sustainable materials like soy ink, recycled paper, and bamboo are so much in demand these days that the difference can be measured in pennies, not dollars," says Jill Gaynor, a Ladies Who Launch member and the founder of Beyond Learning, a non-toxic children's games manufacturer. "Plus, consumers are so aware of the difference these materials make that they want to support eco-friendly manufacturing."

A few hours on the Web looking at sustainable solutions to your current business needs will unearth some amazing options. Take the time to look. Reassess your business plan. The results can be better for your business--and certainly better for the world.

Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is a freelance writer, sustainable marketing and public relations consultant, and co-founder of GreenGirlGuide.com. She and her family reduce, reuse, and recycle in Los Angeles.