Make Money the Environmentally Friendly Way

If every problem holds an opportunity, then we've got some huge opportunities on our hands when it comes to the environment. Climate change, pollution and providing clean water and food are huge challenges that affect all of us, but the opportunities for green businesses that solve these problems are the biggest opportunities of our lifetime.

Green is moving from the fringe to the mainstream of American life, and some of the largest and most successful companies are greening how they do business, including Wal-Mart ( WMT), DuPont ( DD), and General Electric ( GE). Green business leaders like Ray Anderson at the Interface ( IFSIA) floor-covering company and Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm have been proving for years that making money and doing the right thing for the environment go hand in hand. For those who are searching for opportunities with huge growth ahead, going green is a great answer.

I wrote 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference to lay out opportunities for entrepreneurs everywhere to join the green business revolution. The opportunities lie in a wide range of industries and there is something for almost anyone. Whether you are looking for a great business to beat a down economy and globalization, make a better world for your kids, or you're just seeking the next big thing, there are green opportunities waiting for you, including developing trends in energy, transportation, building, food and many other fields. Here are a few key trends with several related opportunities from the book.

Greening Our Power Supply: The $2 trillion energy industry is starting a revolutionary transition to clean, renewable power with solar and wind power growing 40 to 50% a year in the U.S., creating opportunities large and small. The rapid growth of renewable energy creates the need for new training programs to keep pace (Opportunity 1).

Booming growth in wind power includes not just companies like GE and Vestas that produce huge turbines, but those like Southwest Windpower , producing smaller wind turbines that are installed at homes and businesses (Opportunity 2). People from many backgrounds can create businesses to produce, sell, install and maintain these systems.

Moving Beyond Oil: Transportation is also going green, providing new fuels to avoid the political, environmental and economic impact that go with oil. In addition to those developing and producing new biofuels like biodiesel, sugarcane ethanol and cellulosic ethanol (Opportunities 3, 4 and 5), the move away from oil will generate the need for the distribution, storage, quality control, processing, crop production and pumping of these fuels at alternative fueling stations.

Mike Lewis at Pearson Fuels in San Diego has found that pumping ethanol has greatly benefited his fueling station in a difficult period for many independent station owners (Opportunity 67). Along with the high price of oil, interest in car-sharing (Opportunity 68) and new busing solutions (Opportunity 70) is also growing.

Greening Our Buildings: A green revolution underway in the building industry will transform millions of U.S. buildings that waste billions of dollars on inefficient lighting, heating and cooling. Fixing these problems saves people money, builds strong businesses and helps the planet.

Entrepreneurs like Matt Golden at Sustainable Spaces in San Francisco are growing a business by working with homeowners to improve the efficiency and comfort of their homes (Opportunity 24). Changing our buildings creates opportunities for architects and builders using green methods like prefab (Opportunity 18), for producers of energy efficient lighting (Opportunity 19), green remodeling (Opportunity 60) and many others. The opportunities in green building are as large and varied as the millions of buildings in need of greening.

Organic, Local, Vegetarian and Sustainably Grown Food: In food, the green trend is driven by consumers seeking food that is good for their families as well as the planet. Sales of organic food have continued growing 15 to 21% a year, creating the need for eco-friendly pest control along with it (Opportunity 75). People are also buying local food to eat fresh, healthy, in-season food and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food transported around the globe (Opportunities 44 and 47).

Fast food restaurants are a big opportunity, with entrepreneurs like James Tu of Zen Burger providing franchise alternatives to deliver tasty food without the negative health and environmental impact (Opportunity 42). The current business difficulties encountered by Starbucks ( SBUX) may spell opportunity for cafés, including those that are greener (Opportunity 71).

The opportunities go on and on in every industry with every type of business.

Plumbers can start their own green plumbing business providing better fixtures for water conservation, bringing the green revolution to our toilets, sinks, and showers (Opportunity 53). Innovations like the Rainwater HOG from Sally Dominguez are helping people catch and save rainwater to make our water go as far as possible (Opportunity 50). Farmers (Opportunity 74), lawyers (Opportunity 16), teachers (Opportunity 11), landscapers (Opportunity 54 and 69), dry cleaners (Opportunity 57), clothing designers (Opportunity 63) and Bed and Breakfast owners (Opportunity 55) are all realizing the opportunities to do well in business by doing the right thing for the planet. The green entrepreneurs leading the way are proving that green businesses work, and if they can do it, so can you.

For all of its growth so far, the green business revolution is just getting started. The market for organic food has grown tremendously, but organic is still only 3% of the overall food market. Solar and wind power have been booming for years, but they still provide less than 1% of our electricity in the U.S. Green buildings are starting to pop up everywhere, but overall they are still more the exception than the rule.

Some might say that this means the glass is mostly empty because there is still so much left to be done, but when it comes to the opportunities ahead, I think the glass is practically full. As green continues to expand and spread into new areas, there are still immense opportunities for new businesses to carry these trends forward.

Regardless of the ups and downs of the stock market, consumer interest or hype in the press, going green makes solid business sense and will only keep growing. Wasting less energy, water and other resources, and producing less pollution help businesses save money and become more competitive. Going green is increasingly mandated and rewarded by local, state and national government and it is a key strategy for success in a challenging world economy. The environmental problems they are solving are large enough, unfortunately, that there is no risk of them going away any time soon.

With so many opportunities in a rapidly growing field, one in which you can build a successful business while creating a better world, the choice to go green seems simple to me, and maybe yourself, as well. In the future there won't be any green businesses, because they will all be green. One of them can be yours if you find the right opportunity, make the move and get started today.

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With a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, San Diego, Glenn Croston is a green entrepreneur. After his college studies in biology, he worked for a year at a marine toxicology lab, studying the impact of oil spill cleanup agents on marine life along the central coast of California near Carmel. Croston's commitment to a more sustainable planet starts at home, in San Diego, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. Their lifestyle includes a hybrid car, solar panels, compact fluorescent light bulbs and composting. Croston is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, NRDC, Sustainable Conservation and Environment California. Before '75 Green Businesses,' Croston wrote and published several books in the biochemistry field.

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