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Finding New Purpose

Creative Entrepreneurs Go Green

Independent eco-friendly ventures are growing.

Woman Sitting on Eco-Friendly Products

Among Penny Johnston's many eco-friendly businesses is one in which she makes colorful doormats from rope discarded by lobstermen. — Photo courtesy Maine Float-Rope Co.

As millions of feet of old polypropylene rope filled wharves and warehouses along the Maine coast, Penny Johnston saw a chance to clean up. So was born the Maine Float-Rope Co., which today produces colorful doormats from the indestructible discards of local lobstermen.

 

Ander adds that the support for green products and practices appears to be recession-proof: “The current economy has not slowed it down.”

So far, most of the green start-ups are small, boutique enterprises.But if consumer demand for eco-friendly products is a measure of sustainable growth, then the industry’s future looks good.

In a recent survey for the National Retail Federation, 85 percent of consumers said that the importance of environmentally friendly stores and products is the same or greater even in a weak economy.

Taking the Leap

Two years ago, Deborah de Moulpied had an idea for a new type of recycling container and was combing the Internet to see if anybody was making something similar. As she poked around, she discovered a number of stores in the West selling green home goods. “I had never heard of these kinds of stores,” says de Moulpied, 54, of Concord, N.H. “I asked myself, Why don’t we have some here?” So in July 2007, she opened Real Green Goods, which she describes as “an earth-friendly department store.”

It was a big leap. “I had never been in business before. I was starting out with a fresh idea at age 50-plus—really scary, big-time scary,” she says. But she believed in the concept. “I felt this was the future. That gave me a lot of confidence to proceed.”

De Moulpied’s timing was right. In the first year, her business grew by 55 percent. Her typical customer is “not the green guru” type, she says, but a mainstream customer looking for, say, high-efficiency light bulbs. De Moulpied offers educational programs and information about the products she sells. She also publishes a monthly newsletter and tries to buy locally made merchandise whenever possible. “There are lots of stories behind our products, and that makes them very endearing,” she says.

Here to Stay

Green is not just a fad, says Jennifer Allen, acting director of Portland (Ore.) State University’s Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices, and businesses like de Moulpied’s and Johnston’s are generating a lot of excitement and opportunity.

Allen, who has studied business and the environment for two decades, believes the heightened interest in green businesses reflects “a long-term trajectory.” Consumers of all ages have begun to expect manufacturers and retailers to be environmentally responsible.

Allen has tracked a number of green start-up companies, launched by people who have retired or lost their jobs and want to begin a new venture, or by entrepreneurs who believe they can offer a unique product or service.

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