You’ve seen it quoted a million times in these kinds of articles, usually accompanied by a picture of Kermit the Frog: “It’s not easy being green.” But let’s drop the B.S. for a second: it’s freaking hard.
Beyond the small stuff—replacing your toilet paper, changing your air filters, etc.—you have to rethink your business model, invest differently, re-train your employees (or hire new ones), and maybe even move to a completely new building. And then there’s all the green news you have to keep up on, the language you have to speak, the money and energy you have to devote to the right kinds of PR to attract the right kind of customers, the challenge of educating your old customers on your new policies, the time you have to spend getting acquainted with web-based technologies, the struggle for outside accreditation, and the ever-present anxiety over your carbon footprint, just to name a few of your worries. You’re under scrutiny from everyone—your customers, peers, government, self—but you have to pretend this confusing new world makes sense to you, adopting only the right strategies and the right programs when no one actually knows what’s going to work in ten years, even ten months. Factor the current abysmal global economy, the daily threat of new competition, and the small-business-crushing juggernaut that is globalization, and you’re looking at one helluva challenge. This is bigger than a Muppet pig on your back.
Clearly, you’re braver than most to run a small business under current conditions, especially for trying to do it in an environmentally-friendly way. At some point, however, you have to ask yourself: is it worth it? Are these greening measures actually doing anything for your business or simply adding a big stack of (recyclable) paper to your to-do list? Take a look at three of the biggest problems with going green and see if they’re more trouble than they’re worth for your business.
This drawback is pretty obvious if you’ve been following this site at all. Think about entering into a green lease, for example, which is typically much more desirable and therefore competitive than an average lease. Additionally, it’s more difficult to tell if you’re being ripped off in that kind of deal, where so many expenses are glossed over with a veneer of enviro-friendliness. In effect, you wind up paying for things because they sound important, and most are too scared of seeming old-fashioned to bargain or simply ask about the details.
If I told you that Tunisian scientists were working for Whole Foods to engineer a microbe-based biomass polymer paste that can be beamed directly into the activation chamber of a retro-fitted, LEED-certified, geo-nuclear miniature submarine-cum-office-space in San Francisco via solar panels built with Flickr’s API, and that it would save you forty-three Euros per square meter, would you believe me? If I embedded a hyperlink in the text, you probably would. In order to understand the full breadth of environment business news, you have to hold degrees in finance, architecture, software engineering, sociology, and rocket science. You should also probably learn to speak French, Mandarin Chinese, Dutch, and Portuguese, and Hindi, because only a small fraction of the world’s environmental news happens in English-speaking countries. This is assuming you’re naturally passionate about the subject. Didn’t you read yesterday’s Green Inc. article about deforestation? Neither did I.
For a demonstration of how little people know about what to do about climate change, look on the national scale. The carbon cap-and-trade bill is likely not going anywhere, with no concrete solutions on the horizon. Most other ideas are impractical or even dangerous. How can a nation instill confidence in its small business owners when it’s unsure of its own future policies? There are groups choosing to forge ahead on their own, but there’s a significant, naysaying empty space where a unified, agreed collective of environmentalists should be. And who can blame us? People are afraid of change.
So what’s the answer here? Pick a path and stick with it. Change your attitude. Listen to others, but don’t let them stop you from moving forward. Join with like-minded individuals. Vague stuff like that.
Matt Lurie wants to remind you that behind every small business is a person, and that person’s habits become the business’ habits. Think about it.