Confident business owner in her second-hand store, holding denim pants and standing next to shelf with shoes and jackets.
The small business sector can fuel innovation that limits negative environmental impact. Your next venture can care for the planet and be a successful business. — Getty Images/LaraBelova

Many of today’s entrepreneurs are seeing green in ways that are less about profits and more about helping the environment. The small business sector is ripe for innovation that limits negative consequences on the environment by reducing waste, limiting water usage, offering alternatives to harmful chemicals and materials, and lowering carbon emissions.

It’s a proposition that is attracting more and more consumer attention and spending, with two-thirds of consumers reporting that they prefer certified green brands that promote sustainability and do good for the environment. Innovation in eco-entrepreneurship isn’t limited to products; there are many exciting services and platforms to bring your brand of planet positivity to the marketplace.

Zero-waste retail shop

Many communities have a collective consciousness when it comes to being more environmentally responsible, and businesses that answer the call to facilitate greener living are poised for success. If you’re drawn to the retail space, you can be a much-needed merchant-with-a-mission by opening a plastic- and packaging-free shop.

This growing shopping concept serves as a destination for people to buy groceries, toiletries and household products that are merchandised and sold without packaging. Customers bring their own containers to fill and refill from bulk displays. Both business owners and patrons share the intention of reducing or eliminating the waste caused by plastics, wrappers and unnecessary packaging, which, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates, represents 23% of landfill waste.

Crowdsourcing funds within a neighborhood of interest is one way that some zero-waste store owners raise the money they need to open. Doing good is an attractive proposition to consumers who live in the community you will serve, as it engenders a feeling of investment and ownership among shoppers and business owners alike. This also creates an emotional tie to the shop and a reason for local customers to regularly patronize it.

Eco travel planner

By 2027, the ecotourism market is expected to nearly double in size from $181 billion to $331 billion, as more and more travelers look for ways to see the world’s natural landscapes, contribute to their economies and connect with their cultures in more responsible and sustainable ways. Ecotravel adventures await in tropical, urban and rural landscapes alike.

For the well-traveled environmentalist-entrepreneur or travel professional looking to develop a niche, eco-tourism is something to explore. It will be essential to partner with local governments and local ecopreneurs to develop meaningful travel packages. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council offers training programs that align with the criteria that must be met to be certified as a sustainable travel business.

Green landscaping

If gardening is your passion, why not put your green thumb to the test with an eco-friendly option to traditional landscaping? As a green landscaper, you can increase your contribution to climate action by designing and servicing greener spaces that incorporate the principles of reducing, reusing and recycling. Your business can blossom quickly as you appeal to clientele that desire earth-friendly solutions for conserving water, decreasing the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers, and utilizing native plants (which are growing in popularity for their benefits to biodiversity and conservation).

Equipping your business with battery-powered machinery will help to cut down on the 5% of all air pollution that gas-powered lawn mowers represent in the U.S. each year — another great selling point. In fact, 65% of Americans report that they would prefer a landscaper who does not use gas-powered equipment. The Ecological Landscape Alliance is a great resource for research, education and support in all facets of this growing category.

Impact blogging

Blogging can be a powerful platform to inspire and create change, so much so that “impact blogging” has become a niche category. The world is filled with global citizens looking to do their part to help the environment and social landscape, and writer-advocate-activists have the opportunity to guide efforts to mobilize their readers to action and ignite change by shining a light on important issues.

Your content should inform and entertain readers by including practical tips, videos, how-tos and resource guides for your audience to get inspired and involved. There are several successful bloggers dominating the online sustainability scene, but finding your niche with unique positioning, expert knowledge and compelling content can help you establish your audience and leverage affiliate marketing opportunities in the green landscape to monetize your efforts.

Finding your niche with unique positioning, expert knowledge and compelling content can help you establish your audience and leverage affiliate marketing opportunities in the green landscape to monetize your efforts.

Furniture upcycling

Upcycling is the process of taking something no longer being used, for instance, a wooden chair, and repurposing it for use as something else, such as a shelf or an end table.

There are all sorts of treasures waiting to be given a second life at places like garage sales, flea markets and junkyards. Sometimes it just takes a coat of paint to refresh or revitalize; oftentimes, it requires vision and creativity to see something old in a new light.

Upcycling can be a lucrative business opportunity for skilled craftspeople, as furniture buyers are willing to spend significant sums on quality, one-of-a-kind pieces that also do good for the planet. Knowing where to find those buyers and how to market to them is key, but there are several marketplaces, both online and off, where eco-conscious consumers look for upcycled finds.

Environmental law

Environmental law can be a rewarding business for attorneys who are passionate about advocating for and upholding regulations that govern environmental initiatives — from clean water and clean energy to corporate accountability, animal rights and waste management, tand more. It's a vast and growing discipline of law with a median income of $113,530.

Beyond a law degree and a background in environmental studies, it’s a field that requires great passion, communication, deep knowledge of ever-changing regulations and practices, and the ability to analyze and synthesize complex data. Work experience at a government agency prior to starting an independent practice can help build important industry insights, not to mention credibility with prospective clients.

Eco-friendly cleaning service

Consumers in both the commercial and private sectors are increasingly shifting their spending on cleaning products and services to more eco-friendly options. In 2017, the green household cleaning products market represented about $18 billion. By late 2024, that number is expected to reach nearly $28 billion. Cleaning is a valuable service, and if you can offer a healthier alternative to harsh and toxic chemicals by using products that are developed and manufactured using sustainable practices, you can build a successful business while helping the planet.

Green cleaning businesses tend to charge $5 - $10 more per hour than traditional services, perhaps due to the benefits, but it can also be attributed to the increased cost often associated with green products. If you opt to go the commercial route, consider getting Green Seal Certified which may add to your marketability and give you a competitive advantage.

Bike tour operator

Active travel is a booming segment of the travel industry because people seek new ways to satisfy their wanderlust in a safer, wellness-driven way. Bicycles sales, in particular, saw explosive growth in 2020. Following suit are bike tours and bikepacking, which allow travelers to explore a variety of landscapes in a safer way that also happen to be a greener alternative to other modes of transportation, as they are free from carbon and gas emissions. E-bikes, which are powered by electricity, are also booming in popularity. These alternatives are much more eco-friendly compared to cars and buses. They are popular for getting people places easier and faster, as they cover more ground in the same amount of time than traditional bikes.

In either case, a bike-based business is something to be considered by the fitness-minded entrepreneur who is an expert in the the terrain, history and culture of a park, city or island.

Clothing resale shop

In a world where fashion accounts for an estimated 8% of total carbon gas emissions, there is a great need for manufacturing and retail sustainability efforts. Once frowned upon by many a style-conscious shopper, the fashion resale market is having a major moment with changing perceptions, and there is no sign of waning. Shopping resale means less manufacturer-driven pollution and waste, and less environmental impact all around. In fact, in the next five years, the fashion resale industry is expected to explode into a $77 billion industry, growing 11 times faster than traditional retail.

For fashion-loving entrepreneurs, an online or brick-and-mortar resale shop could be a fun and fulfilling venture. It’s likely that you can build quite a collection just from the unworn clothing of friends, family and neighbors who would be happy to declutter their closets in the name of eco-consciousness. The items that sell best are “like-new,”(even better if they still have tags), come from a well-known designer, or are brands that qualify as vintage.

Green beauty

The global beauty industry is experiencing a major shift from mega-corporations to independents often direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands that promote sustainability through simple, non-toxic, plant-derived, and even upcycled ingredients, along with responsible packaging. The shift is so significant that the organic and natural market is expected to reach $25 billion by 2025. Armed with a compelling proposition that speaks to real beauty concerns and desires, there are opportunities for entrepreneurs to bring products to market that benefit the skin, boost self-confidence and embrace the earth.

Success in this competitive category means transparency when it comes to ingredients and manufacturing processes, getting hands-on with raw materials and formulations, and knowing the impact that packaging has on the environment — and developing accordingly. To attain true sustainability status, obtaining certification as a B corp is the gold standard in environmentally-conscious manufacturing, and is something beauty ecopreneurs could aspire to.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Where business leaders go to grow

CO— is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Published October 01, 2021