Have you seen Home Depot’s latest newspaper advertisement? It’s a cartoon of a big box looking at an almost-weepy planet Earth and saying, “We’re not going to use pesticides anymore.” It took me a few seconds to get it; there is extraordinary power when the message coming down from the big box store is that green is “in”.
Generally speaking, entrepreneurs are at the top of the heap in the world of business (yes, above all the investment bankers and government officials who think they are in business but have never had a paying customer in their lives). Being ahead of the crowd is the small to medium enterprise’s business and many have been living green for decades – because they like it and it makes good sense for the future.
Eddie Weinstein runs Globe Electric, a family business that manufactures light bulbs for green living, and supplies big box businesses such as Wal-Mart. He says that as these enormous retailers choose to go green, they will change consumer lifestyles dramatically. When Wal-Mart asked Eddie for green bulbs, he had been working on building a green lifestyle for more than three decades, and therefore had the ability to manufacture enough product.
Like so many of the entrepreneurs I meet, Eddie is someone who gives back every chance he gets. Last year, he invited David Suzuki to speak at a large function, and he chuckles when he recalls how David shook his hand and said, “So you’re the guy who’s been getting rich from green.”
Eddie is gracious enough not to blast Suzuki, but I shall.
Eddie has a tough business and serious competition. He has worked at it since the age of 18 by getting out there himself and building relationships with retailers, both small and large. He chose to reinvest his own money in his business when he probably could have slept better by putting that cash into Albertan oil stocks or Research In Motion. Contrary to Suzuki’s thinking, getting rich quickly does not happen easily in business; even RIM endured a 20-year uphill ride, and was not generally supported by Canadian investors until Americans noticed the company.
Entrepreneurs live green, not because it is legislated, or because activist customers yell, but because they like it and tend to be decades ahead in their thinking. Back in the 90s, one of my clients, Spiros Pantziris, rebuilt Spintex, his second generation family business of yarn manufacturing, to be green. Spintex takes factory floor clippings of cotton T-shirts and strips them back down to base fibres to be spun again into coloured yarns. This means less dye and less cotton wastage. The factory even captures the waste wisps and clumps them into something that looks like what my cat coughs up. Except they are pellets the size of hockey pucks. These are shipped to local farms.
“Cows eat this stuff?” I asked, anxiously.
“It is cotton – a plant,” Spiros gently reminded me with a smile. When the call came from Target that they wanted green yarn for fishermen’s sweaters, Spintex was ready.
The maharishi of green entrepreneurs, Michael de Pencier, bases his business philosophy on the concepts outlined in a book by Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. One of his companies is a green fund called Investeco, which acts as a private-equity partner in companies such as Eco Drycleaners, a user of environmentally-friendly chemicals. As de Pencier says, “Green living makes sense and smart businesses get green.” Thank you, David Suzuki.