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Crain's New York Business

5 Tips For Becoming a Green Paragon

By Tina Traster

March 9, 2008 - Small businesses have always needed profits. These days, Hannah Ling argues, they need something else as well—principles.

Last December, the former marketing consultant with a passion for flowers and a concern for the environment opened Gardenia Organic, a West Village florist that sells flowers produced without toxic pesticides or fertilizers.

“I feel passionate about this,” says Ms. Ling, who points out that many imported flowers are grown with pesticides that are banned in this country. She also notes that there are at least five other florists close by but none that target environmentally conscious consumers.

Going green can allow entrepreneurs to do good and do well at the same time by mining a new and relatively untapped market, polishing their image and creating media buzz.

Companies must do more, however, than mere public relations “greenwashing” of their images if they want their efforts to pay off.

Set the tone.

Start by creating a green-office environment to give employees and visitors reason to feel good about the company. Use recycled, unbleached or chlorine-free paper products. Refill print cartridges, and use soy-based ink. Use nontoxic cleaning supplies. Send obsolete products like computers and cell phones to be recycled rather than used as landfill.

Involve the staff.

Going green allows employees to feel like they are part of something larger and more positive. Adopt an environmental mission statement that encourages everyone to get behind the push. Put employees in charge of green efforts like seeking vendors, instituting better recycling programs and researching sustainable practices. Create a reward system or recognition programs for good environmental behavior. Manufacturers should create a sustainability team that tracks reduction of energy, water, greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste.

Get employees to participate in outdoor cleanups, tree plantings, recycling programs. Green product development fosters solidarity and loyalty.

Capitalize on commitment.

Green companies are widely seen as leaders and innovators. Play up environmental achievements by making them part of the company's branding and marketing. Host environmental events, create socially responsible programs and donate to green causes. Offer plant or facility tours to show off green practices. Get the word out on the company Web site, issue press releases and include information in marketing and packaging materials.

Cultivate greenies.

More and more consumers are willing to pay a premium for earth-wise and healthy products. The new market to target is people with lifestyles of health and sustainability. Sustainability organization LOHAS says this group of consumers is interested in everything from green building supplies and socially responsible investing to alternative health care and eco-tourism.

A to Z Media Inc. in Manhattan tapped into that market when a new age record company in Virginia needed environmentally friendly packaging for its CDs. “They wanted to integrate their packaging with their message, so we created a CD case that's made from recycled paper stock and uses soy-based ink,” says Scott Pollack, the company's president.

Turn up the volume.

The media is keen on green. Emphasize green products by breaking them off into a new line or category. Position the company as one determined to make the planet a better place. Post often to the company's Web site and blog to attract online buzz and link-sharing. Offer an interview to green blogs like Treehugger, World Changing, EcoGeek, and Green Trust Sustainability.

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