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Wednesday, November 13,2013

‘Green’ businesses, where art thou?

by Terry Link
The Lansing metro area is home to roughly 500,000 of us. Now, a city of that size should be able to offer a pretty diverse array of products and services that provide employment to many. In recent conversations, I’ve begun to hear about what’s missing from the area, what might be considered business opportunities or at least an expansion of existing businesses to fill the niches that are not being covered.

For example, one is the difficulty in finding a local printer whose business is consistently aligned with ”green printing,” or one that uses the most sustainable papers (high post-consumer recycled content or Forest Stewardship Council-certified pulp, manufactured in the state or region, perhaps using renewable energy and vegetable-based inks). Perhaps they are proud members of the Green Press Initiative. If you are out there, we consumers are having a hard time identifying you. There’s a significant market for those attributes in this community and there doesn’t seem to be any firm rushing to fill it.

Another unmet need is financial planners who both understand and are committed to investing for a triplebottom-line (social, environmental and economic) return, sometimes referred to in this field as socially and environmentally responsible investing, or SRI.

These would be folks familiar with the Principles for Responsible Investments who would likely be attending the upcoming annual gathering of SRI in Colorado to learn about emerging opportunities for making investments that might be “fossil free” or “weapons free.” Or they might offer opportunities to invest in distressed communities that still provide a financial return to the investor. The services of such planners might be especially useful for small investors like the many socially committed young professionals in the community or retirees. Again, if you are out there, you’re not very visible.

How about landlords or apartment complexes that are committed to energy conservation (with, for example, super insulation, Energy Star appliances or high efficiency HVAC), renewable energy, waste reduction and recycling, xeriscaping (landscaping that requires less irrigation), gardening space and other features for tenants who want to maintain a low ecological footprint while having a livable, secure home?

Now, let’s be sure to recognize some of the sectors where we have businesses seeking to fill the more sustainable business approaches. We have Green Cab Co. that uses hybrid vehicles to move passengers about town. We have numerous eateries that are striving to serve locally and sustainably produced fresh food, such as Fork in the Road and Soup Spoon Café. We have local farmers markets and East Lansing Food Coop bringing fresh, local produce, dairy and meats to us. We have Everybody Reads, Triple Goddess Bookstore and Schuler Books operating independent bookstores.

How about environmentally minded car repair shops and dry cleaners? And which retail establishments would be willing to mimic the folks at the Detroit-area Moo Chuck Moo’s, who proudly tout that their fast food workers are paid $12 an hour? The owner is not only making a profit but he expects to expand. Come on Lansing, let’s not sell ourselves short. Let’s celebrate our better selves first by identifying local businesses that are striving to build community prosperity while conscientiously making a living.

But how can consumers identify these more community-oriented and sustainable businesses? The new version of Yellow Pages no longer provides the breadth and depth of local business listings that we relied on. Perhaps someone could create a website specifically to connect local, sustainability focused businesses with the growing interest of citizens-consumers? Is there an existing organization that could help? How about expanding the Green Star program in Meridian Township or perhaps City Pulse, Capital Gains or another of our local alternative media want to take a lead?

There are opportunities out there awaiting the entrepreneurs. Let’s continue to pollinate the possibilities.

Consultant Terry Link was the founding director of MSU’s Office of Campus Sustainability and is a senior fellow with the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development. He can be reached at link@lansingcitypulse.com.

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