The Green Business Conference: Entrepreneurs Step Up

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Welcome to a new blog about entrepreneurs who care about the environment, healthy living, fair wages or fair trade (or all of the above).

Co-op America’s San Francisco Green Business Conference, which ends later today, has attracted hundreds of entrepreneurs and others who intend to launch new businesses. I’ve seen entrepreneurs connecting (“your product would be great in my green online store”) and comparing experiences to help each other out. And the conference sessions themselves are very much geared to helping entrepreneurs.

To me, the most useful session was included findings from a study about the state of the green marketplace by Laurie Demeritt of the research company The Hartman Group. Of the many interesting tidbits she shared, one was a dramatic reminder that words mean different things to different people. Entrepreneurs who want to build new markets, need to be very careful with language.

Seemingly obvious and innocuous words can miss the mark. Some of the participants in the Hartman Report on Sustainability think that sunscreen is a sustainable product because it sustains the health of their family. Hartman received many other unusual definitions of “sustainable”, and some consumers just couldn’t relate to the word at all.

The good news is that the problem is primarily semantics. The Report found that a significant number of consumers are concerned about the health of their families and safety in their homes, and many are concerned about the ethics of the companies they buy from.

The broader (not-deep-green) market may want green products, but entrepreneurs need to describe them in ways that relate to consumers’ specific and local concerns.

If you are an entrepreneur, don’t assume your friends and family are a representative sample of the broader market. Get out there and test your messages before investing in names, packaging, marketing materials, etc.

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