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Running a Sustainable Business Attracts Customers

by Marisa Briscoe McNatt (bio)

Published 2/18/12


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The research is in. Whether you're a manufacturer, or reseller, having a business with a lighter eco-footprint in addition to selling green products is great for business, as well as the environment, reports the Research & Analytics Group of United Stationers, based in Deerfield, Ill., that brings the voice of the consumer into business.

Among 12,500 consumers participating in a study, 39 percent deemed a company’s reputation for sustainability as very important.

“This was the first time we saw sustainability jump above green products. For me, that’s good news. People are interested in buying green products, yes, but consumers are careful about who they’re buying from,” says Carol O’Hern, director of marketing, research, analytics and sustainability for United Stationers.

The study reported that 24 percent of consumers view green products as very important.1

Whether you're a product manufacturer, or reseller, there are many opportunities to increase and demonstrate environmental responsibility. Here are a few quick tips for your business, or organization to become even greener and build customer relationships:

Be a resource to others. Let customers and business partners know what you’re doing, and what they can do, to have a lighter eco-footprint. If others look to you as a source of green knowledge, you’ll become a leader in your networking community and attract others outside your network.

A little research can go along ways. For example, take a few minutes to look up the benefits of buying organic, or fair trade products, or what your customers can do to save energy and water. Send out a tweet, or quick blog with the information.

Subscribing to green publications with a news, or twitter feed, as well as Google alerts, is an easy way to stay-up-to-date with the latest in environmental information.

Show off what you’re doing. Beyond selling green products, let customers and the community know about all the great actions your business is taking for the environment.

“It’s so easy for one foot to follow the next. So, you’re not only a resource, but you’re doing what you advise others to do and almost looked up to as ‘what can I do next?’ And, that’s pretty cool,” O’Hern says.

Green Youth Education - Teaching our Children how to live a sustainable lifestyle
The Road to Sustainability

Incorporating green concepts into your day-to-day business activities is positive for attracting customers.

EcoGreenOffice makes it easy for companies to get recognized for their green efforts. The green office supply company provides a logo to EGO partners, letting others know that your office uses green products. The logo can be used anywhere on your marketing collateral, or combined into your current logo.

EcoGreenOffice is also doing what they advise others to do, explains Bryan Beckett, co-founder of the green office supply company. Although the business sells paper, they also offer recommendations for how customers can reduce the amount of paper used in the office.

“I suppose that may be one reason for our growth, we actually care about greening our customers bottom line and making sustainable procurement choices," Beckett says.

Providing free toner cartridge recycling with pre-paid return boxes is another environmentally responsible step EcoGreenOffice is taking.

"This has been a huge success and our customers no longer have to feel guilty about throwing away plastic,” says Beckett. “In conjunction with our green renewed toner cartridge program, we are able to save customers money and reduce their carbon footprint."

For more information on how to reach an audience of green professionals and opinion leaders interested in your products and services, consider registering with the Green Biz Group, an online business with a goal of helping companies of all sizes integrate environmental responsibility into their operations.2

Incorporate Green into education material
Green Your Bottom Line

Purchasing environmentally friendly products is a great way to show customers your commitment to being green.

Survey your customers. Find out what it is that customers and potential customers want to know about your company and create a compelling story. For example, why did you personally decide to operate, or become a part of a sustainable business?

In other words, generate subscribers who are passionate about what you do, suggests the Social Media Examiner, the world’s largest online social media magazine.3

Through a survey, you can also discover what else customers want to know about your green products and what other green products they want to see.

Would your followers like to see information presented mostly in a blog, through a tweet, on Facebook, or all three?

By using customer tips, you’ll be able revamp messages and actions of sustainability and your company’s story.

Buy local, green products. Tailor your business practices to be green on a day-to-day basis and throughout the entire supply chain.

“Now, it’s not just going to be selling a product, but they themselves need to look at how they deliver the product, how they live, how they are in their own work environment —you know, every step counts,” O’Hern says, referring to business operations.

Begin by making local purchases. The benefits of buying locally are numerous, from a boost to the resident economy, to improving environmental stability, to attracting business from neighboring companies.

By acquiring environmentally friendly products not only for resale, but also for business operations, you can take one more action to help the environment and gain customer support.

Plan a major green event. An event that’s sustainable educates participants about the importance of environmental responsibility, conserves and renews resources, and honors and supports those involved, including the local community, writes Sustainable Communities online.4

Hosting a bike work day, a recycling education day or helping to plant trees at a local school, are all green event options.

Sustainable Communities has tips for planning a sustainable event, such as choosing a site, event materials and food service.5

Also, check out supplies from EcoGreenOffice, such as green recycled cups and clear cups made from post-consumer material, and compostable dinnerware, forks, knives, and spoons.

Whatever your business decides upon, hosting green events is bound to attract esteem and business within your community.

[1] http://www.ussco.com/home/index.asp
[2] http://www.greenbizgroup.com/
[3] http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/about/
[4] http://www.sustainable.org/
[5] http://www.sustainable.org/living/responsible-buying-a-consumption/473-how-to-plan-a-sustainable-event