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7 Tips to Start a Green Business in Canada

The demand for ecologically friendly, green products has never been higher.

And, If you are reading this blog post, I imagine you’re exploring the possibilities of launching your own green business. Bravo! You’re taking on a big challenge and some risks, but you’ll also benefit from more support for your journey than ever before.

Today, a solid core of smart, dedicated, and creative people in the private sector and government is deepening the roots of the green business sector in the Canadian economy. If you’re looking to tap into this thriving industry, below you’ll find seven helpful tips to get started.

Figure Out Your Environmental Passion

A driving force behind many green entrepreneurs is a desire to make a difference on some aspect of the environment. Maybe you want to reduce ocean plastic or food waste? Perhaps you want to develop a cutting-edge clean energy product? Or, your interest may be in the service sector; you want to help other companies operate in a more sustainable fashion. The World Trade Organization estimates that global trade in environmental goods and services will be worth US $1.9 trillion by 2020. Where will your business fit in?

Decide if You Want to Start a Green Business—Or Something Else

At a large environmental conference, I asked a Vice-President of a major bank if she had any advice for prospective green entrepreneurs. “In my work in the sector,” she said, “I’ve met many sincere, deeply committed individuals who truly want to do something positive for the environment. Unfortunately, many of them seem to have this belief that if they build this great green product or service, the customers will just come. They have no marketing or distribution plan to speak of When we ask to speak to a financial person in the company, they’ll say that their spouse does the bookkeeping—is this who we’d like to talk to? My advice is this: if you want to stay tiny or operate as a non-profit, that’s great. But if you want to create a more substantial green business and want capital and expertise to grow it, then you need to be able to clearly explain to people how your company is planning to make money.”

Do Your Research

The environment is a global issue, and profitable green companies exist across Canada and internationally that you can emulate. Case in point? Escents. In 1992, after visiting a shop in Portland that spurred the idea, founder Jacqui MacNeill opened her first Escents cart at a market in North Vancouver. By 2017, Escents had grown to an international brand with over 74 retail locations across Asia and Canada.

You’ll save considerable time and money learning from other businesses. Scour your potential competitors’ websites, and review their social media feeds and YouTube videos. Track and compare their pricing. Buy one of their products or sample a service. How are they attracting customers? What’s their secret sauce? What would you do differently or the same? Where have they left doors open for competitors like you to enter? You might also spend a few bucks on travel and visit thriving eco-businesses that are outside your geographic area; they are likely to be less threatened and more open to questions.

Determine if You Want to Start a Small Green Lifestyle Business or a Start-up That Can Scale

As you plan, a question to ask yourself is related to size and scale. Do you envision your enterprise as a small office or home-based business? Will it be limited primarily to your own efforts and perhaps a couple of contract employees down the road? Is your goal to build a small company of one to 10 people that you hope will generate a couple of hundred thousand dollars in profits and up to a million dollars in annual sales? Or, are you looking to create a start-up with cutting edge environmental technology that you eventually hope to sell for millions? In each case, your decision may be driven more by the type of business you want to create rather than your desire to operate a company of a particular size.

Does it matter what type of business you want to start? Yes, it does. If you intend to build a small business with fewer than 20 people, your concerns will be quite different from a green company planning to develop a product or service that will be a national or international market or submarket leader.

Talk to Your Family/Support System

In the early years, you’re likely to be a slave to your green business, working miserably long hours, weekends and holidays. When you are at family events, you may be multi-tasking, wondering how to replace a key employee who resigned or how to placate a disgruntled customer. Think hard about priorities and balancing the needs of your home and work life. If you have a life partner, make sure he or she agrees with your decision to leap into the entrepreneurial lifestyle; it won’t be nine to five, and you’ll likely spend much more time at work than at home.

Network and Learn

It’s a good idea to speak with other green business owners before formally creating your business. Most towns and cities have organizations, meetings and seminars designed to assist new entrepreneurs. In some larger centres, law firms will hold talks covering all aspects of starting a business. I attended such a session in Vancouver and found it helpful and a marvelous occasion for networking. Take advantage of these and similar events to garner unbiased information from a variety of sources. If you can afford it, visit some tradeshows or attend conferences related the environmental field where you’re planning to do business. They can be great sources of business ideas and inspiration.

Follow an Established Footprint

As you start, you’ll need to take all the steps that any aspiring entrepreneur needs to take to launch a successful company. If you don’t know where to start, Small Business BC is a great resource.

We have great environmental challenges before us, but the creativity and energy of entrepreneurs and visionaries is leading the way to a more environmentally-friendly economy and a sustainable world. With courage, resourcefulness and passion, we can make the change happen. Starting and building your green business can be your contribution, your mark on the world, and your path to success. Good luck!

About Ramona Materi

Ramona Materi is the CEO of Ingenia Consulting. Born in Vancouver, she has a passion for the environment and entrepreneurship. Ramona has a degree in environmental science and has worked as a consultant with Environment Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency. Ramona is the author of two books targeted at entrepreneurs: "Starting a Green Business in Canada" and "British Columbia's New North" . A dynamic and engaging speaker, Ramona welcomes the opportunity to present to business audiences about these topics.

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