Moving Markets

Published on July 2nd, 2012 | by

Recently, I learned a great strategy for moving markets. Specifically, how to leverage consumer demand for greener goods to move large amounts of capital into the sustainable economy, and away from companies that are only profit driven and don’t mind externalizing their costs onto society. I’d like to share that strategy with you here, in the hopes that you can replicate its success, and we can start to really get the attention of businesses across the world, and help them move into sustainability and triple bottom line thinking.

The key to the whole strategy is an old adage: “to thine own self be true.” My company is running some workshops for Hawai’i businesses looking to dip their toes into the sustainability field. In Hawai’i, we’ve got a lot of businesses that are already there, but many more than need a fairly substantial overhaul. This latter group is the one that we’re recruiting for our workshops, because we believe that is where the greatest potential for change is.

We know that this one day may change many of these companies’ overall strategy, and we hope that we can inspire them to go deep on energy efficiency, hire a CSO, assemble green teams, conduct waste audits, and a whole host of other ideas that have quick returns on investment. However, we’re also going to push them to think well outside that box and turn them on to renewable energy, locally grown food, and using their significant financial resources to support the growing green economy here state- and world-wide.

As I sought out a venue that could help us drive some great concepts home for these managers and entrepreneurs, however, we were unable to find a business venue that could provide GMO-free, organic, and locally sourced goods, and a predominantly vegetarian menu. As it turns out, if we want to do a workshop in one of the green venues in town so that we could get that menu, we have to sacrifice what these business execs are used to: white linen tables, flashy audio-visual, spacious restroom areas, high-end service, and the like.

None of the business hotels would cater to our desired food offerings, and we’d miss a great chance to get these businesses thinking about all the impacts of their purchases and business development. But we insisted, and played a little hardball. Given that the budget we have for the event is about $2,000, which is a mere pittance to most of these venues, it wouldn’t seem that we’d have had much negotiating power. But as I pressed the venue operators, it became clear that I wasn’t the only one who was inquiring about getting a menu that sourced locally and didn’t contain GMOs. With that tiny bit of information, I made the pitch.

I suggested that I could find the venue a consultant who could come in and develop a simply delicious menu, free of GMO’s, sourced locally, and organic if possible, and who could help them cater to all the companies who would want to have this service in the future, as well. In addition, I told them, with great confidence, that we could do this all for the same price that they normally charge, and that their margins would remain intact.

In other words, I held up my $2,000 as a tiny carrot for good behavior, then took away all the objections they could possibly have for getting to yes. As it happens, vegetarian food can cost quite a bit less than a meat-centered menu, and if someone knows what they’re doing, they can make food that is absolutely delicious. As soon as I got the tentative yes from the venue, I got on the phone with Manis Kitchenworks, a small local company that does cooking classes, personal consults, and menu development, and that shares my values of helping companies put their money into the green economy.

An opportunity to help a large conference facility green their menu doesn’t come along every day, and Manis Kitchenworks agreed to help them at a fraction of their usual rate. It’s a foot in the door for them, and may lead to a lot more work from the venue, and their suddenly green caterer, down the line.

In summary, here’s one great strategy to shift companies into more sustainable purchasing and behavior.

  • Provide the first incentive. If you’re looking to make a somewhat sizable purchase, you have negotiating power…make sure you ask for what you want.
  • Showcase that you’re not alone. There are other customers who will want this kind of green offering, and the interest in this sort of thing is only going to grow. Use this to help show them the value of catering to your sustainability requests.
  • Make it easy for them. Figure out the objections, and provide fairly straightforward solutions. Sustainability is not rocket science to those of us who live it and breathe it, but to people who’ve never been exposed, it can be overwhelming, and turn them off to even trying.
  • Provide the steady hand and support they’ll need. Be their guide. Offer yourself to talk about the path to sustainability for them. As I found out with this company, they were at least aware of it, and given that customers are asking for it, they have a genuine desire to learn. If you’re a source of optimism and inspiration, and show them you’re not judging, they will open up to you. You’re the customer, after all, and the customer is always right.

By partnering with this local sustainable food advocate, I was able to leverage a tiny amount of money, on the premise that, hey, people will be looking for this kind of offering more and more, and got a big company here in Honolulu to start pulling their goliath purchasing power away from GMO’s, and toward local and organic farmers.

Can capitalism, and free markets, really bring us into an era of economic, social, and environmental sustainability?

The money spent by the GMO, oil, plastics, financial, and military contracting industries can seem to derail any kind of real progress, especially in government, where lobbying money often overrides the common good. However, there are some startling and extremely positive things happening worldwide, and it fills me with great optimism that…well, we’re finally getting it and we’re turning a corner.

Follow Scott Cooney on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

 


About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride.