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Entrepreneurs weigh in on the benefits of going green

By Daniel Kosir |

Green is in this season.

Green business has been getting a lot of media buzz, but the real question is what kind of return on investment (ROI) businesses can expect by going green.

Hundreds of people came out to explore this topic at Growing Green: Innovation Camp 2011, an event hosted by Enterprise Toronto.

The full day event featured presentations and workshops from a variety of sustainability experts, green entrepreneurs and government that all drove home the same point: being green can be beneficial for both innovation and your bottom line.

The question of the day: do consumers care about sustainability?

Going green means that business costs are often comparable to the premium end of a market, which concerns some business owners who worry about not being able to compete on price. 

These issues of profitability and marketability were among the most common concerns voiced by attendees of the conference.

So the real question is: are customers now willing to pay more for eco-friendly products and services?

A panel of environmentally-minded entrepreneurs seems to think so. They agreed that while the green lifestyle is still a niche, it is rapidly growing.

Rob Grand, CEO of Grassroots Environmental Products, which sells an extensive line of household products, says "the shift from niche to mainstream is evident in consumer product markets," such as retail and food. "There is a consumer demand for healthier, more natural products," he adds.

Cowbell Restaurant founder and co-owner Mark Cutrara also noted that consumers are now more likely to research the products they use on a day-to-day basis.

His restaurant serves up naturally raised organic meat that it buys locally and even butchers, smokes and cures on his premises. He has found a niche of customers who are looking for options like this and are willing to pay more for a healthier product.

"People are starting to be active and are buying these products," says Cutrara.

Going green as a cost savings option in business

There are several ways to go green within your business operations. This is certainly ethical, but can it be cost-effective?

Rob Grand believes so. "Being green is all about being efficient. Energy and water conservation, it saves's just smart business."

For small businesses, there may be incentives that can help.

Joyce McLean, Director of Strategic Issues at Toronto Hydro, told the audience that there are a number of programs offered by the organization that provide incentives for small businesses to go green.

The Small Business Lighting Program, for example, provides qualifying businesses with up to $1000 worth in free energy efficient lighting and equipment upgrades.

On top of such programs, measures such as retrofitting your office can lessen the amount of energy consumed, subsequently saving costs on electricity, heating and cooling, and other utilities in the long run.

At the end of the day, going green certainly seems to be worth investigating. Many small business support centres are starting to hold conferences like Growing Green: Innovation Camp 2011. There are also online resources that can help, like the Green Economy Centre website, which lists hundreds of green funding programs as well as information on going green.

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