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Entrepreneurs Willing to Pay More to Go Green

Despite the higher costs, using environmentally friendly materials can bring in more customers, according to a new survey.
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It may cost them more, but small-business owners seem increasingly willing to make environmentally conscious business decisions, according to a new survey.

Of 600 small-business owners nationwide, two-thirds said they would pay more for environmentally friendly goods and services for their business, according to the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index poll.

At iLite Technologies, a Chicago-based technology company that designs and manufactures lighting systems for commercial markets, president and CEO Sean Callahan found that despite the higher cost, using environmentally conscious lighting materials actually results in a better finished product -- not just a greener one.

"Our company exists primarily because of the environmental benefits of our products," Callahan said. iLite Technologies uses an alternative form of light called LEDs (light emitting diodes) to create its accent lighting products, such as bright signs that are often seen in restaurant windows and casinos.

According to Callahan, in addition to the energy-saving benefits, LEDs are actually safer than the cheaper alternatives of neon and fluorescent light because they do not contain mercury. Callahan spends 25 to 50 percent more on environmentally-friendly materials, which are ultimately costs that get passed on to customers.

The Wells Fargo survey found that a higher percentage (49 percent) of business owners were concerned that their customers would not be willing to pay more for green products, compared to 43 percent who believed their customers would be willing to share the added costs of being environmentally-friendly.

At iLite Technologies, Callahan said customers have embraced his company's environmentally conscious stance and understand that its product is a greater investment in the long-run. "It is not a lower cost item up front, but when you look at the cost over a lifetime, it is lower," he said. "When you bundle the economic benefits and the environmental benefits, a lot of customers want to buy our product."

According to the survey results, 47 percent of small-business owners said they have already taken steps to show customers that they are environmentally friendly. For Frank Lane, president of ArmorLite Roofing in Santa Ana, Calif., his mission as an entrepreneur is to provide customers with the most eco-friendly product.

Lane launched his company in 2002 with the intent to develop a roofing material that not only looked good, but was also lightweight, durable, and used the least amount of natural resources. The result was ArmorLite, a product that has already been sought out by the federal and state governments because of its environmental sustainability.

ArmorLite has also helped Lane decrease his costs -- the lightweight material cuts down on transportation and saves him from a large amount of workman's compensation claims. Still, Lane was surprised to find that his socially responsible business choices would be so well-received.

"I knew what I was doing would be important, but I didn't realize the magnitude of importance it would have in the community and the response that we would receive," Lane says. Based on his success as an environmentally-friendly business owner, Lane believes that small-business owners are in a unique position to encourage sustainable practices in others.

"If we want to resolve the environmental problems that we have, it's not going to go come from the larger government, its going to come from each individual doing what they need to do," Lane said.




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