How to Attract Different Shades of Green Customers

Last week I interviewed Jason Holstine, who is the founder and owner of a local one-stop green hardware and design store here in Kensington, suburb of Maryland, called “Amicus Green.” Amicus Green is a triple-bottom line company. 

Because Jason has more than 14 years of helping consumers, businesses, governments, NGOs implement sustainability goals and projects. Jason currently sits on the Maryland Commission on Climate Change and the board of directors for the Metropolitan Washington Council Of Governments Clean Air Partners program. We asked Jason the things that can help people and businesses to go green.

What Does it Take to Go Green?” conversation, touches not only on greening houses and offices, but also building the business itself. By combining his depth of knowledge in green building, figuring out the supply and demand, and offering a mix of products and services that meet customers’ expectations, Amicus Green have created “a space” for the business. They’ve attracted and grown its customer base from the moment they opened their door for business!

One of the things he mentioned is, that it is very important to provide on-going support for companies’ green teams that can help them set meaningful goals and achieved them. He also talk briefly about the challenges for consumers to pick the right green products.

TRANSCRIPT from randomly selected topics. (to listen for full episode, visit Ecotwist here, or scroll all the way down).

Dewita: It seems that you’ve been trekking the sustainability world or green world for sometime now. Share with us a little bit about your background, and how did you get started a green hardware store?

Jason: Well, my background way back is at college I’ve got a business degree but I majored in environmental science as a program that I put together. 15 years later you started to see programs actually off-the-shelves at a lot of leading schools. So I figured I should’ve patented the concept.. I missed that boat. But, 20 years later it was just kind of one of these things that one thing went to another, I started getting into various levels or types of environmental consulting for various audiences and started to working with folks more and more on green building efforts. And people come to me and asked me to help them work on various little project or remodeling project here and there to try to make it green. Whether necessary called green back in the late ’90s, it might have been just make it healthier or more environmentally sustainable or cutting energy use or something. Around that time, the term green haven’t started to pick up. But one of the things that we found is “hey, here’s that great product, this is neat, people said it’s fantastic.. where can I get it? Well, you can’t.” You have to ordered it from Seattle or from very far away and you can’t see any samples, and you can’t color matching, just do the general stuff you’d need to do when making getting a product into a project and putting projects together. So it’s pretty clear to us that there was certainly need for a resource where people could go and shop, research and do what you want to do for any kind of project. And having another one source having a lot expertise on the right products and providing the wrong products and understanding the background of sustainability as such was important. The main thing there is to find out that whether – because we knew there’s a need – was there be a demand then? Through some research found out we thought it would be with our demographic in the area. It took about a year and a half doing a business plan to plan the whole business and such. It took us almost a year to find a reasonably good space to locate the business. Found a place, fired it up and we’re on our six year now.

Dewita: You’ve been in business for 6 years, but you’ve been around in that industry for a long time. From the time you opened the door at Amicus – by the way why did you choose the name, Amicus, it’s hard to pronounce – what do you see changed in consumer behavior, especially from your customers.

>> First he explained the meaning of Amicus and why he chose the name. Then followed with this conversation..

Jason: From our perspective, it’s probably more skewed. I meant from day one, we’ve had customers. Our customers have been those who’s very interested in being green and we have more and more customers trying to do that now. So we’re saying from a little bit of that early adopter’s stage to more of the mainstream or maturing of the audience as any marketing person would tell you as a product matures as it goes along. What is constantly has always been and – still very much – one tug of war is that people have different definition to what they mean by green. For some people is about health and avoiding chemicals to protect themselves or their kids. Other people it’s about Al Gore, climate change, protecting the polar bears or rain forest. Other people about energy independence, getting ourselves out of fossil fuels or of Middle East issues. We take very much a holistic point of view. We very strongly argue that it’s all the above. Getting people to understand that being green is a matter of several different features and it’s very not particularly appropriate analogy but, basically killing a lot of birds with one stone. And being able to achieve a lot of different goals of a healthier place, more energy responsive place, more environmentally appropriate place, and it will make a lot people happier that way. Also in the long term and in some cases in the short term, too. These are absolutely things that pay off that financially they are very beneficial for the occupants. You just have to configure the numbers and the math from where people used to.

Dewita: I read something in your website about LINX, is that a software? What is it?

Jason: SWEET LINX is an umbrella program that we have. It’s got a number of different programs underneath it that basically help different people to learn and to incentivize them to be as green as possible. For example, we have a program called “Sweet Benefits,” that we work with employers, companies, NGOs, whatever. It’s almost like a wellness program. Like a wellness benefits package. We give them some education, tools, help their green teams out. Just count another incentive internally to help their employees be sustainable as possible. It’s very much a lot of companies now will have like green teams to help teach each other about things to green both internally and at home. Just kind of encourage good behaviour. That’s a program we have to help people along with that and to make it more interesting, more lively. You know one of the things that happens a lot is people talk about green, they learn about this great tips as such. But if they can’t figure out the right products, the right tools to use for on-going kind of more detailed advice for their case. If they really can’t get that kind of on-going kind of support. Then, the efforts may be well-meaning but they probably won’t go very far. And so that’s the kind of idea that people can really get things, schemes rolling personally and across an organization to really get set some meaningful goals to actually achieve them. We have another program for schools. With schools, which help let say, schools fundraising or in creating their own operations or doing curriculum or efforts about green, or ecological or climate change issues. And we have a program for real estate agents to help them with their clients with both selling and buying. So things like that. That’s what the SWEET LINX program is.

Dewita: Your company is a triple-bottom line company (the three pillars of sustainable business: people, planet, profit for measuring success from economical, ecological and social values). What are some of the challenges that you have to overcome to become a triple-bottom line company?

Jason: I don’t know that I have necessarily any specific extra challenges. It’s kind of native and embedded in what we do and how we operate it that I don’t know if there’s any specific isolated challenges that I can think of off the top of my head. There will be just the natural stuff that certain things, where some of our costs or overhead, are not as low as they could be. And we just have to kinda implement that in our management. But I don’t at all consider to be extraordinarily high costs. It’s just a matter of cost of doing business, anyway. So if anything the additional elements, just limiting ourselves into products choice. And in terms of going extra miles to make sure that things are done right. To say “no” to products because we didn’t get the right information or enough information. It just make more administrative efforts on our part. A lot of it, is more time than it is cost.

There’s more to the conversation. Including tips for wannabe green business owners.

Check it out

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/btrplayer.swf

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Author: Dewita

Co-founder Ecotwist Labs.

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