Q&A; with “Eco-Entrepreneur” Scott Cooney, MBA

BusinessDegree.org interviews Scott Cooney, MBA, principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com, a company that consults on sustainability in business. Scott is an entrepreneur with experience building small, mission-driven businesses and is also a speaker on “green” business. He is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill). Below he talks about his experiences in building small businesses and how to get started in entrepreneurship.

Q: What is your current position?

I am a principal of Sustainable Enterprises Media, a start-up in San Francisco. Our website is Green Business Owner.com. As for my training, I have a degree in conservation biology and a master’s in business administration. I’ve also started and sold several small businesses.

Q: What is a “green business?”

A green business is a business that accounts not just for cost of inputs, but also for public health and the end of life disposals of its products. It’s a business that does work in a sustainable way and looks to create products and services that meet the needs of today without compromising the needs of the future.

Q: What is an “ecopreneur?”

An ecopreneur describes an entrepreneur who runs a mission-driven company.

Q: How did you get started in this field?

I started a business when I was 24 that was mission-driven, a landscaping company that ripped out grass and installed organic gardens. I also did maintenance in an eco-friendly way. I had very little experience with landscaping, but I knew I wanted to do something mission-driven and start a business. I ran the business for about three or four years and ended up selling it and starting another green company afterwards.

Q: In your work as an entrepreneur, what is an average day like?

I spend at least half an hour each day wrestling with information technology. Then I spend at least two hours each day returning phone calls and an hour and a half returning emails. We try to work with entrepreneurs who are in the green space or looking to get into it. We help give them the assets, tools, strategy and direction they need to make smart decisions about sustainability and their bottom lines.

Q: Are there any specific traits that an entrepreneur needs?

Discipline is a huge key. It’s been shown in many studies that if you are disciplined and give consistent effort, you will produce results. [Common sense is needed as well]. Many people try to approach their problems in a convoluted way. Being able to see the big picture is important. Hard work is a big key as well. I often rail against the 4-Hour Work Week, a book that was published a few years ago that professed that people could get rich without having to work really hard. One of the biggest things is having expertise in your field also. Be an expert in your field. Employees will respect you less or more based on your knowledge and experience. You will be more effective in your day-to-day work if you know your stuff really well.

Q: What are some of the challenges in being an entrepreneur?

One of the biggest challenges an entrepreneur faces is the feeling of having to wear every hat in a company. [For example], I don’t have an IT person, so I wear the IT hat. When something goes wrong, it’s incredibly frustrating. If you can’t solve the problem yourself, you have to outsource it. You have to anticipate that [challenges will be] part of the equation. If you set your expectations to deal with them, you’ll be fine. If you set your expectations to, “nothing will go wrong, and the four-hour work week will magically appear,” then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Q: Why should someone consider starting a green business?

It can save a lot of money. People are realizing that energy, water, waste all these things – are extra costs they don’t have to bear if they can figure out ways of doing things more sustainably. [Going green] also helps connect with customers in a way that provides a niche opportunity for small businesses. They can market to the green consumer. In addition, it encourages employees to work smarter, try harder, be more engaged in their work, and support their company more.

Q: What kind of changes have there been in green business in the last few years?

The recession has caused a few changes. Organic food growth, for example, was growing at 20 percent per year – that slowed down during the recession. Renewable energy development slowed down a little bit, as well. In general, though, there is a very strong trend not only in interest, but in investment in the green economy, not just by consumers but also from big businesses. In the long run, they see that [sustainability] is the direction the economy is going.

Q: What do you see for the future of green business?

Short term, I think the progressive movement of [sustainability in business] is going to continue. For example, clean tech patents surpassed information technology patents as the number one patent type filed with the U.S. patent office two years ago. We’re going to see more and more research and development from both big and small companies [in green initiatives].

Q: Any other recommendations for aspiring entrepreneurs?

There has never been a better time to start a green business. You are looking at a confluence of a lot of different factors: a bad job market, a lot of talented people who are under employed and/or looking for a career transition, and growing consumer, corporate and government interest. Get [your business] going and live your dream.