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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

GreenBusiness.net: Continuing the Conversation

Editor's note: A new feature in Greener Magazine premiers today with the introduction of our guest Columnists and Editorial page Greener Board. Our first Guest Columnist is a pioneer sustainability author and commentator who began sustainablog in July, 2003. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is a writer, a teacher and a passionate green activist.

When I first came across the GreenBusiness.net web site, which touted “a discussion list for eco-entrepreneurs,” I was excited to find such a resource, and quickly signed up. After a couple of weeks with no discussion, though, I was afraid that the list was yet another one of those great online concepts that never quite caught on. The discussion did begin, however, and as I joined in with my two cents, I came to realize that this “great online concept” would work because creator Jason Trout simply wasn’t the kind of person to let an idea die.

Like most entrepreneurs in green business, Jason’s desires are simple: higher profits and a greener planet. While he’s in the process of making that first million and saving the world from itself, though, Jason has one more modest goal: keeping the lines of communication open among the growing sustainable business community. GreenBusiness.net, started in February 2004, was his attempt to recognize that goal. In the year and a half since, the site has grown to a community of over 230 members, ranging from heavy-hitters to newbies, and has morphed from a simple email discussion list to a full-fledged discussion portal. Members have enjoyed conversation about the joys and challenges of running a sustainable business with like-minded entrepreneurs. Frequent participant Jennifer Boulden of Anavo Group and IdealBite compares the list to “a green cocktail party” where everyone understands the concept of sustainability. “I am a 'green business owner' - and sometimes it gets tiring to have so many people look at you quizzically when you answer that age old question at the cocktail party: ‘so, what do you do?”

Such comments let Jason know that he had the right idea when starting GreenBusiness.net. Having experienced the sense of community present at the 2003 Co-op America Green Business Conference, Jason had left wondering, “How could we continue the conversations and relationships begun at the meeting?” He began a search for an online group, certain that someone had already created what he was seeking. When he came up empty, he decided to fill the void he saw himself. Already a web business veteran with the charitable portal site Metaaid.com and email service Planet-Save.com (now under other ownership), both of which he started while studying at the University of Iowa, Jason recognized a genuine business and community-building opportunity.

Greenbusiness.net came to fruition after graduation while Jason was involved in yet another venture, long-distance and Internet service provider Red Jellyfish. When contacted by an aspiring green entrepreneur about web development for his online store, Jason was able to pass on information that saved this businessperson $15,000. “At this point, I knew what GreenBusiness.net could become,” said Jason. He foresaw “a resource for sharing not only thoughts and ideas, but also concrete opportunities to make and save money between people passionate about the environment and business solutions to environmental problems.” Jason now divides his time among his responsibilities as marketing and business development partner of Red Jellyfish, and as sole proprietor of both GreenBusiness.net and BlueAction.org. Since all of these businesses share the goal of profitable environmental sustainability, he finds that they enhance each other and allow him to work concretely towards a single goal of “saving the world.”

While started to serve the larger green business community, Jason also hopes that GreenBusiness.net can continue to mature into a successful business of its own. He charges an $8 per month subscription fee, and notes that this doesn’t scare away potential members. “If anything,” he notes, “the revenue allows us to make the site and list even more useful for the members.” Jason envisions that once the site is on firmer financial footing, he’ll be able to use these resources to benefit the membership through print and online advertisements listing the companies who belong. He also sees the site as a natural place to turn when looking for talent. “We’re in the process of adding member profiles to the site, and plan to make them searchable. We hope that such features will make the list more attractive to potential members and continue the growth of the community.” All of these ideas recently came to fruition as Jason sought out a designer in the community to create a brochure for the 2005 Green Business Conference that would, among other things, “list every company represented on GB.net from Anavo to Zinio.”

Jason is attending the Green Business conference in San Francisco as I write, and a post to the message board demonstrates the power of his initial concept: “I've already met three ‘Gbers’ and know there are many here I haven't met yet … but I'll find them before too long.” Judging from the determination he’s exhibited from the germination of GreenBusiness.net, I have no doubt Jason’s already found these folks, and will return from the conference with even more of that initial enthusiasm to build a more successful and sustainable community of green business thinkers.