Green ideals and markets meet at eco-business school

Idealism and market economics made for an explosive mix at this summer's eco-business school, as the cream of London's young eco-entrepreneurs gathered to learn about green niche markets - and why profit should not be a dirty word.

From laptop bags made out of billboards to a recycling service that closes the home shopping loop, there was no shortage of fresh ideas with the potential for successful eco-products and services – the question was how to sell them.

As the students debated the right shade of green marketing to go for, it emerged that many were driven not by the desire for profit, but by a belief in the ‘green cause’.

“We are not doing it for the money, it’s what we believe in – we have been active in environmental groups for more than five years,” said Reigo Ginter, one of this year’s participants, whose company Grenius makes bags and wallets out of recycled billboards and tetra packs.

Even at prices of £30-50, Grenius bags are already selling at a rate of about 100 a month at designer boutiques. Reigo already makes a living from his business, and hopes the school will help him expand. He is a step further than many other enviro-entrepreneurs at the school who are still at the idea stage.

So can billboard bags save the planet? Not exactly – but they can change minds and attitudes, said Reigo, whose business is based in Estonia but active across Europe.

“We are not taking the waste away in such quantities that we could make a major difference, but I think that we do make a difference by promoting environmental awareness.

“I think that consumer habits are very connected to how people feel about green issues, if it’s a cool area of not,” he said.

“The greens in Estonia and other places as well are seen as tree-huggers and freaks. We are helping to change that image,” he added.

The school is giving Reigo and others the opportunity to expand business horizons through contacts and ideas.

“I met a guy who is making a woven material out of aluminium cans, which I want to buy and make bags out of. And someone else has just given me the idea of selling our recycled bags for conferences.”

Recycling certainly dominated the school, ran by QED Consulting and sponsored by the capital’s recycling promoters London Remade.

But there were other sustainable ideas on the table, such as a green guide for independent travellers in the UK from Laura Burgess (Lo-Carb Travel) – “a guide to travelling sustainably in the UK, from the moment you leave your house, from transport to where you stay and eat, giving people information about what’s available and the impact of various options.”

“These are practical things that people can do in their everyday lives,” said Laura Burgess.

As with many of the participants, she said her main motivation was doing some good for the environment.

But there was no avoiding the question of profit, which came up again and again as a simple issue of business survival. The resounding message was that, in order to save the planet, you have to conquer the market first.

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Goska Romanowicz

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