Small firm innovation leads the way to a green economy

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Environmental stewardship is important for America’s 27 million small businesses — and not just on Earth Day. Every day is Earth Day for small businesses because entrepreneurs are on the frontlines in the battle to grow a green economy.

Small business owners live, work and play where their businesses are located. They know their families, neighbors and employees will hold them accountable for keeping their communities healthy and green.

Innovative small businesses are at the forefront of environmental protection. Office of Advocacy research indicates that small innovative firms produce 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms do. Their innovative practices often yield environmentally friendly products and technologies.

Everyone benefits when small businesses, in an effort to improve their bottom line, create more efficient, environmentally sound products. Whether it is health care, energy policy or environmental protection, government is better off when we look to small business for answers.

Quietly, and with little fanfare, small businesses across America are leading us toward a green economy in their own unique way.

For an ice cream maker in Washington State this includes the manufacturing of “green” (environmentally friendly) ice cream. The firm joins thousands of small businesses that consciously bring environmentally friendly techniques to the manufacturing of their signature products.

Its new manufacturing plant is partially heated by freezers that recycle the heat they generate. In addition, landscaping around the building allows the firm to reduce both its water runoff and potential noise pollution.

The firm is just one of a growing number of environmentally innovative small businesses, nicknamed green gazelles, that are creating products which are both efficient and environmentally sound. This trend is backed up by Advocacy research that shows small firms are a vital element of new technology in many industries.

In newer high-technology industries, large firms frequently rely on small firms’ discoveries and inventions. As the economist William Baumol points out, market forces help drive the search for radical new inventions toward small businesses, and the subsequent development of them toward larger firms.

When these businesses grow and create jobs, they remain environmentally friendly. Just ask the founder of a packaging wholesaler in Pennsylvania. As an environmental activist, he was concerned about the increasing amount of petroleum-based, non-degradable packaging materials used around the world.

He searched for a solution and found it with high-tech packaging manufacturers. By providing other manufacturers with environmentally friendly, recycled, biodegradable packaging alternatives, he hopes to help preserve the earth for future generations.

These environmentally friendly packaging materials help reduce dependence on foreign oil, reduce global warming and help reduce greenhouse gases. In addition, they divert tons of plastic and other non-degradable materials from our landfills.

In the wake of celebrating another Earth Day and beyond, it is worth reflecting on the many contributions that small businesses make to a healthy environment. It’s time that we celebrate their success, and encourage governmental polices that support the growth of these businesses and the jobs they create.

Jim Henderson is the Rocky Mountain regional advocate for the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration. He can be contacted at (303) 844-0503 or