10 eco-friendly businesses you can start with low capital investment

Running sustainable business ventures delivers more than just profits. Here’s a list of business ideas you can implement in order to save the planet.
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High levels of pollution, inadvertent use of natural resources, and adverse effects of climate change have led to a gradual collapse of our environment. 

One of the major reasons is unsustainable business and industrial methods. Right from dumpimg harmful pollutants into rivers or treating waste unscientifically, we have let this go on for way longer than it should have. 

Unsustainable business practices have been contributing to environmental degradation.

However, there are several ways in which aspiring entrepreneurs and founders can go green, use recycled raw materials, and save energy. It has been seen that business using sustainable methods are delivering more than just profits. Consumers and users are also willing to pay more for products and services committed to ensuring a positive environmental impact.

That said, SocialStory has compiled a list of profitable eco-friendly business ideas you can start with a low investment. 

Setting up an organic store

Following an increased awareness for healthy and holistic living, the organic products market is seeing a high demand. Although, a slew of organic grocery chains and personal care outlets already exist across many cities in India, there cannot be enough. As an organic product manufacturer, you can choose to offer a variety of goods like skin care products, pet supplies, snacks, and food items.

A store selling organic fruits, vegetables and groceries.

All you need to do:  secure the required licences and permits, put together a few sources of funds, look for an appropriate location (you can even rent out a space for anywhere between Rs 10,000 to 1 lakh), and hire a bunch of people to manage it. 

Recycling waste

Though the concept of circular economy is new in India, it is starting to pick up. It consists of eliminating trash as much as possible, while identifying innovative ways to recycle and compost it. This is precisely where waste recycling businesses step in. 

But, before you start,  it is important to conduct some market research to narrow down on the items that you intend to recycle. The options are infinite – aluminium scrap, batteries, textiles, papers, construction waste and plastics, to name a few. 

Women segregating and processing waste to be recycled.

Aluminium, the second most recycled metal globally, is a good business proposition. Batteries, on the other hand, have a great market owing to their constituents like zinc, lithium ion, and lead. Paper and plastic are made of different grades and can be recycled into a plethora of useful things. Construction waste is also churned out in plenty and materials such as concrete, plaster, and insulation are recyclable in one form or another. 

According to the opportunity you pick, you will have to choose the location, procure machinery, equipment, and other tools of operation. 

Making clothes from plastic

According to a report published by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2017, about 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in India every day. This roughly translates to a per capita consumption of 11 kilograms of plastic, on an average.

PET bottles and other single-use plastic items can be recycled to make clothes.

This can be attributed largely to single-use plastics in the form of bottles, bags, wrappers, and sachets. Although most of these products are non-biodegradable, they are recyclable. For example, plastic bottles once shredded, can be converted into chips and later made into yarn. The same yarn when woven turns into fabric. The last step includes stitching the raw pieces of cloth and using natural dyes on them.  

This business would only require capital investment made on land, machinery, and logistics. 

Upcycling furniture

If you have an eye for style and design, then this is the business for you. Upcycling furniture is all about acquiring worn out furniture from auction sites, thrift shops, etc, at reasonable rates and restyling or refurbishing it for a modern and chic feel. 

Old and rickety furniture being refurbished into new, modern ones.

The market for upcycled furniture is huge. While some might view the product as an antique, others might see it as an affordable alternative to well-designed furniture.  

The cost involved in establishing the business is quite less, and includes acquiring raw materials, getting a workplace, and hiring people like carpenters, designers, and sales executives.

Selling used books 

According to a report by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), about 3.5 to seven billion trees are cut down in the world every year for manufacturing paper, agricultural expansion, and timber harvesting. 

A man selling used books to customers.

While, a  lot of energy and green cover is lost during the course of making paper, it seems only right - and sustainable - to use old books rather than buy new ones. Opening up a retail store to sell used books is both a lucrative and thriving business. In addition to the brick-and-mortar model, a digital platform might also give an added leverage to tap the younger generation. 

Producing biofuels

Industries continue to remain one of the major contributors to pollution in India. According to the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), the country is the third largest fossil oil consumer in the world.

Biofuel, however, can work as an alternative to fossil fuels as it is obtained from plant and animal waste. Considered to be safe and environment-friendly, its production is dependent on the availability of jatropha oil or seeds. Hence, choosing a location where it is easily available is imperative. 

Biofuels are a good alternative to fossil fuels.

The production of biofuel requires methanol, jatropha oil, distilled water, hydrometer, weighing balance, conical flasks, funnels, cylinders, etc. Hence, apart from a processing facility, trade and explosive licences from the local municipal authority, and clearance from the Pollution Control Board is also required. 

Refurbishing electronic items

Many electronic items such as cell phones, tablets, laptops, televisions, stereos, video game consoles, among others are replaced once they are broken. However, you can make easy money from these discarded electronics by repairing them.

A broken cell phone being repaired to be sold in the market.

The discarded items can either be collected from residential colonies or local junkyards. Since most issues might be related to dirty circuit boards, broken cords or wires, you can hire an expert to fix them. Once refurbished, the products can be either be sold online or through other retailers and agents. Offering complete disclosure and a money back guarantee at the point of sale will also help establish credibility. 

Energy auditing 

An energy audit constitutes the analysis of cost and efficiency of energy usage within a company, by figuring out ways to minimise energy waste and make improvements.

An energy audit involves coming out with ways to minimise eneegy usage.

Energy audits require specialised and accredited personnel to help firms and industries overhaul redesign their energy flow. Hence, the business requires hiring individuals, identifying specific industries who might need the services, and later roping making them into the customer base. Profits can be pocketed on each audit in the form of a fixed fee. 

Offering eco-friendly toys 

Most toys available in the market are made from plastic that contain toxins. These toys are non-biodegradable and, when thrown away after use, have the potential to cause harm. 

Wooden toys are both safe and eco-friendly.

Making toys from green materials like wood, bamboo, and recycled plastic is not just safe and durable, but also, environmentally ethical. So, whether you want to set up a toy store and source products from elsewhere or manufacture them, you are likely to be successful. But, before you start, identifying play patterns, concepts and themes that children love is essential.

Retailing and installing solar panels 

According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), India ranks fifth in the renewable energy market. The demand for solar panels, both at homes and corporate locations, has been on the rise, since they hardly produce any emissions and are handy to use. The business entails conducting on-site surveys for potential installations, creating a solar plan, and installing panels. 

Solar energy, a renewable form of energy, is in great demand these days.

This kind of venture requires staff who are proficient in electrical work, construction, and solar energy. Some of the basic set of resources that you need to take into account for the smooth running of the venture are a reliable bunch of distributors, an office space, delivery vehicles to move panels, and a system to maintain licences and acquire insurance coverages.  

Once you have a steady stream of contracts and requests from customers, you can purchase panels in bulk and lower the per unit costs to make better profits.  

(Edited by Suman Singh)