What a long strange trip its been....

From conventional to social entrepreneur

I just got off the phone with Michael Strong, owner of Greenhaus Builders, Houston's leading green builder.

Michael has been in the building and remodeling industry for over 20 years. Several years ago he decided to make the move from a standard remodeler to a green builder. This is no simple task. The market and societal forces were clearly against him at the time. This is long before building green was hip.

Even more difficult, in his area a semi-custom new built home can cost under $100 per square foot, and the work he is doing costs double that. What kind of challenges do you think a person committed to doing the right thing might have when the market is screaming at him to keep doing it the old way?

The answer stunned me.

The biggest problem in his conversion (which is still underway) has not been getting enough customers. It has been from resistance internally with his employees and subcontractors.

People are so entrenched in the old ways of doing things they simply resist any change. “People like the idea of going green when they just have to listen to stories and see product presentations. They are always right with me to drive me to the airport and see me off on my adventures. But when the rubber meets the road and they actually have to do something different than what they are used to, their enthusiasm quickly wanes.” Michael told me.

This to me is a classic problem faced by the new social entrepreneurs. These are the people taking big risks to do the right thing; the people sensing a change in consciousness that is moving markets and communities large and small and putting their money where their heart is.

For social entrepreneurs resistance can come from the most unexpected places, like our own employees and subcontractors that will actually benefit from the change. Support and good news can also shower the social entrepreneur with nice surprises. Like when legions of like-minded people are discovered and wanting to give support (and spend their money) that had never been heard. The feeling is as if there were thousand of people out there alone, and all of a sudden they are given a voice. Its those surprises that keep the fire burning.

There are signs that things are getting better for the social entrepreneur, even though being one can sometimes be a lonely and difficult struggle.

For all its good and bad points, the World Economic Forum is a place where the big decision makers on world issues in business and politics meet and trends are discussed. A few years ago sustainability was a fringe topic. Now it is one of the six formal “pillars” of the event.

It’s one more step on a very long but worthwhile trip. That and getting our subcontractors to do what the customer asks for.