ECOpreneuring: Work and Lifestyle in Alignment with Your Earth Mission (book review)

Editor’s note: John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist, the authors of Ecopreneuring: Putting Purpose and the Planet Before Profits, are both contributors to sustainablog and other GO Media network blogs. Despite our relationship, I was excited about their new book, and agreed to write a review. I’ll try not to let me relationship with John and Lisa get in the way of a fair and impartial assessment.

Putting Purpose and the Planet before ProfitsDitch high-paying (and high-stress) corporate careers for a Wisconsin farm house, a more sustainable lifestyle, a portfolio of small businesses, and much less money. Sound idyllic to some… and crazy to others. As I noted in my review of their earlier book, Rural Renaissance: Renewing the Quest for the Good Life, John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist made the jump from Chicago ad executives to rural bed and breakfast owners… and have never looked back. Their newest book, ECOpreneuring, focuses on how they continue to bring in income while creating a life centered on home, family, and environmental restoration, and provides guidance for others that want to recenter their careers and lifestyles around their environmental values.

Already, you should be able to tell that this is no ordinary business book — in fact, I’m not even sure I’d call it a “business book.” ECOpreneuring contains plenty of advice on starting a small, eco-conscious business, but the authors focus primarily on how entrepreneurial efforts can incorporate values and priorities beyond the bottom line. Lifestyle choices trump profit motives, but neither have to be sacrificed in order to create meaning and income.

That kind of positive thinking is repeated again and again throughout the book. Ivanko and Kivirist certainly don’t ignore the environmental and ecological challenges that we face, but choose to view them as opportunities for ecopreneurs. Climate change, ecological collapse, peak oil, and debt are characterized as “the Four Horsemen of Opportunity,” and the first section of the book is dedicated to the idea of building businesses that leverage these crises to entrepreneurial advantage. Case studies of green businesses appear throughout the book, illustrating that companies which choose to embrace environmental challenges as part of their missions can achieve financial success while remaining true to core values. (Disclaimer: Green Options Media is one of the companies profiled)

These concepts aren’t particularly new to anyone who’s read books by Paul Hawken, Ray Anderson, Andrew Winston, Hunter Lovins and others.Β  But Ivanko and Kivirist spend a relatively small amount of space on the argument for green business, and focus more on how individuals and families can use these concepts to build a lifestyle. Small is beautiful in their approach, as their small-scale initiatives provide ample income for a meaningful life. Value comes to them not only in the form of paychecks, but also in time spent on personal priorities. They’re able to raise their son without a sitter or daycare, participate in the life of their community, and travel to events and gatherings with others who share their outlook. Simplifying creates even more opportunities for income: adding solar panels and a wind turbine to their property, for instance, allows them make money on excess electricity generated. Their organic garden not only feeds the family and B&B guests, but also provides excess bounty they can sell. Travel allows them to network with other ecopreneurs that might want to hire them to consult, write, or take photographs.

In addition to sharing their own success, and the stories of others, ECOpreneuring is filled with practical information about starting and running a small green business. A potential ecopreneur will discover ideas on everything from bookkeeping to marketing, and the authors point to numerous other resources that will help you set up your company, and run your business without running afoul of tax codes, licensing agencies, or litigious competitors.

I really enjoyed this thoughtful, well-written book — a business book that’s inspiring and practical is hard to come by. Perhaps my only complaint about ECOpreneuring (and I think this says more about me than the authors) is the marketing focus on “cultural creatives” and the LOHAS demographic.Β  For many ecopreneurs, these will be natural markets, but I worry about the tendency to (intentionally or not) exclude audiences who don’t see eye to eye with us. But, again, I think that mostly speaks to my own “Earth Mission.”

In the book’s “Forward,” author and activist Bill McKibben claims that we need to “ask more of our economic life than we do at the moment. We need to demand not just growth (in fact, we’re probably already oversized). We need to ask also that the economy provide some chance at durability, and that it provide some shot at real satisfaction.” ECOpreneuring provides sensible, imaginative and proven strategies and tactics for doing more than just asking for these things… it lays out a blueprint for making health, happiness and abundance an integral part of the work we do.

More information, and extra goodies, available at the ECOpreneuring website.

Image source: New Society Publishers

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