One of the biggest environmental problems in the world today is the way modern farmers raise the meat, milk, and eggs we eat. As sustainable agriculture guru Wendell Berry once observed, when we took animals off farms and put them onto feedlots, we replaced an elegant solution – crops feed animals and animal waste feeds crops — and divided it into two problems: a fertility problem on the farm, and a pollution problem on the feedlot. Today nitrogen fertilizer runoff from farm fields poisons waterways and contributes to a growing number of “dead zones” in lakes and oceans around the world, while “manure lagoons” and other waste treatment efforts on factory farms poison air for miles around, and sometimes seep into groundwater or overflow into streams, poisoning water supplies for nearby communities. Industrial animal agriculture is also responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions, the rise of some antibiotic resistant diseases, and more.
While some eco-conscious omnivores have turned to more sustainably raised meat, dairy, and eggs in an effort to reduce the environmental impact of their diets, many others have turned to the vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. A 2008 survey by Vegetarian Times found that 47% percent of respondents cited environmental concerns as a significant influence on their decision to become vegetarian or vegan. Today, studies have found that about 7% of Americans consider themselves to be vegetarian, and about 1% to be vegan. In addition, many eco-conscious Americans participate in “Meatless Mondays” or identify as “flexitarian,” a primarily vegetarian lifestyle. About 20-30% of Americans report that they regularly eat vegetarian meals.
This healthy and growing niche market offers many unique green business opportunities for creative entrepreneurs.
One of the most popular vegetarian business ideas is a vegetarian or vegan restaurant. Many vegetarian restaurants focus not only on creating healthy and delicious vegetarian meals, but also emphasize the use of organic, locally grown produce and other foods in order to reduce the environmental impact of their business even further. Within the larger vegetarian restaurant niche, there are many smaller niches available, including raw vegan cafes, vegan bakeries, vegetarian delis, and more.
Many vegetarian restaurants supplement their business with catering services for green events, such as vegetarian weddings, green business conferences, and similar, or cooking classes for people interested in learning more about vegetarian and vegan cookery. There is also a growing market for pre-prepared vegetarian foods, from frozen foods and boxed dinners to vegetarian food delivery and box lunch services.
Vegetarian and vegan grocers are another business idea that is growing in popularity, especially in areas with large vegetarian populations. Because many vegetarians and vegans prefer to avoid common additives such as gelatin, shopping in a traditional grocery store can be a time consuming process involving lots of label reading. Vegetarian and vegan grocers pre-screen their products for non-vegetarian ingredients, saving time and effort for their customers, and allowing them to support businesses that share their values at the same time. A unique niche within the vegetarian grocer market is the “vegetarian butcher.” One of the pioneers in the market, the Dutch De Vegetarische Slager has developed a line of high-end meat substitutes based on lupin! Lupin is a legume best known in the United States for its beautiful flowers. However, the plant’s yellow beans were once a popular food for the ancient Romans and make a realistically textured, high protein meat substitute.
Shopping for clothing is another potential minefield for vegans in particular. Many vegans choose not to use any animal products at all, including popular materials such as leather, wool, and silk. Unfortunately for the eco-conscious vegan, some of the most common alternatives, such as conventional cotton and plastic-based materials such as polyester and “pleather” aren’t very eco-friendly either. A vegan boutique specializing in stylish, comfortable, and eco-friendly alternatives such as organic cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo fiber, and recycled polyester could be a very successful addition to any local vegan community.
Similarly, many conventional beauty and body care products contain animal ingredients or are tested on animals in cruel laboratory experiments. If you enjoy creating homemade soaps, shampoos, lip balm, or other products, consider starting your own line of gentle yet effective cruelty-free vegan beauty and body care products.
More unique vegetarian business ideas can be found in the travel industry. Although less difficult than it was in the past, vegetarians sometimes have problems traveling thanks to the difficulty of finding restaurants with good vegetarian options in unfamiliar cities. For vegans, this can be further compounded by problems like down pillows or wool blankets in hotels or bed and breakfasts. Rather than give up their principles in order to travel, many vegetarians and vegans are starting to seek out vegetarian and vegan-friendly travel arrangements. Veg-friendly travel agencies, bed and breakfasts, tour guides, and travel directories are just a few of the cool business opportunities in this niche.
Finally, consider the health and fitness industry. Most vegetarians and vegans are very health conscious, but the conventional fitness industry often emphasizes the importance of animal-based protein sources for bodybuilders and other fitness gurus. Vegan gyms cater to the special needs of vegetarian and vegan athletes, and offer many other business opportunities as well, from vegan exercise videos to vegan workout wear.
If you are a passionate vegetarian or vegan and would-be green entrepreneur, these ideas will help you start a successful business while remaining true to your principles!