UnknownLast spring while setting up a series of book talks around Iowa, I started to question this  fossil-fuel extravagant way to sell a few books—not to mention the cost of gas. Then my publisher fired off an email, “Create an online presence and market your book that way.”

Gulp. Even though I wrote website copy for a living, learning how to set up my own site felt daunting. But determined to finally enter the digital age, I attended a free Internet marketing seminar by three consultants based in Fairfield: Ellen Finkelstein, Phyllis Khare, and Lee Leffler.

From the tools and strategies they shared, I was able to create a blog and social media campaign to market my books—without driving my car or printing a single flyer. In other words, I suddenly went greener and reached a wider audience, too.

Going Paperless

Of course, virtually everyone who uses a computer is moving toward a paperless, greener business model. But some, such as Ellen, Phyllis and Lee, are forging ahead, using cutting-edge technologies to reduce the use of fossil fuels in a variety of ways: working at home to avoid a commute, training clients using webinars instead of traveling to on-site seminars, creating e-books and e-courses instead of paper-based products, and marketing their services using social media and email.

“The information economy is a paperless, green economy, if it’s structured correctly,” notes Lee, who calls herself “The Newsletter Gal” and writes e-newsletters, websites, and blogs for organizations such as the Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation.

For Lee, establishing a green business was a lifelong dream. Inspired by Ralph Nader as a student, she founded a still-running eco-radio show in 1989, but it wasn’t until 2005 that she was finally able to realize her dream.

“Back then most businesses were still using paper newsletters and wasting trees,” says Lee. She positioned herself as a green entrepreneur, helping businesses market with e-newsletters to save resources. She joined Green America and landed a coveted spot in the Green America National Green Pages. Today she continues to pursue a green agenda, participating in a recycling program, running her website from carbon-neutral EcoHosting, and working from a home office to eliminate commuting.

Ellen Finkelstein found another way to switch to a paperless business model—by writing e-books. A best-selling technology author of numerous paperback titles such as AutoCAD 2010 & AutoCAD LT 2010 Bible and How to Do Everything with PowerPoint 2007, she has racked up combined sales of over 300,000 and seen her books translated into 14 different languages.

She wrote her first e-book two years ago because she wanted to reduce paper waste and create products that were more environmentally friendly.

“When you think of the trees used in paper books, the carbon fuels used in shipping, and the costs and energy involved in running a bricks-and-mortar publishing house, traditional publishing is a very 20th-century institution,” says Ellen. “I still update two of my print books each year, but I like the idea of having more editorial control with e-books, and by cutting out publishing and shipping costs, you retain a larger portion of the profits.”

Reducing Fossil Fuel Use

For Phyllis Khare, going greener came with a sudden career move. In the midst of a 12-year stint touring Iowa schools on the Iowa Arts Council roster as “Miss Phyllis,” a children’s music educator, she decided to take time off to indulge another passion: exploring web technologies. Today she has reduced her commute to a few steps—working from her home office as a consultant specializing in web design, Internet marketing, and social media.

“According to one survey, businesses using social media such as Facebook and Twitter reaped 24% more profits than those who used conventional, direct-mail advertising in 2010,” she says. “And the use of the earth’s resources is much less.”

Even though her clients are scattered around the country, Phyllis holds business meetings using video Skype and screen-sharing programs—and trains others to do the same. Ellen also uses webinars to train professionals to give presentations online.

“There’s a synergy of factors—saving money and saving the environment—that is creating a huge demand in online training instead of flying presenters long distances,” Ellen says. “And of course, this is a perfect situation for someone who lives in Iowa, to be able to train professionals anywhere in the world without leaving your home.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, April 2010. Reprinted with permission.)