Shel Horowitz

We need to think deeper than just sustainability—keeping things as they are—to regenerativity—making them better.


For over a decade, Shel Horowitz, a/k/a “The Transformpreneur (sm) has shown business how to go green affordably and effectively–and how to market that green commitment to win new customers, turn them into fans, and turn them into your ambassadors. He also shows consumers how to green their own lives while actually improving quality of life.

Inspired by his “impossible” success protecting a threatened local mountain forever, he’s recently expanded his focus to harness the profit motive as a powerful tool for turning hunger and poverty into abundance, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance–founding (aimed at the corporate world) and (for entrepreneurs). “Enlightened self-interest can get it done, while guilt and shame fail,” he says. He will happily help you reinvent your business to focus on helping society get beyond these seemingly intractable problems, and developing profitable products, services, and marketing that turns “impossible” into “what are we waiting for? Let’s get it done!”

As a profitability/marketing consultant, trainer, speaker, and copywriter, he can help you:
• Identify opportunities to create new social transformation products and services that fit in well with your existing skills and customer/fan base, create new revenue streams, and address one or more of these big issues
• More effectively market your existing green and social change products and services
• Develop lucrative win-win partnerships with businesses, nonprofits/NGOs, and community organizations that open up new markets, revenue streams, and credibility for your company

Shel has spoken in cities as far-flung as Davos, Istanbul, and Honolulu. His most popular talks are “Impossible is Not a Fact–It’s a Dare” and “Making Green Sexy.” He’s the author of ten books, including the long-running category bestseller Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green and his latest, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

It’s terrific that sustainability has finally become a mainstream business concept. Since I’ve been in both the marketing and environmental activism worlds since the early 1970s, I welcome that. But here’s the thing: sustainability is keeping things as they are—and that’s not enough for me. I think we need to think much bigger: to see business as a lever for making deep, systemic change, fixing problems like hunger and war that have plagued us for thousands of years. This would be regenerativity, not just sustainability. But in order for business to be that lever, owners and managers have to see the business case. Guilt and shame are terrible motivators, so I’m trying enlightened self-interest. As a speaker, writer, and consultant, I show business how to identify/create/market profitable offerings that turn hunger and poverty into abundance, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I get up around 6 a.m., start feeding the cat (a 20-minute process), check the morning HARO to see if reporters are looking for story sources that I can respond to, and then typically answer a few quick urgent emails and follow a few links to news, especially news at the intersection of the green business and social change worlds. Then I do my first exercise/reading shift of the day on my indoor bike or else go out to a yoga class, have breakfast while reading the paper, and start working either on a client project or on business development. I work in short bursts with lots of breaks all day long. If I’m not going out for the evening or having visitors, I’ll typically keep this pattern more or less until about 10 p.m. Then, for an hour or two, I do more exercise and reading. I generally get at least two hours a day of exercise, and at least an hour of that will be on the stationary bike, where I do most of my reading. I consistently read more than 80 books a year. Half an hour to an hour will be outside, if the weather is at all decent.

How do you bring ideas to life?

That process actually changed very dramatically a few years back. For most of my career, I would get an idea, let it simmer for a couple of days, and then boom, execute it. I’ve been known to get an idea, purchase a domain, and start writing the website all on the first day. I launched a successful environmental movement in two weeks, back in 1999.

But in 2013, with the help of a business coach, I had the insight that got me thinking much, much bigger. I realized that we’ve been going out about solving our biggest social and environmental problems all wrong, that there was a better way, and that business would be a key player.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Regenerative business: creating, repurposing, and marketing products and services that actually heal the world. While going green has become mainstream, as more and more businesses see that it can cut costs AND increase revenue, just going green is not enough. Where green was 20 or 30 years ago, the idea of regenerative business that makes the world better is today. Slowly, momentum is building for the idea that business has a major role to play in improving life for humans and other life forms, and can profit by doing this.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m a voracious reader and lifelong learner. I read at least 80 books a year, plus thousands of articles. This makes me much more able to consult with clients and show them opportunities. It helps me see both the “forest” (big picture) and the “trees” (small details). It also helps me discover solutions that worked in one industry and adapt/apply them to very different businesses and industries.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Combine your values into the value you provide. I would have focused on green and regenerative/social change businesses much earlier. They always influenced me, and they’ve been a part of my portfolio from the beginning. In fact, my first published articles, in 1972 as a 15-year-old high school junior, were about social change movements. But they didn’t become my point of differentiation until this century.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Business can heal the world while making good money. I find that often, profiting by doing the right thing can be *easier* than making money with the old single-bottom-line model that only focuses on short-term profit.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Seek out and build win-win partnerships. A key piece of my consulting is helping clients find the opportunities in getting in front of someone else’s audience, and creating win-win offers that make them attractive partners and show the prospective partner how the alliance will benefit. As one example, I got an author client in front of a major Hollywood director who was making a film that involved her life experience. She actually served as an informal script consultant and they rewrote and reshot a scene to make it historically accurate. This gave her some nice coattails when her book came out, and she was able to get lots of media attention, in her 80s.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

For more than 30 years, much of my marketing has focused on providing information in some way. I’ve attracted many clients by participating in Internet discussion groups as a source of sage advice—and then attracted more by encouraging those happy clients to share their wonderful experiences working with me in a post to the list. And of course, I attract clients by sharing information in the books and articles I write and the talks I give.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In 2014, when I first began to shift my business to focus on showing business how to identify/create/market profitable offerings that turn hunger and poverty into abundance, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance, one of the first things I did was organize a telesummit with 24 speakers. I put significant time and some money into this event, and it failed utterly. We were beset with technical troubles both in the teleseminar management software and in the design of the website, both of which could have been avoided by off-the-shelf solutions. Several of my marketing partners and even some of the speakers failed to honor their commitments to spread the word. One call didn’t record and had to be redone. And sales were just dismal. The interviews, even that early in my mental shift, were terrific, but they weren’t enough for the event to succeed.

A few of the many lessons I took away from this debacle: 1] Don’t reinvent the wheel; let other people make and correct the development errors. The heartaches you’ll save by not doing everything from scratch will more than make up for the money you pay upfront for off-the-shelf solutions. 2] If your business model relies on the actions of others, understand how you will ensure their parts get done. 3] Plan ahead—specifically, think more carefully about the steps you need to take and the order of taking them. 4] Make sure your timeframes are realistic. 5] If you’re too far out on the cutting edge, the world may not be ready for your message.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Build at least one regenerative profit center into your business: something that creates an income and/or savings stream while making a measurable contribution to the world. This will be different for every business, depending on skills, capabilities, interests, corporate culture, and other factors.

First, because having a higher purpose feels really good. Second, it creates a climate where people *want* to work for you: a highly motivated, energized, productive workforce. Third, it also creates consumer fans/evangelists for your brand. And because of #2 and 3, it can actually be more profitable. Given the choice between a brand that cares and one that doesn’t, if the product quality and service experience are equivalent, many customers will choose the socially conscious one. (I believe this is a key ingredient in Ben & Jerry’s ability to go head-to-head against Haagen-Dazs when H-D’s then-owner Pillsbury tried to force B&J’s out of supermarket freezers.)

As one example, several companies make and sell solar-powered LED lights that eliminate kerosene fire risk and toxic fumes, create economic opportunities both for the users and the sales and support team, and reduce carbon footprint all at the same time. One company in that business cited these statistics as of 5 years ago, which I cite in my award-winning tenth book Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World:
13,638,438 “lives empowered”
3,409,610 school-aged children reached with solar lighting
$275,817,462 saved in energy-related expenses
3,589,490,280 productive hours created for working and studying
656,952 tons of CO2 offset
10,115,224 kWh generated from renewable energy

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I spent about $100 in travel expenses to go from my home in Hadley, Massachusetts to the Responsible Business Summit: a conference in Brooklyn featuring sustainability leaders from many of the world’s major corporations. I moderated two panels and thus was exempt from the conference fee, and came back with more than 40 business cards.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

ScribblePost allows me to keep and retrieve random notes, on the cloud. It’s similar in function to Evernote, but whenever I’ve played with Evernote, I can’t figure out how to use it. I harness perhaps 1% of ScribblePost’s capabilities but am very glad to have it. It’s like a huge file drawer only with instant retrieval.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

When I started looking around for books that really synthesized the best thinking on making the business case for greening the planet AND improving conditions for the least fortunate, I found quite a few that addressed one or the other—but none that adequately covered both. So I wrote the book I was looking for. Twice since then, I’ve found that my book was not keeping pace with the huge progress we’ve been making in these areas. So I added enormous amounts of new information to each chapter, added some entirely new chapters, and re-published again under another name. The latest incarnation, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, is the best I’ve ever written OR read on this topic. Other people have also found it quite impressive; it’s been endorsed or has guest essays by such luminaries as futurist Seth Godin, Chicken Soup for the Soul co-creator Jack Canfield, Diet for a Small Planet author Frances Moore Lappe, Unstoppable/Unstoppable Women author Cynthia Kersey, Executive Director Joel Makower, and other leading lights in the business, environmental, and social change worlds. I think this is a book that could really change the whole way we think about business. It can empower people to take action because it shows how their actions make a difference.

What is your favorite quote?

I love this quote by Muhammad Ali so much I built my whole TEDx Talk and signature speech around it (I trust that if he said it now, he’d use a more gender-neutral word then “men”):
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.

Key learnings:

• We need to think deeper than just sustainability—keeping things as they are—to regenerativity—making them better
• Doing this can be an opportunity for business to lower costs and increase revenues—in other words, to be more profitable by doing the right thing
• Partnering with other organizations can expand your reach, impact, and success
• Mistakes and failures are opportunities to learn
• What most people think of as marketing (advertising, direct-mail, public relations, etc.) is a narrow subset; creative approaches to marketing can open up worlds of possibility


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