Thursday, November 15, 2007

Idealism, marketing drives companies to go green

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Caleb Ludwick, Tricycle, Inc. -Download MP3-

Steve Arnsdorff, found
of CS & Associates

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By Emily Bregel
Staff Writer

Forks made from potatoes, water faucet aerators and compact florescent lighting have all been on Susan Moses' mind lately.

The owner of 212 Market restaurant in downtown Chattanooga said she has been consumed by the research and preparations needed to get her restaurant certified by the nonprofit Green Restaurant Association.

"I think I've opened Pandora's box with it," Ms. Moses said. "It certainly hasn't been the easiest thing to do."

On April 19, 212 Market became the first business in the state to get the title of "green restaurant," though eco-friendly additions will be continually added to operations, Ms. Moses said.

The business now uses only biodegradable to-go ware made from corn, sugar or potatoes instead of Styrofoam. New attachments on water faucets cut the water flow by 75 percent, to a half-gallon per minute. Accelerated hand dryers dry hands in seconds and use 80 percent less energy than typical dryers, plus cost 90 percent less than paper towels.

Two-Twelve Market is one of a number of Chattanooga businesses making strides toward instituting environmentally responsible operations and promoting them.

FINACIAL COMMITMENT

It hasn't been cheap.

Total investments in 212 Market's green effort have been upward of $8,000, including a $3,375 three-year contract fee with the GRA. In exchange, GRA provides support including publicity and consulting for restaurants it certifies.

Ms. Moses said 212 Market could save over $1,700 in operational costs in the next year, making the changes a good decision from both a marketing and an economic standpoint.

"I think getting the PR points for this is really a wonderful thing," she said. "I think not only will we be making somewhat of a difference, but hopefully other people will look at us and maybe we can lead them down the same road."

Chattanooga, formerly known for having the dirtiest air in America in the late 1960s, is now home to a variety of environment-minded projects sponsored by the city and private groups such as the Lyndhurst Foundation.

J.Ed. Marston, a Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce vice president, said there's a growing sense among many businesses that it is proper, and also a way of generating good revenues, to follow environmentally friendly practices.

"There are consumers who are more interested in green solutions, and I really think that's matched in many cases by a sense of mission among businesspeople, not to just meet customer demands, but out of their own sense of environmental appropriateness," he said.

Though some area businesspeople say a more widespread awakening to environmental issues is coming to Chattanooga, others contend a real commitment to them is lacking.

Many green campaigns amount to little more than a deceptive marketing strategy known among activists as "greenwashing," said Mark McKnight, Rock Creek Outfitters' creative director.

"It's when a business starts to realize their customers care about the environment so they try to figure out how they can look like they care about the environment in the easiest way possible," he said. "But so long as the market continues to demand (environmental responsibility), they're going to be held accountable."

NUDGING THE CARPET INDUSTRY

Although green makeovers are not yet in the mainstream, words like "sustainability" and "green building" have entered the lexicon of area consumers and businesspeople alike, local entrepreneurs said.

"Three years ago, we didn't even know to call ourselves sustainable," said Caleb Ludwick, communications director for Chattanooga-based Tricycle Inc. The company offers environmentally efficient alternatives to carpet manufacturers, who spend $1 billion each year on carpet samples alone, Tricycle says.

"The idea of 'eco-chic' was really young. The last three years has been, 'Hey, let's get the word out.' At this point what we're realizing is -- it's kind of worked."

Tricycle President Jonathan Bragdon said the company had double-digit growth since it was founded in 2002.

Tricycle uses simulation tools to create recycled paper prints or digital carpet samples for clients. The samples are cheaper to ship, or accessible online, as compared to traditional samples which can contain almost a quart of petroleum each, said Bo Barber, a 17-year carpet industry veteran.

Last year, Mr. Barber founded Nood Floorcovering in Dalton, Ga., which sells only eco-preferable floorcoverings and works with Tricycle's simulation technology.

In the carpet industry, which has a huge base in Dalton, many clients are environmentally conscious interior designers, Mr. Barber said. He hopes his company's competitive edge on the eco-friendly side will cause a shift in what he said is a frustratingly wasteful carpet industry.

"If my company is successful, it will force the other companies in my industry to start to move in my direction," he said. "The amount of carpet I sell that's green will be dwarfed by the (green) sales at the major players like Shaw and Mohawk, if what I'm doing helps shift them in that direction. It will be monumental in the impact on the environment."

 TAKING THE "LEED"

In Chattanooga, construction is under way on the city's first certified environmentally friendly, mixed-use development at Two North Shore on Manufacturers Road.

The 95,000-square-foot development, which will include a Greenlife Grocery store and Rock Creek Outfitters, is "LEED" certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program of the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED provides standards for green construction in operation, including site development, water savings, energy efficiency and materials selection. Some of the efforts at Two North Shore include collecting rainwater off the roof for irrigation, and using building materials purchased within 500 miles of the site, decreasing the energy spent on transport.

Among construction workers and developers, the LEED concept is becoming increasingly familiar, said Steve Arnsdorff, founder of CS & Associates, who worked with Chuck Pruett of Greenlife to develop Two North Shore.

"I think (LEED) is become a buzzword in this town, in just 18 months, which is very cool," Mr. Arnsdorff said. " 'Green' was always something that didn't really have any real application to our business, because what did it really mean? But LEED gives you something. It gives you criteria to shoot for."

Mr. Arnsdorff said the cost to build the multimillion-dollar development, likely to open in September, is probably a 1 percent to 2 percent higher for an entry-level LEED classification, though he wouldn't indicate how.

"You have to jump through a lot of hoops, but it's not something that is tremendously more expensive. You just have to plan better, think about where the sun is, think about your window shading," he said. "It's more being conscientious about your thought process."

Mr. McKnight of Rock Creek Outfitters said the outdoor store's customers and employees are all too aware of pollution's damage to the environment and it's only natural they would make an effort to make their business more eco-friendly.

"It's surprising how far in the back country you can get and just see trash," he said. "We're kind of the canary in the coal mine, in a lot of ways, because we're some of the first people who see the damage that's being done to the environment."

Last year, Rock Creek joined vendor Prana's natural power initiative, committing to pay about 15 percent more on its power bill to match the projected cost of using renewable wind power. The power company then uses those funds to purchase energy generated from wind, which makes greener the electricity grid that serves all homes and businesses.

Rock Creek also chooses suppliers who are conscious of where their materials and products come from and is working to use only recycled paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a guarantee that the trees used did not come from endangered forests.

"I'm hoping that it actually has started to reach a little bit of the tipping point, to the point where it becomes less cost-prohibitive to do a lot of these things, where there's enough demand in the marketplace where FSC-certified paper just becomes the norm," Mr. McKnight said.

"Green" alternatives have piqued the interest of dozens of Chattanooga small businesses and individuals, Mr. Bragdon said.

Rock Creek has organized a monthly networking event called "Green Drinks," which drew 50 environmentally concerned businesspeople at its last meeting, Mr. Bragdon said.

"It keeps getting bigger," he said.

E-mail Emily Bregel at ebregel@timesfreepress.com


Staff Photo by Brandon Smith
Susan Moses, owner and chef at 212 Market, holds to-go cutlery made out of corn and potatoes that the restaurant uses for its carry-out orders.

 

 

 

 

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