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Conversations with Today's Green Business Leaders

Tracy Coe
Tracy Coe
December 2010 —
Sustainable Toys for the Holidays

Hazelnut Kids; Traverse City, MI

Tracy Coe took over Hazelnut Kids, the green toy company, less than two years ago, and already she's been a finalist for Green America's People's Choice Award (for Green Business of the Year) not just once, but twice!

"Since being recognized by Green America, we’ve been contacted by other members [of Green America's Green Business Network], two of which were quite beneficial," says Tracy of her latest steps for sustainability, in cooperation with other green businesses. "Globe Guard Products sells recycled packing materials and we plan on incorporating them into our process next year. And NatureBag offers an 'all in one' kit for observing and enjoying nature, and we just recently added them to our store."

Below, Tracy tells us more about her most popular green toys for the holidays, and the green products that she can't live without.

Green America: What does your business do and what are your most popular products?

Playing with cars

Tracy Coe: Hazelnut Kids is an online resource for safe, natural, sustainable toys made by ethical people and businesses who share our philosophies on business and sustainability. Our office and warehouse are located in Traverse City, Michigan, and we ship anywhere in the U.S. Our most popular items are wooden toys and play kitchens, play silks, and natural art materials.


What makes your business "green"?

Tracy: Besides the fact that we only carry “green” toys, we strive to make every step in the retail process as sustainable as possible. We use recycled office paper, shipping materials, and gift wrap. We try to reuse all shipping boxes that make their way to us and we request as little packaging as possible from our vendors. Although we carry many toys from overseas, we source as many toys as possible from the U.S. and are always willing to replace an overseas-made toy with a comparable U.S. product. We also use as much drop shipping from our vendors as we can to eliminate a step in the shipping process. Everyone here at Hazelnut Kids lives a simple, sustainable life and is always looking for ways to incorporate conservation and eco-friendly practices into our business.


What did you do before you started your green business?

Kitchen toys

Tracy: Before Hazelnut Kids I was in the restaurant business. During that time I had two children (Jackson, age 7 and Ivy, age 5) and began reading obsessively about natural living. I became very particular about the toys that were coming into our home and was thrilled to find a local resource for safe, environmentally friendly toys. After being a loyal customer of Hazelnut Kids for several years, I received a phone call from the previous owner asking if I might be interested in purchasing the business. The rest is history.


What are some of the challenges of maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?

Tracy: I’ve had the business for only eighteen months so every day presents new challenges. It’s never hard to keep to our mission of providing safe, sustainable toys; however it can be hard to convince parents and grandparents to look beyond the higher prices and go for quality over quantity. I do feel that families are becoming better informed about the toxins in their homes and toys and are willing to seek out safer alternatives. As a bonus, our toys encourage imagination and don’t annoy everyone else in the house with flashing lights and techno voices.


What has been your proudest moment as a green business owner?

Waldorf doll

Tracy: I have to say my first proudest moment was making the Top Ten list for your Green Business of the Year, and my second proudest was making the list a second time. Being recognized as a truly green business means the world to us, and to know that our customers felt strongly enough about our purpose to take their time to nominate us makes us very proud. I do have to say also that sending a large check to my local land conservancy last year was quite rewarding to me. We donate 1 percent of all sales to land conservation and have one tree planted for every item sold.


What's inspiring you now in the green economy?

Tracy: What inspires me most is the growing demand for safer, simpler toys. My vision remains clear as I plan to continue offering the safest, most environmentally sustainable toys and encourage families to invest in more open ended play things that can be reused and saved for future generations.


What advice would you give to other green entrepreneurs just starting out?


Tracy: I tend to shy away from giving advice to others, but I will advise anyone to follow their conscience. You have to live with every decision you make and if you make every decision with a clear conscience, you can feel good about yourself and your business.


What green products (besides your own!) could you not live without?

Tracy: Two green products I couldn’t (wouldn’t) live without are my Prius (even in the Michigan snow) and my new indoor composter (precisely because of the Michigan snow!).


Read more interviews in the Archives »


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