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Economic action to promote just and sustainable purchasing

Green Business Member Profiles 2007

The Certified Jean Co.

Certified JeansWhen Levi-Strauss moved its last US-based blue-jeans plant to Mexico in 2004, company spokespeople insisted that such outsourcing was an unfortunate necessity for businesses to survive.

The Certified Jean Co. respectfully disagrees. Since 1999, Certified Jean has manufactured men’s and women’s blue jeans right here in the United States, without a thought of moving overseas. From the cotton grown in Texas and California, to the fabric milled and manufactured in North Carolina, to the final dyeing of the jeans that takes place in Certified Jean’s home-base of Seattle, their blue jeans are 100-percent home-grown. All that, and they’re made with organic cotton besides.

“Pesticides harm the land, our water, and the workers in the field,” says David Davison, General Manager. “We want to support the land our cotton is grown on, and keep it from getting polluted.”

In addition to protecting workers in the field, Certified Jean Co. commits to supporting workers along its supply chain. Company representatives personally visit and inspect the jeans’ manufacturing facilities, ensuring that the company is contracting with plants that offer their workers a safe and friendly work environment in a clean, well-lit, and properly ventilated factory. Certified Jean Co. even pays a premium to their contracted factories to ensure that anyone sewing a pair of Certified Jeans is making well above the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

“We can’t guarantee what anyone makes when they’re sewing for others, but anyone sewing for us makes at least $10 an hour,” says Davison. “If that’s not what the factory’s paying, then they get the rest of their pay from us in the form of bonuses.”

Right now, Certified Jeans offers natural-colored, undyed jeans as well as more traditional navy and indigo jeans colored with low-impact dyes. Starting later in 2007, the company intends to offer organic cotton, button-down women’s shirts in a range of natural, undyed colors that derive their white, beige, brown, or greenish hue from the cotton itself.

“The shirts will be an environmental product and a fair-wage product as well,” says Davison. “And they’ll be made here in the US, just like our jeans.” .

—Andrew Korfhage

Peace Coffee

CoffeeLike many of our readers, Nick Johnson rides his bike to work every day. Unlike most of us, however, he rides 40 miles when it’s 15°F below zero outside.

Johnson bikes six hours a day, delivering fairly traded Peace Coffee around Minneapolis, MN, to local co-ops and food markets, even in the freezing winter. “Every day I encounter people who seem concerned about the rationality of my chosen profession,” Johnson admits. But he stays committed to Peace Coffee’s motto: “Pedal Not Petrol.”

Peace Coffee started as an experiment by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) to test if Minneapolis had a market for Fair Trade coffee. IATP, a nonprofit working to protect family farms around the world and confront globalization, wanted to put some of its ideas into action. So in 1996, it marketed Fair Trade coffee sold under the name Guatemalan Peace Coffee.

Melanee Meegan, Fair Trade and Marketing Coordinator, explains, “We want to see farmers being treated fairly in the same way we’d want ourselves to be treated.” Peace Coffee buys its coffee from cooperatives in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Ethiopia, Peru, and Sumatra. Through the Fair Trade system, coffee producers receive a living wage for their product, so wealth is not just accumulated by the few but is shared in a more equitable manner.

Fortunately for the farmers, IATP’s experiment was a success. Today, Peace Coffee sells 17 different kinds of Fair Trade coffee, such as Sumatran Italian roast and Guatemalan dark roast. Its offices are located in the Phillips Eco-Enterprise Center, a green commercial building that houses only green businesses.

The facility also sits next to a bike path, which comes in handy for the company’s signature bike deliveries. In 2004, Peace Coffee added a van to their delivery options to service the surrounding suburbs, and it runs on 100 percent biodiesel.

Peace Coffee sponsors a 45 person bicycling team, the Peace Coffee Racers, which includes many of its employees. Every summer, the team tours around the state to hold races and raise awareness about Fair Trade. Because of its strong Fair Trade ties, the company organized quickly to help its farmer suppliers in Guatemala rebuild after the hurricanes last year. In October 2006, four employees traveled to Xela, Guatemala, with Habitat for Humanity to build two houses near the city of San Marcos after Hurricane Stan’s destruction. For four days, the employees laid concrete blocks and worked closely with members of the coffee-growing community to rebuild their homes.

Andy Lambert, Demo and Outreach Coordinator, says, “It was something that we will never forget, working along side people who have experienced so much tragedy, yet made us feel so welcome.”

—Aditi Fruitwala

Momma's Baby

Momma's BabyMomma’s Baby owner Lori Lee Helman has always been mindful of environmental issues. But in 1999, when she became pregnant with her first child, Lori says, “My eyes opened a lot more to the need to keep harmful chemicals away from my baby.”

Her first step was to investigate cloth diapering. Unfortunately, she says, “I had a doctor who initially talked me out of using cloth diapers. He had no idea about the health and environmental impacts of disposables.”

She followed her doctor’s advice at first after her son Nathanael was born, but also started doing research about disposable diapers. “What I read alarmed me,” she said. “I found out about studies that linked disposable diapers to male sterility later in life. I also learned about the environmental implications of single-use disposable diapers and how they just sit in landfills when you throw them away. I thought, ‘That’s it. I no longer want him in disposables.’ I immediately put him into cloth diapers, and it was the best decision I ever made.”

Delighted at the absorbency and convenience of today’s cloth diapers (“No pins!”), Lori wanted to share what she had learned with others. She started Momma’s Baby, a Web based company she runs out of her Allentown, PA, home, selling cloth diapers and diapering accessories ten months after Nathanael was born, adding other natural products as she researched and tested things for her son.

Today, Lori has three children (with one more on the way!), and Momma’s Baby offers over 400 natural and organic products for cloth diapering, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and baby care—from organic teething toys to all-natural baby sunscreen to organic cotton nursing pads. She soon plans to start manufacturing her own hemp organic cotton and hemp-silk baby bedding line, providing custom bedding ensembles for cribs and Moses baskets. All products will be made in the US by responsible factories that care for their workers and the environment.

To make things even more convenient for parents-to-be who want to surround their babies with all things organic, Momma’s Baby offers a gift registry program.

Lori herself is a walking resource on organic parenting. “I love telling people about organic baby care, and I’m also a big advocate for the benefits of breastfeeding. I practice co sleeping and attachment parenting,” she says. “I’m also homeschooling.” She offers plenty of articles on the above topics on the Momma’s Baby Web site, and she plans to launch a series of online and in-person classes very soon to teach others about the things she’s so passionate about.

What else can this busy mom fit into her schedule? A dream to grow Momma’s Baby into the green version of Babies ‘R’ Us, so people across the country can have easy access to organic baby care products. “It’s so important for moms and babies to have things that are organic and good on their bodies. My stores would have all of those
organic products and a section for moms to read and nurse, and classes going on. It’d be so great,” she says.

—Tracy Fernandez Rysavy

New Belgium Brewing

New Belgium BrewingJeff Lebesch was already a homebrewer of beer when he set off on a bike trip across Europe in 1986. Belgium’s famous beers inspired Jeff to duplicate their flavors once he returned home. He produced an amber ale and a brown dubbel (a darker “double ale”) named, respectively, Fat Tire and Abbey in honor of his trip, and won rave reviews from friends and relatives for their flavors.

In 1991, Jeff and his wife, Kim Jordan, decided that their basement brewing operation was ready to go commercial. With Jeff brewing, Kim handling marketing and distribution, and their son Zack helping the two of them with bottling, the family business started off distributing to a few local bars and liquor stores and expanded their client list as their beers’ following grew. Since Jeff was an engineer and Kim a social worker, they prioritized efficiency and social responsibility right from the start.

When New Belgium’s growth allowed them to move it into its own building, they went green—their facility maximizes daylighting, uses motion sensors to reduce electricity use, reuses the heat used in brewing, and draws cool Colorado winter air in from outdoors to chill the beer. Recycling goes beyond bottles and paper to include turning spent grains (the part of the grain left over once its sugars have been extracted for beer) into cattle feed, and keg caps into table surfaces.

In 1998, New Belgium’s employees voted to dip into their bonus pool to start meeting their facility’s needs with wind-generated electricity from their local utility company. Having addressed that resource need, they then turned their attention to water, which is a major concern in Western states. In 2002, New Belgium completed its own process water treatment facility, which uses bacteria in a series of ponds to remove organic waste from the water and produce methane—which is then pumped back into the building to generate heat and electricity for brewing.

“It’s not just what we produce, it’s how we produce it,” explains New Belgium media director Bryan Simpson. “Caring for the environment is part of our workplace culture.” Simpson recalls the employee vote on whether to switch to wind power, which cost an additional 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour and would require the company to use money earmarked for employee bonuses. “We were about to vote, and I thought it would be a close vote. But then I looked around, and everyone was giving it the thumbs up.”

—Liz Borkowski

Greenmaker Supply

Greenmaker SupplyWhen Greenmaker Supply won one of the 2006 Innovate Illinois prizes awarded to the state’s most innovative small businesses, the green home-improvement retail store was not even a year old yet.

The store was a perfect fit for Chicago, a city where the mayor’s very public commitment to green principles includes a 2004 executive order that Chicago’s new public buildings must be built with eco-friendly designs and materials. Greenmaker Supply helps homeowners make that commitment, too.

“Green building is something I’ve always been interested in,” says co-founder Ori Sivan, who has a master’s degree in environmental engineering. “Business is the biggest engine for innovation, and while I could have gone into engineering or academics, I thought the thing to do was start a green business.”

After having trouble finding a source for low-VOC paint for his own home, Sivan decided to create a green remodeling business. He joined forces with his childhood friend Joe Silver, who had already worked in his family’s remodeling supply company for 15 years. Silver saw it as an opportunity to diversify his family’s business into an emerging market segment he believes in, so together, Sivan and Silver began leasing a showroom and warehouse from the Silver family business.

From those beginnings, Greenmaker Supply was born, making it easier for homeowners in the Chicago area to make eco-friendly choices when remodeling their homes. In addition to the low-VOC paint that had been so difficult for Sivan to find in his home city, Greenmaker offers low-flow bathroom fixtures, solar water heaters, cork and bamboo flooring, energy-efficient windows, and more. Sivan points out that even small, often- overlooked items like everyday adhesives have green counterparts, made from bio based materials like soy or linseed oil instead of petroleum or toxic chemicals. Such ingredients are far more likely to benefit local US economies, he says.

“I try to get information like that in front of people who might be the least likely to be our clients,” says Sivan. “These are issues for anybody. Everybody wants to create jobs in local economies, everybody wants nature, nobody likes toxins, and our business wants to have an impact on all that. The world we live in is defined by the business we do.”

—Andrew Korfhage

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