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Green Business Member Profiles 2009
Mountain Rose Herbs
If you’ve ever lathered up a bar of soap from one of the many body care companies in the National Green Pages™, there’s a good chance you’ve enjoyed the natural aromas and healing properties of herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs. The Eugene, OR, based company supplies ingredients to many manufacturers of natural body care products and herbal remedies. And it also sells hundreds of types of organically grown herbs, spices, essential oils, and herbal teas to its own customer base and to countless natural food stores throughout the US.
Mountain Rose Herbs was founded in 1987 by herbalist and educator Rosemary Gladstar, who began a home business mail-order herb shop intended to supply herbs to her students. The business was later acquired by Julie Bailey, a former student of Gladstar’s, who still serves as Mountain Rose Herbs’ managing director. The business outgrew Bailey’s home in 2001, which was a turning point for the company, as Bailey and her team decided to scale up.
“The difference between Mountain Rose Herbs just ten years ago and the Mountain Rose Herbs we now know today is enormous,” says Shawn Donille, operations manager. “We opted for immediate changes in how we were structured, what we offered, and how we offered it.”
In addition to moving to a larger location, the folks at Mountain Rose Herbs increased the variety of products they offered, built a full-service Web site, and instituted a “strictly organic” rule for their products. From the start, Mountain Rose Herbs was committed to protecting the environment and supporting sustainable agriculture, but since 2001, the company has only sold organically grown products.
“The commitment we made in 2001 basically forbade any conventionally grown materials from entering our warehouse, and it is still in effect to this day,” says Donnille.
In addition to supporting organic agriculture, Mountain Rose Herbs is committed to supporting ethically sourced products. It was one of the first companies in the US to carry Fair Trade Certified™ herbs, like chamomile and hibiscus, and it works directly with growers to ensure that all its herbs and spices are grown under fair labor standards providing a living wage.
And Mountain Rose Herbs is a green business through and through, as evidenced through its daily operations. With full-time staff dedicated to helping the company go zero waste though reclamation, recycling, and re-distribution, the company—which has a staff of 60 full-time employees and over 40,000 square feet of operations space—produces only 80–100 gallons of trash per month, equivalent to the waste generated by an average household of four people. In addition, the Mountain Rose Herbs commercial fleet of trucks runs on locally produced biodiesel made from used vegetable oil.
Growing from a small in-home business to a national distributor of organic products, Mountain Rose Herbs has proven that a company can go to scale while protecting the Earth and providing living wages to farmers. And since joining the Green Business Network™ in 1992, Mountain Rose Herbs employees have used Green America resources to help them achieve their goals of environmental sustainability.
“When we were in our early stages of development, we relied on the information shared through Green America to help bring us closer to our environmental initiatives,” says Donille. “With this information we truly feel we have succeeded, so many thanks to all the folks at Green America!”
In 1991, Cheryl Hahn founded Tomorrow’s World, a catalog company that supplied a wide range of green products, from solar panels to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). When Cheryl began seeing CFLs at hardware stores across the country, she concluded that “tomorrow’s world is here today” and re-named the company Organic Comfort Zone.
The company now specializes in manufacturing organic and chemical-free bedding, clothing, and mattresses made in the USA. Tomorrow’s World lives on as the name of the e-commerce Web site, to provide long-time customers with a sense of familiarity. Simplicity and comfort are more than an afterthought to Organic Comfort Zone designers.
“We spend a third of our life in bed, and the body is vulnerable in sleep. Out of all the rooms you live in, this is one you can truly make into your own bubble. Bedding is your sanctuary,” says Hahn.
Conventional mattresses and bedding have a surprising number of chemicals that can be toxic. Bedding fabrics are often treated with wrinkle-, flame-, stain-, and moth-resistant finishes that off-gas carcinogenic formaldehyde and perfluorochemicals (PFCs), which are linked to cancer and hormone disruption. Conventional mattresses are sometimes treated with polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are neurotoxins. And nylon and polyurethane foam mattresses are known to off-gas volatile organic compounds, which have been linked to developmental damage and other ill health effects. Water- and stain-proof mattresses can off-gas formaldehyde as well.
“The easiest place to escape industrial chemicals is your bedroom,” says Hahn. “Strip the carpet; buy a healthy mattress, and organic pillows and comforters.”
Hahn has been alarmed to see some misleading “green” bedding products on the market. If a mattress has an organic cotton face but three or four inches of synthetic latex and petro-chemical filler, it can still be advertised as “natural” and “organic.” But Organic Comfort Zone promises mattresses made of third-party-certified organic and eco-smart materials.
In addition, the company’s manufacturing facilities run on geothermal power, and it’s laying the groundwork to add wind turbines and solar panels, as well. Hahn and her crew have always been serious about authenticity and accountability, which is why they value their relationship with Green America and the Green Business Network™.
“We were everything eco to everybody at a time when there were very few green stores across the country,” she says of her company’s beginnings. “Green America worked with us and inspired us.”
With the aim of helping people “chill out naturally,” Organic Comfort Zone has Hahn’s very personal motivation behind its work. “I want people to feel the way I do when I go into my room every night,” says Hahn. “I feel so safe; I just know everything is pure and wonderful. That is my passion and what drives me.”
In the Peruvian Amazon, farmers belonging to the Pangoa Cooperative recently built a hydro-plant to supply electricity to their entire community. This electrification project was made possible by the living wages they earned selling Fair Trade coffee to Alter Eco and others.
Through wholesale operations based in San Francisco, Alter Eco sells a range of Fair Trade products to more than 1,500 stores in all 50 states and directly to consumers online. Products include an assortment of coffee, chocolate, rooibos tea, quinoa, hearts of palm, and jasmine rice, sourced from Fair Trade co-ops throughout the global South.
“We see ourselves as a door, an outlet for groups of marginalized farmers,” says Edouard Rollet, co-founder of Alter Eco America. “We bring together small-scale producers with consumers who want food of good quality and who are concerned with where their food is coming from and how it is made.”
Not only does Fair Trade ensure that producers earn a fair, living wage for their goods, but it puts more control in their hands—not in the hands of corporate interests. Fair Trade certification ensures that small-scale farmers and artisans work under safe, healthy conditions and earn enough to meet their needs and improve their communities. Fair Trade also means producers receive the
training and resources needed to preserve their local environment.
Part of a sister organization based in France, Alter Eco America was founded in 2005 by Edouard Rollet and Mathieu Senard. Rollet was working for UNICEF at the time, and Senard had previously worked in an orphanage in Cambodia, and they had both witnessed what Fair Trade could do for communities in the developing world.
“Even though the US is three or four years behind Europe in terms of awareness and development of Fair Trade, it is already one of the largest Fair Trade markets in the world,” says Rollet. “Everyone is looking at what’s going on in the US to follow. And that’s why we thought it was a key market for us to launch Alter Eco.”
Today, Alter Eco works directly with 42 co-ops in 35 countries in Africa, South America, and Asia.
“We know all the farmers,” says Rollet. “Our goal is to keep the value added in the community that makes the goods.”
And for Alter Eco, this means personally auditing and following up with the co-ops to ensure that they and their communities are benefiting. The company’s products are also independently certified by TransFair USA. Rollet says he has personally seen how the Fair Trade premium allows many co-ops to reinvest in their communities. Kuapa Kokoo, a cocoa cooperative in Ghana, used its profits to build a water well. The Kadhaar rice co-op in India recently built a road. In Sri Lanka, the Small Organic Farmers Association just purchased a truck to help them more quickly and easily gather the tea harvest.
In fact, he notes, “the core of our consumers are Green America members. They’re spreading the word to less-informed consumers.”
When not taking care of day-to-day business matters, Rollet and Senard can often be found explaining the Fair Trade system to the media and customers.
“Consumers have much more power than they think,” Rollet says. “We need people to ask for more Fair Trade products, and as they ask, we can bring more products to market.”
For years, sewing enthusiasts, including Tara Bloyd and her mother Winnie Culp, couldn’t find organically grown supplies for their sewing projects. Not only organic fabrics, but other sewing needs, including organic thread, batting, natural buttons, and specialty items like snap tape were either difficult to find or weren’t on the market at all. (Snap tape is a ribbon of fabric with snaps pre-set into it, which can be sewn into a piece of clothing, so you don’t have to worry about setting individual snaps.)
“When I first started out, there was no [organic] snap tape and that’s the way it was,” says Culp.
This paucity of greener sewing supplies particularly bothered Bloyd and Culp in 2002, the year Bloyd’s son Neil was born four months prematurely. When Neil
finally came home from the hospital, his mother and grandmother wanted to dress him in organic-fabric clothes made without finishing chemicals, which might have irritated his sensitive skin and delicate lungs. Not only did they have trouble finding organic baby clothing at the time, even sewing baby clothes themselves required a lot of legwork to find organic fabrics and supplies.
It was from this experience that Neil’s parents, Tara Bloyd and Peter Norby, along with grandma Winnie Culp, joined forces to create NearSea Naturals, a single source for sustainable sewing supplies. Today, the store’s customers have enough
purchasing power to bring items to market that hadn’t previously been available, like organic cotton snap tape. NearSea Naturals developed this new product and had it manufactured; now it’s for sale on its Web site.
“Customers are demanding that they need these items, and the supply chain has to respond to the customers,” says Culp. “We’re on the front lines and can go out there and be innovative and get the things that our customers are asking for. I find that very exciting.”
NearSea doesn’t just bring environmentally sustainable sewing supplies to market; it tries to only sell products that were made under fair labor conditions.
“It’s not sustainable at all for organic products to be made in sweatshop conditions by people who can’t afford to feed their families,” says Culp.
“We work with manufacturers and cooperatives to make sure that fair labor practices are met. The ethical production, economic impact, and environmental consequences are all very important to us when we consider a product we want to carry.”
Most recently, NearSea has been working to revive some of New Mexico’s traditional crafting traditions through the sale of churro plant-dyed yarns. Throughout the process of building their business, the staff of NearSea Naturals has connected with customers through their listing in the National Green Pages™.
I really appreciate that Green America is so careful and screens the businesses,” Culp says. “That adds a lot of value for us because customers really respect and trust Green America.”
When the NearSea founders made their first trip to the San Francisco Green Festival™ last year, they experienced many joyful connections with long-time customers who were meeting them for the first time.
“It was so nice to meet our customers,” recalls Culp. “One woman came up to our booth, totally dressed in our fabrics. It was delightful.”
Tell M.J. Kietzke that you’re thinking of taking a trip to Fiji, and she’ll immediately start telling you the best places to visit. But she won’t list off the run-of-the mill chain hotels or island cruise ships where so many tourists flock. She’s well aware that chain hotels funnel money out of the local economy, and most cruise ships spew polluted wastewater and exhaust into the environment.
Instead, Kietzke, an eco-travel specialist and founder of Green America’s Travel-Links —also known as The Travel Specialists—will give you advice on how to vacation in a way that protects the local environment, while also helping you connect with local cultures in ways that foster mutual respect.
Kietzke discovered her love of travel as a Peace Corps volunteer in Barbados in the 1970s; but in her experience there and her travels afterward, she was disturbed by the environmental damage that travelers often unwittingly inflicted on the destinations they enjoyed. An avid scuba diver, she saw the natural beauty of Cancun “destroyed” by tourism, and noticed that Hawai’i’s indigenous culture has been adversely affected by it.
“People lose natural resources in general, especially water, due to massive influxes of travelers,” she says. “Where the local community might have once lived across the street from the sea, now businesses build high rises. They’ve lost that beautiful sea breeze; they’ve lost natural beauty.”
Kietzke decided to offer a sustainable alternative for people who, like herself, want to see all the wonders the world has to offer in a way that respects people and the planet. In 1985, she founded The Travel Specialists, a full-service travel agency that assists with travel reservations, ticketing, tour arrangements, and more. Kietzke’s business is part of The Travel Collaborative, a group of agency owners and managers who share space and resources. She has helped plan hundreds of trips around the world.
In 1990, recognizing that Green America members were interested in responsible travel, Green America joined forces with The Travel Specialists to create Green America’s Travel-Links. Through the program, The Travel Specialists provides travel planning services to Green America members and donates a portion of the proceeds to Green America.
“I am committed to helping Green America spread the word about creating a green economy and making a positive difference in the world,” says Kietzke. “I firmly believe that all travelers can be more responsible when they travel—whether it’s to Chicago on a business trip or to Costa Rica to visit the rainforest.”
Kietzke has discovered some sustainable gems around the world. One of her favorite destinations is the Posada Amazonas resort in Peru. The 30-bedroom lodge is a community partnership jointly owned by Rainforest Expeditions and the Ese-Eja native community of Infierno. The hotel is located in the community’s private nature preserve. Guests can hike the Ceiba Trail through the Amazon; observe giant river otters, parakeets, and harpy eagles; and visit with the locals, while resort staff ensure they have very little impact on wildlife and that their interactions with local people are respectful and educational.
“This is an example of a project that helps the community create sustainable income, while also protecting their rainforest,” says Kitezke.
For every trip she coordinates, Kietzke looks for sustainable options for her clients, which may include finding hotel, transportation, and sight-seeing options that leave a positive impact on the local community. You can stay in locally owned and green lodgings; get around by walking, biking, or taking public transportation whenever possible; and visit local sites and shops where your money directly benefits the local economy. And, Kietzke plans excursions that leave travelers with a better understanding of the local culture.
“I try to motivate people to educate themselves before they go, and to ask questions while they’re there,” she says. “How can we protect local places and cultures? How can we foster peaceful cultural exchanges? By being a mindful traveler, you can do all of that.”
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