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Green Business Member Profiles 2010
Earth Love'n Paper Products
As soon as Caren Levin’s oldest daughter started preschool, Levin encountered that common parental obligation: the school fundraiser. But she found it hard to dutifully help her daughter fundraise when the things she was selling—mostly unhealthy junk food—were not products that she felt good about, nor did they reflect the environmental values her daughter was learning at home and in the classroom.
Unable to find an eco-friendly fundraiser alternative for the school at the time, Levin decided to develop her own. Earth Love’n Paper Products sells 100 percent post- consumer recycled giftwrap in a variety of designs, including holiday- and birthday-themed papers. The company also offers greeting cards and biodegradable ribbon. The heart of its sales come through school fundraiser programs and retail stores, though the company also sells its products to individuals on its Web site.
“Giftwrap was already a staple in school fundraisers, so I wanted to give an environmentally friendly option to fill that niche,” says Levin. “Giftwrap is something people use all the time, and it seems ridiculous to be using virgin materials for something that will be used once and thrown away or recycled.”
Levin says her background as a groundwater scientist is what led her to focus on recycled paper products, because her job made her acutely aware of the harmful environmental impact of using virgin paper. More than 90 percent of printing and writing paper made in the US comes from virgin tree fiber, and the paper industry is the largest industrial consumer of water and the third largest industrial greenhouse gas emitter in 30 industrialized countries.
By using recycled fiber in each print run of about 17,000 sheets of giftwrap, Earth Love’n saves 59 trees and prevents the generation of over 1,000 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions and over 2,000 lbs. of solid waste. To spread the word about the benefits of recycled paper, each sheet of Earth Love’n’s giftwrap has these facts about recycled paper and others printed on the back.
“We want to give people as much information as possible, so that when they are wrapping or unwrapping a gift, they learn something about the environment and are motivated to use recycled products in every aspect of their lives.” Ultimately, Levin says she’s driven by the need to demonstrate to her two daughters that something as simple as the paper you use to wrap a birthday present can be meaningful: “I feel it’s my responsibility to teach my daughters to be conscious consumers, to show them that changing your purchasing habits really can change the world.”
Back in 1997, Stephanie Bernstein once went out for ice cream with her sister and friends in Ann Arbor, MI, where they were college students. While eating, Bernstein became confused when she realized every single one of them had been served their ice cream in disposable containers, despite the fact everyone was eating inside the parlor. Bewildered, Bernstein turned to her sister and asked, “Did we say, ‘to-go?’”
This incident happened “right around the time in the food service industry when many places started using disposables across the board,” she recalls.
It was quite common for everyone on Bernstein’s campus to carry travel mugs around with them for beverages, and she remembers thinking that similarly, it would make sense to carry reusable utensils and containers around as well. She even came up with a name for such products: “to-go ware.”
“I thought about it for seven years,” says Bernstein, who in that time became a certified yoga teacher, studied natural foods, and also went on to work with Fair Trade retailer World of Good, where she learned about the ethical sourcing of products.
“I started to get really excited about conscious consumerism and using your dollars as a vehicle for change,” she says.
And so in 2004, Bernstein decided to make to-go ware a reality, creating a business with that name that sold sustainably harvested bamboo or coconut utensil kits in yoga studios, natural food stores, and organic cafés in the San Francisco Bay Area. Five years later, To-Go Ware now sells its products online and through a variety of retailers nationwide, including REI and Whole Foods, and at the Green Festivals™.
The company offers a reusable, portable dinnerware line to encourage consumers to reuse rather than throw away disposable or compostable utensils and food containers.
“We are at that point where you have your reusable shopping bags, you have your water bottle, you have your travel mug … but what about every time you go to the Whole Foods salad bar and you throw away a fork?” asks Bernstein.
To-Go Ware offers a variety of innovative and sustainable products that allow people to meet the needs of increasingly mobile lifestyles in a sustainable and creative way. Items such as the 3-Tier Stainless Steel Tiffin Set are great for transporting food. These compact, compartmentalized buckets can carry salads, soup, a main course, and a dessert—all in one easily transportable container. The company still sells its coconut and bamboo utensil sets, as well as recycled cotton shopping bags and other items.
“Our products are not just about giving people this ‘thing,’ but to imbed in the brand that when you use each product, you are a solution to a problem,” she says. “It should make you feel good about using it.”
To-Go Ware strives to use as little packaging as possible, generally using only an insert tag printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink. Many of To-Go Ware’s handcrafted utensil and container carrier bags are produced through a Fair Trade project called WEAVE (Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment), which has a partnership with the Karreni refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border. Through this program, Burmese refugee women residing in camps earn a living wage for their handcrafts.
This same intentionality goes into all aspects of To-Go Ware’s sourcing of materials used for their products. To-Go Ware forges business partnerships with companies owned and operated by women or other traditionally marginalized groups.
And, Bernstein notes, Green America played an important role in helping shape the understanding that small businesses have important leverage to empower their own workers and encourage suppliers to be more socially compliant.
“Through our Green America screening [for membership in the Green Business Network™], we were able to create a code of conduct for ourselves,” says Bernstein. “It allowed us to operate more proactively and with more control, making sure the things that we do are in line with our values.”
Bernstein notes that more and more consumers are now seeking out reusable take-out containers. “It’s a small thing, and it’s very affordable,” she says. “Once people taste that something is possible, they get encouraged and want to be part of the solution.”
For brother and sister Ahmed and Reem Rahim, growing up in an Iraqi household meant learning to appreciate the daily ritual of drinking tea. “We always drank tea in our family, and so we came to love it,” says Reem.
Born in Baghdad but raised in Ohio, Reem and Ahmed both grew up drinking a tea called “numi,” made from a dry lime that grows in Iraq. It was their love of the ritual of drinking numi that years later led to their collaborating to create a business of the same name—Numi Tea. What began as a small operation based out of Reem’s California apartment in 1999 is now one of the leading distributors of organic and Fair Trade tea in the US.
Up until they joined forces to launch their business, Ahmed and Reem’s paths had taken them in many different directions—but the skills they acquired along the way ended up playing out in a perfect synergy. Ahmed had been working as a photographer in France and later moved to Prague, where he co-owned and ran two teahouses. It was during his time in the Czech Republic that Ahmed was able to refine his knowledge of the “science and art” of brewing the perfect cup of tea.
Reem had also been living in Europe during that same period. She was trained as a bioengineer in the US, but she ultimately decided her interest lay more in the arts. She studied painting and drawing in Florence and has had her artwork displayed around the world.
After training in Italy, Reem moved to Oakland, CA, to pursue a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. Ahmed decided to join her in 1999, bringing with him his love of tea and a plan to start his own business in the US. As Reem describes, their idea to create Numi was “serendipitous”—born out of them both having the idea to import numi dry lime tea from Iraq, which they had so loved as children. They launched Numi Tea, branching out to import other rare tea blends.
Reem uses her background in the arts to lead Numi’s marketing efforts and hand-draw all the detailed artwork on Numi’s elegant packaging. Ahmed applies his business experience to his role as the “master alchemist” behind Numi’s unique blends. “We combined our strengths and love,” says Reem.
The result is apparent in imaginative and one-of-a-kind tea blends like Aged Earl Grey—fusing Assam black tea from India with aged bergamot oranges. Also popular is Numi’s Puerh line, blends of aged teas from China’s Yunnan Mountains where leaves from organic, wild-harvested tea trees up to 500 years old are fermented, then ripened, creating a rich, dark flavor.
Two years ago, Numi introduced its “flowering teas,” where the tea leaves are hand sewn together so they “bloom” into a flower while they steep. All Numi teas are certified organic, as well as kosher and halal, meaning they meet the standards of Jewish and Muslim law.
Numi is rare among tea companies in that it offers CO2-decaffeinated organic tea. Most decaffeination methods use chemicals to extract caffeine, which also pull out flavors and nutrients at the same time. CO2 decaffeination is a nontoxic, chemical-free process that keeps to organic standards while maintaining all the unique flavors and health benefits of tea. No new CO2 is released during the process. In addition, Numi offers a large selection of Fair Trade teas and is working toward making its entire line of products Fair Trade Certified™ by TransFair USA. Ahmed and Reem also regularly travel across the globe to ensure the farms are meeting the company’s labor standards as well as its criteria for freshness and quality.
“We go back and forth to India and China to meet the farmers, get to know the farms, and build a relationship,” says Reem. “We decided to get certified by TransFair because we felt that it was important that extra funds were given to workers.” Farms that supply tea to Numi earn a Fair Trade premium in addition to living wages for workers, which they put toward community-building initiatives. For example, the Oothu Garden in southern India has used its premiums to create a retirement fund for the elderly, a college sponsorship program for youth, and a financial assistance program for families with disabled children.
The same intentionality with which Numi approaches its sourcing abroad is true of the ways it works to green its business practices at home. The company uses biodegradable and recyclable packaging. Numi tea cartons are made with a minimum of 85 percent post-consumer waste, and its tea bags are biodegradable. Only sustainable bamboo is used in all of Numi’s beautiful gift boxes and tea chests. Reem and Ahmed once visited a Puerh tea garden in the Yunnan Province of China, where a husband and wife whose families had been crafting Puerh for generations were warm and welcoming, wanting to share the story behind their tea.
“Tea is such a huge part of their culture,” says Reem. “The husband and wife had us to tea for hours and hours.”
It was a conversation that Reem and Ahmed appreciated, because at Numi, the process of making tea truly is an art to be savored.
Mother’s Day is the busiest time of year for Alaina Paradise and her business, One World Flowers. While she’s busy filling orders for moms across the US, she is confident that her business is helping support the lives of mothers around the world. The company’s flowers are all Fair Trade Certified™, ensuring a dignified living for flower growers, most of whom are women. Paradise’s dream of owning a socially responsible business took root during a business ethics course she took in college.
“I learned about the dirty side of making a profit through international trade,” she says. “But I also knew of the great benefits that global business can bring to a region—including stable employment, economic development, and the building of infrastructure.”
After graduation, Paradise decided to focus on Fair Trade. “I see Fair Trade as a model that balances business interests with economic development, the way all business should.”
After researching the different Fair Trade products she could sell, such as coffee or chocolate, Paradise settled on flowers. Fair Trade Certified™ flowers had just appeared on the business scene, and Paradise was eager to help flower growers worldwide bring this new Fair Trade product to consumers.
One World Flowers carries roses of different colors, as well as gerbera daisies and hypericum. It sells wholesale stems and bouquets to florists around the country, and consumers can buy bouquets for delivery from the company’s Web site.
“Most flowers sold in the US are grown in other countries, mostly in South America,” says Paradise. “In the floral industry, about 90 percent of the workers are women, and they are often subjected to sexual harassment and cheated out of wages. One of the greatest ironies of Mother’s Day is its connection to the mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of mothers and other female workers on floral farms around the globe.”
These workers are also routinely exposed to dangerous pesticides used to ensure each flower arrives in the US in perfect condition. A recent Harvard School of Public Health study examined 72 children in a flower-growing region of Ecuador whose mothers were exposed to pesticides during pregnancy. The study found half of the children had developmental delays.
Fair Trade works to right these wrongs in the flower industry. To be certified by Transfair USA, the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the US, growers meet strict social standards, including providing living wages, on-site medical care, and paid maternity leave, as well as upholding rigorous safety standards. Additionally, Fair Trade flower growers adhere to stringent environmental standards, working to reduce or eliminate pesticide use, conserve water, and protect local ecosystems. All Fair Trade flower producers are making progress toward organic production techniques.
Fair Trade also helps strengthen women’s voices on farms. For example, at Jardines Piaveri, a flower farm near the Andes Mountains in Ecuador, all of the supervisors are women. Together, workers have a say in how their Fair Trade premiums are used—they recently built a computer learning center for themselves and their children. The sweet smiling Titanic rose, a pink rose grown in Ecuador, is Paradise’s favorite Fair Trade flower, but she doesn’t only love its scent— she loves knowing the story behind it.
“When I smell this rose, I know that because of Fair Trade, women who work on these farms are now able to support themselves and their families, which means better nutrition, access to higher education, improved living conditions, and greater equality for women in the home,” says Paradise.
David Mozer, the founder of International Bicycle Fund (IBF), never forgot what an elderly Liberian man told Mozer’s tour group after it biked in to visit a Liberian village: “You make our hearts big,” he said, “because you came, you sat with us, and you ate with us.”
Located in Seattle, WA, IBF leads “rural education bicycle tours” to African communities, with a special focus on putting his North American tour groups in intimate and respectful contact with locals. By contrast, many international visitors to Liberia, for example, may stay in larger port cities and view the communities they visit at a distance, from motorized vehicles.
When IBF traveled to Liberia, “we didn’t arrive in an armor-plated minibus, behind a lot of glass and steel,” Mozer recalls. “We were just there on our bikes among the village’s residents, sitting and talking.” The IBF trip made that Liberian man’s heart “big,” says Mozer, because “he was really happy we were there, and not separating ourselves out.”
The International Bicycle Fund’s guided trips to rural communities advance two causes at once. They offer the travelers an opportunity to explore by bike and to consider making greater use of pedal power when they return home. And, “when visitors say, ‘These are our bikes, and we use them on a daily basis back home,’ it gets villages talking about bicycling,” says Mozer.
In addition to leading bicycle eco-tours, the International Bicycle Fund has undertaken a wide variety of activities as an educational advocate and bicycling consultancy. At the heart of its work is the simple belief that even a little bit more bicycling could do the world a lot of good.
In rural communities in the developing world, bicycles and bike trailers can help people with their day-to-day tasks. IBF has assisted non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ghana and in Kenya to get the tariff reduced on imported bicycles so that bikes could be easier to access in both countries. IBF has also helped a group in Ghana to educate welders and mechanics on constructing bicycle trailers.
In American cities, Mozer says, IBF is “trying to demotorize people,” and encourage bicycling as a carbon-free, smog-less transportation choice that is also great exercise. IBF is available as a consultant to municipalities and local advocates who are trying to make their towns and cities more bike-friendly.
“We look for local groups and let them define the agenda,” says Mozer. “What we’re rich in is information, networks, and contacts.” In addition to biking to work and to meetings around town, Mozer has made other decisions to “green” IBF’s office practices: minimizing paper use, using efficient compact fluorescent lighting, and using a Web-hosting service that powers its servers with renewable electricity.
Mozer is eager to encourage individuals to get around by bike more often. The IBF Web site has free resources with advice on bicycling with infants, and on step-by-step strategies for teaching children how to ride. Mozer spent two full days at the Seattle Green Festival™ last spring, engaging people in conversation and helping them make an incremental step toward “undriving.” He brought a scale example of the bike racks attached to the front of Seattle’s public buses, so that festival attendees could practice putting their bikes on the bus.
Mozer encourages people to think about the time they spend exercising at a gym, and to consider if they could spend that time on a greener, cheaper bicycle commute that is just as physically demanding as a gym workout. He says that people can start biking in good weather, and gradually increase their riding under less ideal conditions.
“If during the summer people could bike commute just one day a week, they’re cutting their transportation down by 20 percent,” he says. “I try to be realistic. People don’t have to make their first commuting day on a blizzard in January. Start on a nice day. We’re just helping people realize that they have transportation options.”
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