How Philadelphia's Greenest Companies Are Staying Ahead
A business designed to help the earth means rolling up your sleeves to work in the dirt, communing with plants, or raising sustainable food. Doesn’t it?
Nowadays, the biggest challenge facing Philly’s top eco-friendly entrepreneurs isn’t convincing people to respect the earth. It’s promoting new realizations on the ways green living can infuse unexpected aspects of the economy.
Some, like Jennie Love of the Philadelphia-based Love ‘n Fresh Flowers
, launched in 2009, do start with a love for growing things, but ultimately, a truly green business requires much more.
“Since I was four years old, I’ve had my own flower garden,” Love says. For this former marketing professional, launching a local flower business was a natural choice. After beginning at farmers’ markets, her business exploded when she decided to focus on weddings – partly because of the demand for nuptial bouquets, and partly because the wedding industry itself is often so “wasteful” in the products it uses.
Love, who provides flowers only to clients within 75 miles of Philadelphia, begins her own organic stock of flowers from seed in a greenhouse, and raises them to full bloom in a two-acre field.
Love explains that buying local flowers can have a big impact. According to her, over 80% of flowers sold in the US are grown overseas. “There’s tons of bad chemical use,” she says, “and flowers that are imported mean a bad carbon footprint,” while consumers get a product that shrivels quickly.
Plus, “I’m always shocked by the trash,” Love says of typical flower deliveries: plastic sleeves and cardboard boxes galore. Love ‘n Fresh Flowers combats these problems, and there’s more to it than good gardening.
“A lot of people don’t realize how scientific farming is,” Love explains. “There is so much that goes into the logistics,” like choosing, seeding, growing and transplanting flowers to make sure they’re ready for the right clients on time. “It’s definitely a complicated process.”
Standing on the Wall
Micah Shapiro, co-founder of the two-and-a-half-year-old center-city based Urban EcoForms
, can relate to the ways a horticultural business takes unexpected brain-power.
Urban EcoForms (including business partners Jared Lucas and Zach Morris) designs and installs green walls and roofs, imagining a future when hot black tar will be replaced by living meadows atop our buildings.
Shapiro says a lot of clients seek green roofing out of necessity. “People like the way it looks, but it’s really to get a lot of developers around the regulations requiring onsite storm-water management.”
As a state-registered landscape architect, Shapiro is qualified to develop these designs. But managing storm-water is only one benefit of a living roof. “You’ll save on heating and cooling,” Shapiro says, explaining its significant role in naturally regulating temperatures within the building. In addition to aiding energy conservation, according to Shapiro, quality green roofs are also more durable than traditional ones, which might need repairs each decade. Shapiro estimates the life of a well-designed green roof at 20, 30 or even 60 years – a great stride in reducing waste.
But it’s not just about rooftop planting. Water and soil are extremely heavy, and it’s an engineering feat that goes way beyond gardening to integrate them safely into existing building designs.
“We run into a lot of industry issues where people don’t know how to design [a green roof], but claim they can,” Shapiro says. “We’ve been on a number of projects as the second installer.” Battling construction budget shortfalls is also a challenge, since clients often deal with roofing as an afterthought.
“If you’re coming up with a new project, don’t think of the hat last,” Shapiro urges: “the hat’s part of the whole outfit.”
Entrepreneur Julie Ebner can relate to looking at the whole outfit – or even better, the whole body. Juju
, her all-natural, all-organic salon, is taking advantage of a growing awareness of improving what we put on our bodies, not just what we eat.
“Many of my clients come in saying they just got done chemo, or 'I’m a vegetarian now, or eating raw,' and then they find out that there’s more they can do,” Ebner says.
The former paralegal approaches her salon with reams of research, discovering the details of every product she considers using, including consultation with chemists and the Environmental Working Group
When she determined to open a salon in 2005, Ebner initially planned to offer conventional products too, but changed her mind in a sudden brainstorm. “One day I was walking home from a yoga class, and it just hit me. I’m not going to give people a choice; I’m going to make it green. And it was a huge moment for me.”
Green Escapes the Garden
Public relations maven Paige Wolf
had a similar epiphany on the newest wave in green business, as eco-friendly consciousness comes not just to farming, eating, and retail, but to the services we use. Nowadays, not everyone running a green business is a farmer, composter, horticulturalist or energy developer.
“When I started my PR business in 2002, I didn’t know anything about the environment or sustainability,” Wolf says. But once that door opened, “I was passionate about translating my new-found environmental awareness into my business.”
Transforming her business into one tailored exclusively for clients committed to sustainability wasn’t easy. “I have had to turn down plenty of big-money clients who were contrary to my mission, and that has been hard on my pockets,” Wolf admits. But she finds that the integrity pays off, as she now attracts clients who are especially loyal to her mission.
“I think most companies are at least trying to take the small steps,” she says, “though it’s surprising how many businesses are still not even recycling!” She’s proud to promote businesses committed to respecting the environment.
co-founder Tracy Levesque also appreciates businesses who promote environmental responsibility.
“A lot of the fiscal decisions in this country are made by corporations, which I think is unfortunate,” Levesque says, but the upside is the potential impact of a business which takes responsibility for a green mission. “As a business, I can do more than as an individual.”
A web design and development firm is not what comes first to mind in sustainable business, but Levesque and her wife and co-founder, Mia Levesque, are joining Wolf in expanding concepts of green business.
Flying Kite last visited Yikes in 2010
, when they announced plans to convert a 19th-century building on Girard Avenue into a LEED platinum certified office building. They received their certification in July 2012, and hope to install solar panels for all of their electricity within 10 years.
“You think, oh, computers, it’s paperless, it’s green, but your carbon footprint’s still pretty big,” Levesque says. Her office works to offset its use of natural resources by participating in a tree-planting program
and other initiatives.
“Even if your company is not a ‘green company’ in that you don’t produce a green product or renewable energy…you can still be a sustainable company,” Levesque insists.
She joins Wolf, Ebner, and many others in Philadelphia growing the idea of what being “green” can mean.
ALAINA MABASO, a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist, has landed squarely in what people tell her is the worst possible career of the twenty-first century. So she makes Pennsylvania her classroom, covering everything from business to theater to toad migrations. After her editors go to bed, she blogs athttp://alainamabaso.wordpress.com/. Find her on Twitter @AlainaMabaso. Send feedback here.