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The Green Economy Is Today's Hot Business Trend


Joseph Connelly
San Francisco Chronicle
October 27, 2004


Mother Jones publisher Jay Harris isn't shy about admitting
that "the last four years have been good" for his magazine.
One term of Bush Inc. has given progressives plenty to rally
around, and although the nation's overall financial portfolio
has been in the tank since the Supreme Court appointed Dubya,
the green economy has grown steadily through the recession of
the last few years.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not suggesting you show support for
the cause by pulling the red lever next Tuesday. While tax
cuts for the rich and endless wars against the poor appear to
have solidified the Left both socially and economically,
giving full credit for these developments to the squatter in
the Oval Office wouldn't be quite right.

The recent growth of the so-called alternative economy is so
impressive that the affiliation between it and Bush is
probably more speculative than real. In a weird and wonderful
coincidence, however, starting next Wednesday -- day one after
the election -- the Bay Area will be host to green
entrepreneurial spirit as the second annual Co-op America
Green Business Conference (GBC) rolls into the City, kicking
off a five-day socially responsible business love-in that
concludes with the annual consumer-oriented Green Festival on
Nov. 6-7.

According to The LOHAS Journal, which tracks green economic
trends, about 30 percent of U.S. adults -- more than 63
million consumers -- now purchase goods and services with a
nod toward the products' health, environmental, social justice
and sustainability value. The marketplace, worth $227 billion
a year, is expanding at a healthy pace and is projected to
reach $1 trillion annually by 2020.

It appears that the "cultural creatives" -- those who value a
more holistic view of the world, to use a term coined by
sociologist Paul Rey -- are changing the world, one purchase
at a time. "In just the last year, we have seen a 20 percent
increase in people who are buying compact fluorescent
lightbulbs and energy-efficient windows, a 20 percent increase
in people who are purchasing organic foods and an over 18
percent increase in the number of people putting money into
socially responsible investment projects," says Denise Hamler,
Co-op America's director of business networks.

Co-op America, the conference sponsor and the nation's oldest
and largest business association of socially and
environmentally responsible companies, started in 1982 with
three members and two businesses and today tallies over 70,000
individuals and more than 2,500 businesses among its ranks.
Industry growth led to the first GBC, held last year in San
Francisco.

The conference gives member companies that are doing
cutting-edge green work, whether in manufacturing, marketing
or retail, an opportunity to network and do business with one
another. "We're only stronger when we help each other," Hamler
adds.

One success story that grew out of last year's conference is a
working relationship between American Apparel, a company that
produces organic, domestically produced cotton T-shirts, and
TS Designs, a North Carolina eco-dying facility that has
patented cleaner screen-printing methods. Traditionally,
according to TS Design's Eric Henry, T-shirts are dyed first
using toxic chemicals and later screen printed. Henry's
company buys shirts from American Apparel, adds the customer's
design and dyes the clothing using environmentally friendly
inks. The two firms began working together after hooking up at
the 2003 conference, and in less than a year they have
manufactured and sold more than 150,000 T-shirts.

Another connection TS Designs made was with San
Francisco-based New Leaf Paper, the leading supplier of
environmental papers to businesses. Kim Hoffman, a sales
executive with New Leaf, says the trend in the industry is a
move toward truly recycled paper with the highest possible
postconsumer content. And it's not just green companies that
are making the switch. "Forty percent of landfill space is
still paper," Hoffman tells me. "More Fortune 500 companies
are becoming aware of the positive benefits of using recycled
paper. Employees feel better about their companies when they
know they care about the environment."

Companies such as Lantern Books, a Manhattan-based publisher
of works on vegetarianism, environmentalism, animal advocacy
and social justice, and the Public Press, a Randolph, Vt.,
company dedicated, according to the company, to "protecting
freedom of speech, one word at a time," attended the
conference last year in an effort to improve their businesses'
"greenness." Martin Rowe, Lantern's director of publishing,
says he wants to "keep open to the possibilities of
transforming [his] industry -- making it greener, making it
more profitable," while Stephen Morris of the Public Press
seeks connections with businesses like New Leaf due to what he
calls his "concern with eliminating the wastefulness of
conventional publishing."

Cheri Larsh, founder and director of San Francisco's Conscious
Creative, the City's first and only green-certified creative
agency, notes that within her industry there has been a growth
in the number of companies such as Earthsite.net, Ecosky.com
and RedJellyfish.com that offer phone, DSL and Web-hosting
services powered by clean, renewable energy.

Larsh, whose company specializes in graphic and Web-design
services for the progressive community, attended last year's
GBC and says she was disappointed not to find more tools for
established businesses. She recommends the conference only to
business owners who are new to the green business community,
need to learn more about how to start a sustainable business
or wish to hear motivational speakers talk about the successes
of their companies. "I didn't find it very useful for more
established companies like mine, other than for the purpose of
gaining visibility," she says. Both Larsh and Rowe add that
they'd like to see additional workshops offering practical,
hands-on solutions for how to grow and sustain
small-to-medium-size companies.

Those minor issues aside, green business is quickly becoming
big business. Co-op America's Denise Hamler confirms that last
year's event sold out, bringing together 250 green
entrepreneurs. This year, organizers put a cap on attendance
at 300 in order to keep the gathering small and intimate, and
she expects to have to turn people away.

Immediately following the nuts and bolts of the conference,
the real party begins for green entrepreneurs and socially
conscious consumers at the third annual San Francisco Green
Festival. A joint venture of Co-op America and the City's
Global Exchange, this consumer show offers plenty of
opportunities for everyone to see and buy the best of what the
world of green products has to offer.

"It's like the eco-mall of the future," Hamler boasts. "You
can buy clothing, see what it's like to eat organic vegan
food, see how easy it is to purchase a hybrid car. You can buy
beautiful products for your house or apartment made with
organic and recycled materials at our Natural Home Pavilion,
from countertops to flooring to bed linens, all derived from
sustainable sources."

In just two years, the San Francisco Green Festival has nearly
doubled in size to nearly 500 vendors and an expected crowd of
25,000. "We have sold out exhibit space in all of the venues,"
said Hamler, who helps coordinate both the conference and the
festival. "I don't think we could have done this several years
ago."

The week following election day offers everyone within
striking distance of the Bay Area the opportunity to see what
a sustainable economy will look like. I can't think of a
better way to celebrate Bush removal.

Joseph Connelly is founding editor of VegNews magazine and has
practiced environmentalism since he began wrapping Christmas
presents in recycled comics nearly 40 years ago. Send
environmental news and tips here.

 

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