Being ‘green’ has become important to more and more people, whether that means recycling at home, trying to use your car less or buying locally grown food. Several St. Louis businesses have taken up the torch as well. We spoke to five local entrepreneurs who are proud to call themselves ‘green’ to see what they do, why they do it, and how their efforts have been received.
Autohaus of Clayton BMW
When Autohaus of Clayton BMW built its new location on Hanley Road, it simply made good sense to use environment-friendly design and construction, says general manager Kevin Dwyer. The new building uses recycled and local materials whenever possible, Dwyer says. The showroom windows are made of low-emission glass, which allows much less transfer of energy (and therefore reduces the need for heat and air conditioning) than traditional glass. Autohaus BMW also has a white vulcanized material on the roof that reflects sunlight, keeping the building cool on hot summer days. The automatic car wash has a feature that conserves water, and the furnaces in the shop are fueled by waste oil from cars.
“We did a lot, and the reason is that it makes good business sense and it’s good for the environment,” Dwyer explains. “This is the way a lot of new buildings are going, and in the auto industry, we’re trying to keep up with new developments. It also gives us a good reputation in the community.”
Richelle White had severe asthma and dust allergies that seemed to flare up every time she had her house cleaned. Then she learned that the commercial cleaning products being used were potentially worse for her asthma than the dust. At the same time, White was feeling dissatisfied with her corporate job. “Some of the company’s practices conflicted with things that were important to me, so I was doing a lot of volunteer work in Colombia, South America, trying to create that balance,” White says. She was also interviewing for a job in other cities. “My boyfriend said, ‘You know, if you want to work with a company that syncs up with who you are, maybe you need to start that company.’” So she did.
Herb’n Maid is the green cleaning business White and her boyfriend, Larbi Belkouch, a research scientist, now own. “We really strive to use sustainable business practices, from the way we conduct our office to the methods we use in cleaning, researching and designing equipment that’s going to last a long time,” White says. “We don’t use paper towels or anything like that. We have microfiber cleaning cloths that are tested to be washed about 500 times.” They also have a line of green cleaning products made from natural ingredients, including a vegetable-based wood cleaner and an all-purpose cleaner with wintergreen oil, which White says is a natural disinfectant.
Local Harvest Grocery and Cafe
‘Locavore,’ a person who buys fresh, locally grown products, was chosen as the 2007 word of the year by New Oxford American Dictionary. Coined two years ago in San Francisco, the word and the movement have come to St. Louis, says Local Harvest co-owner Maddie Earnest. “Michael Pollan has done the most for these types of issues,” Earnest says. “It’s pretty major changes he would suggest, and we’re trying to implement those in St. Louis.”
Patrick Horine and Jenny Ryan, founders of the Tower Grove Farmers Market, started Local Harvest Grocery on Morganford Road in June 2007. They intend to source 50 percent of the food they sell and prepare in the cafe from farms within a 150 mile radius of St. Louis. Earnest, who met the Horines through the farmers market, was surprised by how much could be found locally. She says 95 percent of the store’s cheeses come from Missouri and Illinois, and all of the milk comes from Heartland Creamery in Newark, Mo. Unusual local items include gourmet potato chips by Spudmaster and cleaning products by Better Life. When something is not available locally, Local Harvest tries at least to supply an organic version.
Local food can be more expensive, Earnest admits, but the cost of transporting food is also factored into the price. “Usually our farmers will have a delivery charge, and it’s often not much because they’re not coming as far,” she explains. While many people become ‘locavores’ for environmental reaons, Earnest emphasizes another advantage: “It tastes better!”
Having a ‘green’ home is not just about being environmentally conscious, says Rick Hunter, managing principal of the green building company Sage Homebuilders. In today’s economy, it’s prudent. “The benefits of saving on your utilities, better indoor air quality and less maintenance I mean, these are the kinds of benefits everybody wants now,” he says.
Since Hunter and two others joined forces four years ago, they have worked on roughly 15 projects, Hunter says. They try to certify every new home under one of two standards, either the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) or the National Green Building Program.
“The approach we take is comprehensive,” Hunter says. “We try to do every process and every product in a greener way.” That means materials that come from sustainable sources or are manufactured locally, solar panels or geothermal heating and cooling systems, and homes that require little maintenance—like those with stone exteriors, for example, to avoid painting over and over again.
“St. Louis is still a young market for green homes,” Hunter says. “But I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg because the green building benefits have such universal appeal. It’s just a matter of awareness. We need to connect the benefits of green building in people’s minds and have them understand that this is something they can have now. It’s here, it’s feasible and it’s affordable.”
Shur Way Auto Body
Until May 2007, Mike Swederska ran his auto body shop much the way his family had run it since 1971. He used solvent-based paints, like most auto body shops, and his garbage was picked up three times a week one full, four-yard dumpster each time. But two years ago, Swederska completely re-vamped his shop, switching from solvent-based to water-based paints and recycling cardboard and office products. Now, his dumpster needs to be emptied only once a week and the amount of solvent waste his shop generates has decreased from 15 gallons every three months to not quite 30 gallons in a year! He also replaced the incandescent lights with fluorescent and remodeled the office to make it more energy efficient.
Swederska made the change after California passed a law mandating that all body-shops switch to paints with lower levels of volatile organic compounds, chemicals that can exacerbate respiratory problems and damage soil and groundwater. They have also been linked to cancer and global warming. Swederska wanted to create a better working environment for his wife and three sons, who work in the shop. He also wanted his job practices to be more in line with his interests outside of work.
“I am president of the Ozark Fly Fishers, the largest fly-fishing club in the state of Missouri,” Swederska explains. “We’re very conservation-minded. As president, I have had issues with gravel mining. When arguments cropped up, people would say, Hey, you own a body shop and that’s a nasty business.” Now, Swederska says he has people visiting his shop from body shops all over the country, wanting to see how it’s done.