Do Local Businesses Walk the Green Walk … or Talk the Green Talk?

Being green is important for both individuals and businesses, at least according to results of an inaugural survey conducted by the Traverse City Business News. Of the 349 respondents to the online survey, ranging from company presidents to line employees, 87 percent agreed "It is important for my company/organization to follow green practices." 87 percent also agreed "In my personal life, I do whatever I can to be green."

From using compact fluorescent light bulbs to providing incentives for green commuting, northern Michigan businesses are moving in the direction of green business practices. They are adjusting what, how, and from whom they buy at the same time.

Survey Says: Green is … Open to Interpretation

But what does it actually mean to be green? For Rob Goepfrich of Great Lakes Motorsports, it can be "as simple as not being wasteful." This point of basic conservation is echoed by many, including Rick MacKinnon of Andersen Window Company, who cites his company's use of manufacturing waste to produce heat, and new product components as examples of green practices in action.

For a number of Business News readers, the concept of green is tied specifically to reducing carbon emissions or the "carbon footprint" of a given business. Pete Ewards of skiwalking.com and the American Nordic Walking System thinks companies should not only mind their own carbon emissions but also should "encourage their employees to do the same at the workplace and at home."

Northern Michigan v. the Nation

In general, the regional business community may be more likely than the national norm to believe that carbon emissions are driving global climate change: 58 percent of respondents to the Business News survey agree that "global climate change is a legitimate phenomenon cased by carbon emission." This is significantly higher than the 45 percent of Americans who agree that global warming is caused by humans, according to a December 2009 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Survey.

Nearly one quarter of respondents, many of whom are supporters of green business practices overall, disagree with the legitimacy of carbon-induced global climate change.

Others are just plain skeptical of the push for greening businesses overall. Charlie Kalbfleisch of Proto-Tek Engineering puts it simply "This is a business … not a feel good mission."

Green Business in Action

Although some are skeptical, a large majority are making some steps toward green practices. Most common are programs to recycle paper and containers. However, quite significant numbers have taken additional steps such as turning down the thermostat or using energy efficient light bulbs.

Who's Paying What

Considerable investments are going into green business in northern Michigan. Roughly 60 percent of respondents indicated that their companies have spent at least something on green technologies, practices, initiatives and/or investments in the past 12 months, with the median spending at $3,000, while 14 percent indicate they spent more than $10,000 in the past 12 months.

Among participating business, those in the manufacturing sector spent the most on green initiatives, followed closely by the hospitality and recreation sector. Among the lowest spenders are those in the service and retail sectors (Note: no modifications were made based upon business size).

Green Initiatives

Specific practices that respondents report their businesses do now:

Other green practices range from the basic – using the two-sided setting on the office printer – to the complex, such as building new alternative energy capacity or meeting standards such as LEED certification for buildings.

Survey Says: Green is Worth More Green

Green policies affect also how companies choose vendors. 46 percent of respondents indicate that their companies give preference to vendors and suppliers who are "greener" than other alternatives. More than half indicated that their companies have in the past 12 months paid more for a specific product or service because it was a green alternative.

Good Motives

Although many hope to recoup their investments through energy savings or reduced waste, the most common reason for moving ahead with green business practices is "a sense of responsibility." Many other respondents wrote in that "it's just the right thing to do." Angela Macke of Light of Day Organic Teas goes one step further by indicating her companies green practices work "to set a good example … teaching others that it can be done."

Why be green?

"Why has your company undertaken the green practices or initiatives you have specified?"

Hopeful Greens

The significant green mindset of many respondents may affect the attitudes they share regarding policy initiatives.

More than two-thirds (68 percent) believe that the push to make Michigan a hub for alternative energy technology will be successful. An additional 69 percent believe that the Grand Vision is "important to making our region more green than it otherwise would be."

Survey Says: Biomass Support is Gathering Steam

There is far less consensus on the topic of new biomass-burning electrical generating plants in northern Michigan. While 41 percent would generally support creation of one or more such plants, 28 percent are opposed. Another large group just feels that they don't have all the facts … like Mary Manner of Paddle Away LLC who would like to have "a complete understanding of the upstream costs [and] how the emission particulates are sequestered" before she commits one way or the other.

Survey Says: Green is having a Big Impact Up North

Ultimately, green business is a powerful force in northern Michigan. Whether you think this is a waste of time or are fully committed to the promise of green alternatives, it is important to understand that green business is guiding what companies spend money on, who they choose to work with, and the policy issues they support.

Sherwood Smith is President of Avenue ISR, a management consulting and consumer research company that uses consumer and market insight to create strategy which produces business results.

Infinite Green, Traverse City

Nothing like testing your new product in the field, right? That's exactly what Thomas VanderLeek thought when he learned that the Traverse City Preparatory Academy had been hit by graffiti artists. VanderLeek, the exclusive distributor of Infinite Green all-natural cleaning products got permission from School Leader Marguerite Forrest to come out and test Infinite Green's Graffiti Buster. "The wall was stucco, a difficult surface to clean, but we got it off, came back the next day with a power washer, and it was 90 percent gone." Infinite Green is a new line of 300+ all-natural cleaning products, whose design and manufacture involves microbiology, plant extracts and even nanotechnology. The result? Cleaning products that aren't caustic yet truly work. The products are particularly good at cleaning "baked-on crud," says VanderLeek. Lil Bo Pub & Grille, Ham Bonez, Turtle Creek Casino's restaurants, and Oryana Natural Foods Market in Traverse City, as well as Hansen's in Suttons Bay, and the Village Markets in Elk Rapids and Rapid City are customers. A Michigan-specific website in the works; the national website is cleangreenworld.com and you can order by calling VanderLeek direct at 883-9050.

Mariah Power's "Windspire, Manistee

Manufactured just outside Manistee, the Windspire wind turbine isn't the biggest windmill on the block, but it is the sleekest. Mariah Power, maker of the windmill, says the architectural design makes it more palatable for residential and some high-end commercial areas where looks matter. For example, there is one installed within view of the State Capital and some Chicago-area museums are giving the product a look. Just 30 feet tall, 4 feet wide with a cylindrical basket instead of a propeller, the Windspire is also quieter than many other wind turbines, which your neighbors are sure to appreciate. Since late in 2007 the turbines have been built in a plant ten miles from Manistee, though just now are beginning to take their place in the market. The product is not only green, but the facility is a recycled one, too: it used to be used to build Chrysler parts. Interested? Visit www.mariahpower.com. Area Windspire dealers include Sleeping Bear Electric of Maple City, Morgan Electric of Onaway, Contractors Building Supply of Copemish, V4 Excavating of Cadillac, and Lake Effect Energy Corp. of Harbor Springs.

Urban Diversions Green Furniture, Traverse City

One person's dilapidated commercial greenhouse is another person's living room chair. Well, it is if that other person is designer Dale Campbell. President of Urban Diversions, a retail furniture and home accessories store, Campbell has just designed a chair that uses cypress lathing from an old greenhouse, yellow pine beams from a barn that was about to be torn down, and then added cushions made from soy-based material. Campbell is the recipient of the coveted Pinnacle Award and says he sees a future for furniture made from reclaimed materials. His set of "green" chairs complement a variety of decorating styles; the nostalgic nail marks add to their character and give a clue into their previous life. Where does he find his materials? "I do a lot of watching out the car window. I see an old farm that's recently been sold for development, and I'm on it."

Bay Area Recycling for Charities, Cedar

If the product you're looking for isn't a product at all but rather advice on how your business can be a better and more thorough recycler, your man on the ground for zero waste is Andy Gale. He can tell you what paper plates to use at your next luncheon, where metal scraps from the floor of your plant go, and the best way to bend those great big cardboard boxes so they fit in your container. One place that takes Gale's word for it is Cone Drive. Gale advises the business on how best to organize recycling efforts and even finds a second use for any large stores of bad run plastics the company might have. Odds and ends, especially in food service and manufacturing, really add up. Gale does the numbers, and he does it for a good cause. Any remuneration goes to local charities. You can even designate a charity of your choice. To find out more or schedule a pickup, bayarearecycling.net.

Cherry Capital Body Shop, Traverse City

"Paint the place green." That was Otto Belovich's goal when he decided to upgrade Cherry Capital Cadillac Subaru's busy Body Shop. That led the dealership's owner to Garmat USA downdraft painting systems, a water-based and more earth-friendly method of automotive painting, re-painting, and touch-ups. This newly developed system captures 99 percent of hazardous particles before they can be released into the air, which makes Cherry Capital employees happy. It also uses only half the energy to operate of traditional downdraft painting systems, which makes Otto and his customers happy, too. "We wanted to create a safe atmosphere for our employees," he said, "and make sure our customers get a perfect repair." Energy efficient lighting and dust free painting booths make a flawless finish possible, while keeping it "green."

Green Leaders

According to TCBN Readers

We asked respondents to name the local businesses and organizations they consider to be particularly green within their industries. Following are the companies most mentioned in open-ended responses.

The Top 5:

Oryana Natural Foods Market (31) – Traverse City retail grocery focusing on organic, natural and locally-produced products. Mentioned for support of local products, green building practices, and composting/recycling of waste.

Food For Thought (20) – Empire area manufacturer of jams, preserves, salsas and other specialty foods. Mentioned for local sourcing, sustainable business practices, and an annual Green Cuisine event.

Higher Grounds Trading Company (15) – Traverse City importer, roaster and distributor of organic coffee. Mentioned for fair trade sourcing of products, re-use of mugs (no disposable packaging in coffee bar), and bicycle delivery of coffee.

Odom Re-use Company (12) – Grawn retailer of reclaimed and re-used building materials. Mentioned for the fundamental business practice of keeping landfill-bound building materials and using them again.

Bay Area Recycling for Charities (11) – Cedar-based provider of recycling services to residential and business customers. Mentioned for dramatically improving the extent of local recycling available while giving back to the community.

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