Summer 2008
Green Mission, Green Success By Kristen Hains

Meeting a Triple Bottom Line

Green Island Earth Friendly Goods
Traverse City, MI

Sean and Lori Burns give a lot of thought to every product they stock in Green Island, their store in Traverse City, MI. For every product the store stocks, they ask questions like: Does it use environmentally sound methods? Does it use renewable, sustainable sources? Is it produced using nontoxic methods?

imageThe questions, Sean Burns says, are important because they form the basis of their store’s business model—a triple bottom line. “We look at our financial bottom line, a traditional balance sheet and whether or not we’re profitable,” he says. “The other two components we consider in our business are the environmental impact of that product and also the social impact.”

Under the Nile, a children’s clothing brand, is a bestseller at Green Island, and a perfect example of a product that meets the Burnses’ rigorous screening criteria: It’s profitable for the store, it’s environmentally sound and it’s socially responsible. Under the Nile’s products are made in Egypt, though the company is based in California. “All the cotton is grown organically, the dyes are nontoxic, no heavy metals used in the dying systems,” Sean Burns says. “They also work with women’s cooperatives in Egypt, so they’re employing women who are homeless or have been abused.”

Before opening Green Island, Sean Burns was a director at a large corporation, working closely with environmental regulations and organic farming practices, while Lori Burns was an early elementary teacher.

imageWhen their daughter Emma came along, the couple had an opportunity to do something different, Sean Burns says. “So we came up with an idea of merging both our concern for the environment along with our interest in business, and came up with the idea for Green Island,” he says. They opened Green Island in June 2002, with a green focus on products for the home, products for the body and products for baby. “That’s what we originally launched, and we’ve stayed pretty true to those core groups.”

Home products consist of home décor items, candles, glassware and bamboo cutting boards. Green Island stocks linens from Coyuchi, mattresses by Vivetique Sleep Systems and Tibetan rugs from Garuda Woven Art. There are body products including natural soaps, body lotions and lip balms by Weleda, as well as organic teas from Light of Day Organics and organic chocolates from Dagoba. For children, the store carries everything from baby and toddler sleepwear to diapers, cribs and crib mattresses.

“The theme behind our business is that it’s all earth-friendly, so everything is made from environmentally sound material such as organically grown cottons, natural beeswax, recycled glass,” Sean Burns says.

The Burnses also pay attention to the social impact of the products they stock. Sean Burns says this means looking at the people who are making the products to ensure that they are treated well and that they earn a fair wage, and that no child labor is used in the creation of the product.

When it comes to marketing the store, Burns says a goal is to partner with environmental and social groups, and the local food co-op, by providing financial and physical support. One thing customers won’t see is postcards or newsletters in their mailboxes. “We don’t do mass mailings, because that’s kind of contrary to our own business philosophy and environmental philosophy,” Burns says.

imageThe store has another mission beyond the triple bottom line: education. Burns says that every product the store sells has an interesting story about how it’s made. Paperworks, a business that started as a vocational program for the local Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, provides one example.

“They employ special-needs individuals, and they take papers from the school systems and local industry, and recycle it and make new paper and stationery out it,” Burns explains.

Burns says that when someone buys an item from Green Island, it gives the customer a story to tell the recipient. “In our mission, it’s a way for people to kind of open their eyes to getting products that are made in a better way,” he says.

Burns advises retailers considering getting into green to do their homework. “There are companies making it cheap, fast and toxic, and those are companies that people who are interested in getting into green have to be aware of,” he says.

Kristen Hains

Kristen Hains is a professional writer based in Traverse City, Michigan. A former retailer, she is now a regular contributor to Dance Retailer News magazine.

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