Winter 2013
Ten Ways to Green By Stephanie Vozza

Article Resources

Chet Chafee
FirstCarbon Solutions
Irvine, CA

Tracy Coe
Owner, Hazelnut Kids
Traverse City, MI

Joanie Kleban
Owner, Greater Goods
Eugene, OR

Brooke Schultz
Owner, Re-Inspiration Store
Atlanta, GA

Thinking of going more green? Don’t know how? Here’s a rundown of ten ideas to get you started.

Not that long ago, it wasn’t easy being green. Today, however, sustainability is an important—and sometimes even effortless—concept in retail.

“What once was pioneered by Whole Foods has now gone mainstream,” says Chet Chafee, vice president of life cycle assessment at FirstCarbon Solutions, an energy management and sustainability consulting firm in Irvine, CA. “Large, old-line retailers are now embracing sustainability. If you go to Staples, Office Depot, Home Depot or Lowes, they all have major sustainability programs in place. And smaller, boutique chains are moving in that direction, too.”

What can you do to make your shop more green? Here are ten tips for creating a more eco-friendly store:

Sell products that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. For example, Tracy Coe, owner of Hazelnut Kids in Traverse City, Michigan, sells only toys made of wood, bamboo, organic cotton and wool. “Our toys are made with the health of children and the earth as the primary focus,” she says. Whatever your category, consider adding recycled or sustainable items to your product line.

Use recycled and recyclable materials for store supplies. Choose 100% post-consumer recycled printing paper, boxes and gift wrap. Use paper tape instead of standard plastic. And print marketing materials using recycled paper and vegetable inks.

Reduce your waste. Joanie Kleban, owner of Greater Goods in Eugene, OR, says she does her best to ‘pre-cycle.’ “We make purchases that are not excessively packaged,” she says. “We recycle paper and cardboard. We compost most of our food waste. We reuse packing materials and give lots of peanuts and packing materials to our neighbors who have a wholesale business that ships many diverse items.” Kleban’s efforts have reduced her store’s waste to about one bag per week.

Ship responsibly. Start by reducing your packaging. Choose packing boxes with a 100 percent recycled exterior and a liner made of 20-30 percent recycled material. Forego Styrofoam peanuts and use alternative materials when shipping products. Coe uses 100 % recycled Kraft paper as packaging fill.

Engage your customer’s help. Before you bag an item or print a receipt, ask if the customer wants it. Encourage customers to bring their own bags. Locally owned food store, Barons Market in San Diego, CA, holds a weekly drawing for customers who forego single-use bags, and awards a $25 gift certificate each week.

Choose your vendors carefully. Coe says she asks a lot of questions about the materials used to make the toys she sells. “We want to know where and how it’s made,” she says. “We want to feel good about what we sell. We try our best to offer local or U.S.-made products.”

Chafee says retailers should look for vendors who use green practices. “Pay attention to vendors’ business practices,” he says. “Choose those who use recycled materials and energy-efficient resources.”

Chafee says retailers don’t need to accept the status quo. “Always ask questions,” he says. “If your vendors can’t give you answers, ask yourself if they are the right people to be working with. Find out if there are alternatives.”

Upgrade your lighting. Use the most current CFL or LED lighting fixtures. Chafee says they’re more expensive initially, but will eventually pay for themselves on energy-use savings. He says another green trend is to use display level instead of ceiling level lighting, which offers a better shopping experience for customers and cuts lighting costs.

Donate a percentage of your sales to an organization that supports environmental causes. Hazelnut Kids donates 1% of sales to land and water conservancies, and plants one tree for each product purchased through Trees for the Future. “We sell a lot of wooden toys, and we have to look at that,” says Coe. “These are sustainable products, but they use valuable resources. We feel it is important to help replenish those resources.”

Lower your energy consumption. Put lighting and thermostats on timers. And choose Energy Star appliances whenever possible. Brooke Schultz, owner of the Re-Inspiration Store in Atlanta, Georgia, says she’s sensitive about the temperature in her store. “In the winter, it might be colder than another place and in the summer it might not be as cool as you’d want it, but we keep our energy consumption and costs down,” she says.

Consider the materials used to build your store. Chafee suggests using carpet systems that have removable tiles that can be easily replaced when high-traffic areas become worn out instead of having to replace wall-to-wall flooring. Choose used fixtures or reclaimed materials whenever possible. Use sustainable building materials such as bamboo. And choose low or no-VOC paint.

Stephanie Vozza

Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer based in the Detroit area. She specializes in business and real estate. Learn more at

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