Secrets for Building an Eco-Friendly Business

Even as a child, Summer was interested in saving the earth.

“Growing up, it was just my mom and me, and she instilled environmental awareness in me,” she said. “Even when I was really young, I’d knock on my neighbors’ doors and tell them to not use so many plastic bags.”

Summer carried her passion for the environment with her through college at UC Berkeley, where she majored in sociology and conservation and resource studies.

After graduation, Summer took a job as a 6th grade teacher. She loved teaching and the lifestyle that it afforded, but soon she found herself going through the motions a little too comfortably.

“I was busy all the time, grading papers constantly at coffee shops, and just living my life,” she said. “But at some point, I realized I had gotten away from those things that had been really important to me.”

As she concentrated her efforts more on reconnecting with her passion, she found she was spending a lot of her free time researching what she bought and what products were good for the earth. Especially when it came to buying clothes, it was difficult to shop responsibly.

“There was nothing I could wear to work. There was nothing I could wear out, going out to clubs or going out to dinner. Frankly, I couldn’t find anything I liked,” she said. “I decided to stop complaining about the fact that nobody had changed this and be the change, create my own resource.”

Summer is passionate about the environment because she cares about what happens in the future.

“Everything that I sell is certified organic, which means a third party comes in and certifies how it’s grown,” she said. “It’s also either domestically made by artisans who create their own wage, under U.S. labor laws, or it’s sourced through the fair trade federations. Every single product has a sort of certification that makes it definitely earth-friendly.”

Being able to help others make better decisions more easily is far more rewarding for Summer than she ever imagined it would be. She feels like she is living a life of purpose, that she is following the admonition on her favorite refrigerator magnet: Be the change you wish to see in the world.

“I feel really happy for what I’ve done,” she said. “I am proud of myself that I’ve really been true to what I believe in but have also made a livelihood in doing that, in doing something small to benefit the bigger picture.”

Check out Summer’s online store BTC Elements, it’s got everything from organic cotton tablecloths to recycled fleece winter coats.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Elements of Style
Summer’s online store BTC Elements includes everything from organic cotton tablecloths to recycled fleece winter coats.

Fair Trade, Woman-Made
An online boutique of handmade clothing, home goods and accessories created by women all over the world who are working toward economic security.

Green? Great!
Check out this comprehensive shopping blog that highlights eco-friendly apparel and goods from all over the web.

Mind Your Biz
At GreenBiz, the eco-enthusiast can learn how to succeed in business while being environmentally responsible.

How does 83 cents a gallon sound?

As gas prices crept above $5/gallon in some parts of the country this summer, most of us reconsidered our travel plans and some of us started looking more closely at public transportation. The term “staycation” came into our common vernacular, and we adopted “errand loops” to extend the lives of our fill-ups.

But while most of us wondered how our pump costs could possibly be exceeding our car payments, Zan Dubin Scott and her husband Paul sat on their back patio and soaked up the sunshine. Their car, a Toyota Rav4 parked in the garage, did the same thing.

“All the electricity for our house and the car is generated by solar panels on our roof,” said Zan. “We haven’t been to a gas station in over six years with this car.”

Since 2002, Zan and her husband Paul have been literally driving on sunshine. Both considered themselves conscientious citizens their whole lives, but it wasn’t until Paul was diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer four months after their wedding that the couple decided to get serious about their environmentalism.

“I was a marathoner, and health issues were the farthest thing from my mind,” said Paul. “I thought I was going to be a really old guy, and I had all this time left to do all these things that I wanted to do… When you’re faced with death, you start thinking, ‘Well, I’m not wasting any more time.’”

Paul and Zan had solar panels installed on Paul’s 50th birthday, and that investment made such an impact on their lives that they started to look at other ways they could lessen their effect on the world. They came across websites about electric cars and decided to take a test drive.

“The first time I drove this car, I had this rush of feeling that I was doing something really significant to help this planet,” Zan said.

“It was better than sliced bread,” Paul agreed. “This car is silent, it’s more powerful than a gas version and it runs on sunlight. We bought one as fast as we could, and we were lucky we did because they shut the program down shortly after we received the car.”

Thus began their journey into activism.

As automakers clamor to roll out new technology that is affordable and functional, Zan said it’s critical that we as consumers keep demanding better energy efficiency. Through her and Paul’s non-profit organization, Plug In America, she encourages people to tell car manufactures “no plug, no deal.”

The summer gas crunch that had us pinching our pennies may have been just the wake up call we needed. Nissan is in a race to go global with an all-electric car by 2012, and Tesla motors has already rolled out a space age Roadster that costs about as much as your first house did. Slightly more tangible than these two options is Chevy’s new Volt, which looks like the sedans we’re used to and comes with a $7,500 tax credit. It’s due out at the end of 2010.

See what other cars Zan endorses at Plug In America, where she and Paul make it easy for you to join the 83 cents per gallon club.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Soul Crushing
See Zan and Paul in action in Who Killed the Electric Car?

Join the club!
Want to find some like minded electric car fans? Take a look at the Electric Auto Association and get info on how to rally for the cause.

A Trusted Advisor
Get the latest news and advisories on green automotives through Edmund’s Green Car Advisor.