And the fun? Each employee gets a cruiser bike on his or her first anniversary--during the summer, some 40 percent of the company's day-shift staffers pedal to work. Corporate philanthropy centers on the Tour de Fat (named for New Belgium's Fat Tire Amber Ale), a multicity "ballyhoo of bikes and beer" that promotes green issues and raises money for local nonprofits. Jordan acknowledges that being green has a brand benefit. "But building a brand by being green is not our motivation," she says. "The beautiful part of it is we believe in what we're doing."
In the quest for perfectly manicured turf, more than 100 million pounds of pesticides are dumped on American lawns each year. They pollute groundwater and lakes and kill birds and fish, and many of the most commonly used ones, including organophosphates, have been linked to cancer, reproductive defects, and neurological damage in people.
After working for nine years as a manager at ChemLawn (which has since changed its name to TruGreen ChemLawn and updated many of its practices), the nation's leading lawn-care company, Philip Catron decided he had seen enough of sick pets, lawn-service employees, and lawns. So in 1986, he launched NaturaLawn of America in Frederick, Maryland, to provide a then-novel alternative: a lawn-care system that uses an approach called integrated pest management. This system allows beneficial insects to keep harmful pests under control and the soil healthy, and uses natural fertilizers and weed inhibitors to minimize the need for applications of chemicals. In the 20 years since, NaturaLawn has become the country's largest organic-based lawn-care business, with 72 franchisees in 25 states and systemwide revenue of about $27 million. Customers have been able to reduce pesticide use by an average of 85 percent. NaturaLawn is more expensive than traditional methods, but the company retains customers longer, Catron says, with an annual turnover rate of about 15 percent, compared with 40 percent for the industry at large. "To be responsible isn't necessarily the cheapest thing to do," Catron says. "It never is. But we make it up in the long haul."
Howard Berke has the credibility of an entrepreneur who has been involved with 13 start-ups. He also has the credibility of a CEO with two Nobel laureates among his 40 employees and all-star VC backing.
So there is considerable excitement in the renewable-energy world about Berke's focus on a technology known as solar cell. Power Plastic, as they like to call it at Konarka Technologies, the company Berke runs in Lowell, Massachusetts, is different from conventional solar panels both chemically and practically. Solar cells are built around organic chemicals rather than silicon. Because of that, they are considerably more flexible than the solar panels sold today and can be used in more ways. (For one thing, Power Plastic can be made in an array of colors.) When the product is ready for the market--soon, says Berke--it will have the potential to bring solar power to an array of everyday objects, turning things such as handbags, lampposts, and even clothing into clean power sources. Charge your phone while you carry it around, or use the awning outside your place of business to help power the computers inside. The U.S. military is onboard: Both the Army and the Air Force have awarded Konarka multimillion-dollar research contracts to outfit tents, uniforms, and electronic devices with Power Plastic.
"I'm a pretty conservative person," said Berke. "I don't come at this as an environmentalist. I come at this from basic good business sense. The cost of renewables is coming down; it's more competitive when compared with fossil fuel."
That sounds credible.
Even in our final act, we find a way to be wasteful. Every year, Americans spend $25 billion to deep-six more than 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid; in addition, about 90,000 tons of steel and more than 30 million board feet of hardwood are used to make caskets.
Billy Campbell realized the absurdity of the situation in 1985, when his own father died. A medical doctor with a strong interest in anthropology, Campbell knew about death, both the biological breakdown of the body and the way different cultures ritually react to it. So in 1996, he launched Memorial Ecosystems, which in 1998 opened the nation's first green cemetery, Ramsey Creek Preserve. Located on 36 acres in Westminster, South Carolina, Ramsey Creek buries bodies with no fancy caskets or harmful chemicals--no vaults or conventional headstones, either; they aren't allowed--for $2,250. For $250, cremated remains are scattered over some of the 275 plant species on the property.
It's not exactly a volume business: The facility accepts fewer than 200 people per acre, compared with 1,000 to 2,000 people per acre at traditional cemeteries. "No one wants to be the first on the dance floor," says Campbell of some people's hesitancy to break from customary burials. "But now, we're running out of creek-view property." Memorial Ecosystems is working now to open 70 acres in southeast Georgia.
Jim Poss likes talking trash: 179,000 refuse trucks rumble down America's city streets every day, he says, burning a billion gallons of diesel a year. The trucks follow the same route, day in, day out, whether or not there's trash to collect. Poss's company, Seahorse Power, aims to change that inefficient system, one trash can at a time. The company's BigBelly garbage bin is equipped with a 40-watt solar panel that powers a battery-run compactor that increases the capacity of the bin at least fourfold. An indicator on the can lights up when it's full, and plans are under way for wireless alerts that will help refuse haulers better manage pickups.
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