Yesterday we kicked off Bethesda Green -- a private-public initiative to help create a model of sustainable urban living in the Bethesda, Maryland business district. When we sent out the invitations, we were hoping for 50 to 75 people, but to our surprise and delight more than 250 people showed up.
Ten years ago, when we started Honest Tea, I met with some fancy venture capital investors who looked at our business and gave me a lot of bad advice, most of which I didn't follow. But two points in particular still stand out. They looked at our commitment to buying organic ingredients and they said, "To succeed in the beverage business you need to buy cheap and sell lots of volume, and you can't do that with organics." Obviously, we didn't follow that advice. But there was an even worse piece of advice they gave us. They said, "You've got this crunchy organic tea company, you really should set up a P.O. box in Vermont or New Hampshire, instead of having a Bethesda mailing address on your label." Well, aside from the fact that that wouldn't be "Honest," I remember saying to myself, "Why can't Bethesda be recognized as a green community?" And so ten years later, here we are taking steps to make Bethesda a model.
A fair question to ask is "Why Bethesda?" And our response is, "Why not?" Many of the worldwide environmental issues we face need to be addressed on a local basis, and this is where most of us live and work. In addition, Bethesda has some wonderful assets -- a dense, growing population, high volume shops and restaurants, leading progressive companies like Calvert, the national leader in social and environmentally responsible mutual funds; Chevy Chase Bank; and a responsive chamber of commerce. Plus we are right on the Metro and Capital Crescent Trail bike path.
There are four goals of Bethesda Green: Establish Bethesda as a model of an environmentally friendly urban center. Reduce the environmental footprint of a heavily trafficked area. Attract environmentally aware consumers to the area. And showcase/share best sustainable practices.
When I started discussing the ideas for Bethesda Green back in July with our landlord, Federal Realty, we talked about finding a way for the restaurants of Bethesda to do something more productive with all the grease they were generating. Federal Realty stepped up and made some changes. Now, instead of directing the grease to a company that converts it into dogfood, the grease is converted into biodiesel. And I was impressed to learn that every month the restaurants of Bethesda Row generate 2,500 gallons of biodiesel -- enough to fuel the average car for eight years.
This initiative is just getting started. In fact, we're still in what I call "the thermos stage." When I started Honest Tea ten years ago, my only assets were an empty Snapple bottle and five thermoses, and the thermoses were actually loaned to me, so I guess all I had was that bottle. This phase is exciting, things are a bit disorganized, and of course like all good entrepreneurs, we're under-funded. I'll let you know how we do.
SETH GOLDMAN | Columnist | Co-founder of Honest Tea
Seth Goldman is the President and TeaEO of Honest Tea, the company he co-founded in 1998 with Professor Barry Nalebuff of the Yale School of Management. He's preparing the September release of a graphic novel titled Mission in a Bottle.