Sustainability awards highlight Tampa Bay green businesses

Since 2007, the Sustany Foundation of Tampa Bay has honored local businesses and entrepreneurs for innovation and creativity in lessening their own carbon footprint, educating their employees and the public about sustainability issues and promoting activities that enhance the environment.

This year, local individuals and companies took home 16 Sustany Awards for excelling in green practices during a gala ceremony held April 29th at the University of Tampa Vaughn Center. 

Here are four of the winners and what they did to earn the Sustany Foundation’s recognition: 

Bambu The Eco Salon

Near the heart of downtown St. Petersburg is a boutique salon with a lot of personality and unflagging commitment toward environmental sustainability. The shop, Bambu the Eco Salon, has been welcoming locals, tourists and snowbirds for four years. Co-owner Chris Kiss, who has been in the salon industry for a decade, weaves his passion for ecological responsibility with every cut, perm, color and shampoo he provides. 

“Most important is choosing products that have a positive impact on the environment and the earth!” Kiss exclaims. 

Kiss and his small but vibrant crew, which includes co-owner and master stylist Joshua DeBlock and makeup artist Carey Hinrichs, focus their collective green-inspired efforts on all facets of environmental friendliness. However, they are particularly concerned with preventing one of the worst environmental transgressions of which many salons are guilty: water pollution. 

“We reached out to sustainable cities such as Denver, Colorado, encouraging the implementation of Bambu’s phytore-mediation process and work with a German-based environmental company in efforts to filter salon waters before it goes into the water waste,” he says. “This is soon to prove a study that our practices will show something never felt before in the salon industry, and that is to not put toxins in water waste.” 

Kiss said he and his team also take pride in being recommended as a choice salon by Tampa Bay Watch, an environmental organization that recognized the salon for its efforts in keeping excess toxins out of Tampa Bay area waterways. 

“We also work closely with St. Petersburg’s sustainability movement.” 

Kiss serves on the sustainability task force of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, a position that not only helps the energetic salon professional stay in touch with what’s happening on the city’s environmental front, but also helps give him perspective on other ways he can keep his shop on the forefront of green practices. 

“We focus a huge effort on recycling, implementing uses for non-recyclable items,” which includes using up-cycled furniture in the boutique. The establishment is dedicated to using organic and natural lotions, shampoos and other products, and even uses botanical plants to purify the air in the store. “[We’ve] only taken out 20 bags of trash and over 300 bags of recycling each year.”

Kiss says Bambu was nominated for the Sustany Award by Janet Hall at Destination Better

“We were interviewed by a young, passionate scholar,” he recalls of the Sustany Award vetting process. “We had to fill out an in-depth detailed report and show proof of policies and procedures focused on sustainability.” Kiss says the Sustany interviewer seemed most impressed by the innovations on reducing water pollution. “The most important thing was making an impact on the environment!”

 The Electric Marina 

Nancy Frainetti, president of The Electric Marina, grew up in the 1960s and remembers traveling with her family to a lake in Pennsylvania that barred boats with internal-combustion engines. Back then, electric boats were relatively primitive as compared to the technology available today, but the 56-year-old credits those early years on the lake for implanting within her a curiosity about alternative ways to run a boat. 

“In 1997, when I was in California, I became interested in electric boats – I said, ‘oh my gosh, I want one!’ ” she recalls. “We all know the emissions from the boat are bad in themselves, but another problem is fuel leaking into the water.” 

Frainetti says the amount of fuel seeping into United States waterways each year is equivalent to 18 times the amount of oil that leaked during the catastrophic Exxon-Valdez spill off the Alaskan coast in 1989. “I started with Duffy Electric Boats in 1998.” Soon, she launched the first electric boat rental company in Florida from a spot near the St. Petersburg Pier. 

Frainetti, who studied at Pennsylvania State University and earned a degree in horticulture, created her own electric-powered boat nearly a decade ago. 

“We built the mold and sold six boats within six months,” she says. “I designed the solar boat and did my first prototype in 2008, but a bad economy made it difficult to sell so we hibernated it.” 

Frainetti’s electric boats didn’t languish in hibernation for long. 

“The owner of Island Packet Yachts, Bob Johnson, called me to build the boat. He’s an acclaimed boat builder, so it was an honor.” 

Frainetti says Island Packet Yachts is now manufacturing her boats, and she is the global distributor. Her rise to prominence in the electric boat industry helped her successful firm capture Sustany’s attention.

“This electric-powered boat was a major focal point of the award,” she says. “I’m thrilled -- I’m honored they chose me.” 

Frainetti’s electric boats range in price from $70,000 to more than $145,000, with the latter representing the price paid by one of her most recent clients, a man from Miami.

“He’s having the boat shipped to his other home in Vermont,” relates Frainetti. “It’s a ‘Mac Daddy’ -- I told him ‘you’re building my dream boat!’ ” 

Clients don’t need to pay six figures – or even in the high five-figure range – to enjoy Frainetti’s green boating technology. 

“I sell electric outboard motors from Torqeedo, with prices starting at around $2,000 for a small motor suitable for a dingy or other small boat and $5,000 for a good motor that can run a bigger boat.” 

She says the technology she sells is not only efficient, but it’s also reliable. 

“Solar power works well out in the open water, while lithium batteries lose only about 4 percent of their energy per year, so you may easily get 10 to 15 years from a battery.” The benefits of the technology go beyond environmental friendliness. “There are no motor or boat sounds, so spending time on an electric boat is nice and peaceful.” 

Smith & Associates Real Estate

Smith & Associates Real Estate is a familiar name to many throughout the Tampa Bay area. Motorists may recognize the company’s black, white, and orange signs standing proud on many local lawns. The real estate firm has been independently owned and locally operated since 1968, and nearly 50 years later the company boasts more than 130 sales associates and tens of millions of dollars in sales each year. 

While Smith & Associates may see a lot of green in the form of money change hands during each closing, there’s another shade of green that the company’s realtors are passionate about. 

“We have worked hard over the past few years to move toward a paperless system,” says E-Commerce Manager Katie Glaser. “We have given each agent codes for the printers to make sure all are accountable for their printing. We provide recycling areas throughout the office and our CEO [Robert Glaser] leads by example -- he is our top recycler.” 

Beyond reducing the use of and recycling paper, there are other areas of day-to-day business that the Smith & Associates team realized could become greener. 

“We have also discontinued the use of plastic water bottles, instead installing a filtered water system and using paper cups that can be recycled.” 

Even the yard signs for which companies like Smith & Associates are often most familiar to individuals not in the real estate market have been the target of eco-friendly overhauls. Traditionally, real estate companies used wooden sign hangers that resemble mailbox posts to display home and agent information to passers-by. 

These days, metal and plastic signposts are en vogue, though old-fashioned wood poles can still be used in an environmentally efficiently way. 

“[Metal and plastic posts] are more eco friendly and also last longer without having to make more,” Katie Glaser says. “We use the wooden posts and recycle the signs to the next listing. We inventory and only order new signs if they are damaged.”

All of these eco-friendly efforts helped Smith & Associates win its 2016 Sustany Award, but the virtually paperless office system was especially appealing to the Sustany team members that interviewed the real estate company. 

“We have adopted a system, appFiles, that allows our documents to be shared over a web-based program,” Glaser explains. “Our agents can have clients sign virtually and these files can be shared throughout the office without ever being printed. It is convenient and sustainable.”

Bay Mulch

For companies that provide landscaping materials to its customers throughout the Tampa Bay area, it’s not always easy being green. After all, many of the products that help keep lawns looking beautiful and green are anything but green. However, the folks at Bay Mulch in Tampa have found a way to keep their landscaping firm just as green as the lawns and gardens for which they supply products. 

Eve Spengler, Director of Marketing and Environmental Advocacy at the company’s Organics Recycling Division, says spearheading recycling initiatives and offering innovative landscaping products has helped Bay Mulch, established nearly two decades ago, become a top performer in the local environmental arena. She says Bay Mulch president and founder Tom Kirkland has led the way on the recycling side. 

“[He] is a mechanical genius who retrofitted his fleet of trucks to be waterproof (i.e. “juice proof”) and be able to pick up vegetative food material to start his organics recycling business just two years ago,” remarks Spengler. “Tom over the years has always been dedicated to recycling, has preserved trees, promoted the use of biodiesel, and developed special blends of soil that we produce today on our 42-acre farm.”

The special soil is made from recycled vegetative material that Bay Mulch collects. 

“We transform it into USDA Certified Organic soil through an innovative composting method. Then we make custom blends with special pH [power of hydrogen] levels and ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratios by using recycled wood and yard trimmings, which are all natural and free of chemicals,” Spengler explains. 

“I do believe that the 50/50 potting soil we produce is absolutely necessary for so many reasons,” she asserts. “Firstly, it is made from recycled food that would otherwise end up in a landfill or incinerator. It is a wonderful growing medium, suitable for everything from planting seeds to growing an herb or veggie garden, to replanting mature shrubs and trees.” 

The soil, which contains the essential nutrients ingredients originally found in the disposed organic matter, offers what Spengler likes to describe as a “hat trick” of benefits. 

“The soil is USDA Certified Organic, it is Florida Certified Free of Harmful Nematodes, and because of our innovative composting process, it does not harbor weed seeds. Lastly, it is incredible because due to ‘Cation Exchange’ as shown by an independent study of the Georgia Extension Office (of the University of Georgia; during rain, our soil does not emit any harmful runoff into Florida surface water or our precious Florida aquifer.” 

Here’s the scoop on another innovation at Bay Mulch: Earth-friendly mulch. 

“We produce a type of mulch which we invented called Enviromulch, which is 100 percent recycled and chemical free. It contains no cypress, yet is beautiful and durable, and helps plants retain moisture.” 

Cypress-based mulch is indeed one of the biggest environmental offenders in the landscaping industry because it comes from the ecologically sensitive cypress tree. Cypress is essential to sustaining Florida wetlands, yet these beautiful trees that stand in groups called “domes” and turn a gorgeous rust color in the autumn are being cut down faster than they can regrow; 20.4 million cubic feet of cypress is harvested each year, but the tree’s natural rate of replacement each year is just 17.1 million cubic feet. So, using earth-friendly mulches such as Enviromulch is key to helping landscapes look manicured without scarring limited and valuable natural resources. 

Spengler says the 2016 Sustany Award for Bay Mulch came about after she attended the Sustainable Business Coalition Awards two years ago, when she was a graduate student at Patel College of Global Sustainability at the University of South Florida. 

“I remembered what an impressive group of people were in the audience,” she recalls. “It was so exciting to know that there were so many green businesses in Tampa.” 

Links for all the honorees

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Tampa. He earned his BA in English from the University of South Florida and spent more than three years as a full-time copywriter for a local internet marketing firm before striking out on his own to write for various blogs and periodicals, including TheFunTimesGuide, CoinValue and COINage magazine. He has also authored local history books, including Images of America: Tampa's Carrollwood and Images of Modern America: Tampa Bay Landmarks and Destinations, which are two titles produced by Arcadia Publishing.
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