Why Make Your Business More Sustainable? Save The Earth And Money

Duckweed Urban Market owner Michelle Deatherage is finding new ways to make her downtown Tampa grocery store more earth-friendly. Over two months, she cut down on waste output and energy costs to make her store a little more green. Now, a garden of produce grows vertically in the back of the store, including green tomatoes hanging from vines. Coffee is now poured into cups made of recyclable material and the store's paper towels are now also made of recyclable material.

Duckweed made these changes this year while participating in the inaugural environmentally focused Sustany Sustainable Business Program organized by the nonprofit Sustany Foundation and the Tampa Downtown Partnership. Sustany is the organization that vets all the candidates for green business designations given by the City of Tampa. Normally, the steps needed to earn a designation are completed through a self-guided process. The Sustany Sustainable Business program is different. Businesses get extra help over a prescribed period of time.

As part of the Sustainable Business Program in 2014, 10 participant businesses teamed up with students from the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida to identify best practices for improving environmental sustainability over the three-month program. Businesses attended workshops and participated in assessments of their operating practices. At the end of the program, participating businesses left with official Green Business designations from city government and free publicity and marketing services.

They also finished the program with ideas and practices that could make them better stewards of the Earth's limited resources. And what they learned could also help their bottom lines through cost savings and green reputations.

"It resonates with the community,'' Deatherage says.

Sustainability Made Simple

The Duckweed Urban Market has existed in Tampa for more than 2.5 years, although it has only been at its current location on the ground floor of The Element, a residential tower at the corner of Polk Avenue and Tampa Street for the past several months. Deatherage, who co-owns the store with her husband Brent, says she has always been diligent about trying to incorporate sustainability practices into her business. She uses local vendors as much as possible and strives to recycle. When she learned about the Sustany sustainable business program, it seemed like an opportunity to do more.

"It would be crazy not to support sustainability in your local community,'' she says.    

Her only concern when she entered the program was that she wouldn't be able to do enough. But she soon found that some parts of being more sustainable included little steps she hadn't even considered.

Her student consultant Anna Stracey pointed out that people were pulling out more paper towels from her bathroom dispenser than intended. The towels also weren't made of Earth-friendly material. So Deatherage switched to a different brand of paper towel that is recyclable.

At certain times of the day, sunlight streams through Duckweed's storefront windows, raises the market's temperature and gets in customer's eyes. So Deatherage is partnering with a business to get blinds that stick to the window. This could help lower air conditioning costs and improve the customer experience.

The vertical garden of green tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables in her produce section were also a direct result of the program. They were grown and provided by Tampa's Uriah's Urban Farms. Customers can pick what they can right off the stem and bring it home.

Deatherage also plans on installing a bike rack outside her store. And has employed a recycling service to take care of her cardboard trash.

Improving Bottom Line And Community

A vertical garden also hangs near the entrance of Anise Global Gastrobar, another participant business in the Sustainable Business Program. Owners Kenney and Xing Suan Hurt say the business uses the tomatoes, schiso lettuce, bed lettuce and anise in its menu.

It saves the Hurts from having to take a trip to the market.

The business already had installed LED lights in its bar before starting the sustainability program, but now it has motion sensors in its bathrooms, too, to help make sure the lights turn on and off efficiently.

Anise is planning to expand into the space next door to it and the owners plan to continue to evolve sustainability measures as they expand.

The Hurts and Deatherage spoke very highly of the program, especially their student consultants.

"I just encourage everyone who can be a part of it to do so,'' Xing Hurt says.

The owners also point to how simple it can be to start on the path toward environmentally sustainable business practices.

"Just start with one thing at a time,'' Xing Hurt says.    

The organizers of the sustainable business program and city officials also had kind words for participating businesses at as ceremony celebrating their completion of the program on Earth Day.

Lance Cutrer, sustainability business program intern, pointed out that sustainable business practices are ultimately good for business' bottom lines.

"People would like to live in Tampa,'' he says. "Sustainability is part of that.''

Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez agrees.

"This is not only good for the Earth,'' he tells business owners. "It's good for downtown Tampa. It's good for you, too.''

The full list of businesses that participated in this year's program includes: Anise Global Gastro Bar, Duckweed Urban Market, Bamboozle, City Bike, Zudar's, Sunny Side Up, Malio's Prime Steakhouse, Renaissance Planning Group, 22 Squared, Moxies Cafe, Coffee Bar & Catering.

Alex Tiegen is a freelance writer living in New Port Richey in Pasco County, north of Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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