It's Getting Easier Being Green

Starting a business that respects the environment and still turns a profit is quite a challenge -- one I've learned to meet

I am the founder and managing partner of Eco Home Improvement, a retail showroom in the San Francisco Bay Area that sells paints, flooring, wall coverings, kitchen cabinetry, and countertops that are eco-friendly and safe for people to use. My business took shape in my final semester at Presidio School of Management in San Francisco, where I was part of the first graduating class in this new MBA program dedicated to integrating social and environmental values with the application of practical business (see BW Online, 7/15/05, "It's Getting Easier Being Green").

I saw the intersection of quality, price, and style in eco-friendly products and an underserved market of people who care about their health and the environment. So, just days after graduating, I put my business plan into action. After scouring for months with my managing partner, Nina Boeddeker -- a pharmacist and biologist whom I met while working at Gilead Sciences (GILD ), a biopharmaceutical company that develops drugs to treat HIV and hepatitis B and C, among other illnesses -- we found the perfect storefront on a busy, up-and-coming street in Berkeley. We opened on Nov. 9, 2005.


  Our products come from my online research, trade shows, and dealers looking for showrooms. Before we sell them, Nina determines if the products meet safety standards, such as having a low volatile organic compound (VOC) finish or releasing a minimal amount of chemicals in the home. Nina and I also ask the manufacturers a series of questions and look for third-party certifications from places like the Forest Stewardship Council, which confirm the manufacturers' commitment to the environment and people's health.

I manage the day-to-day operations, sales, brand management, and the long-term vision and goals. Nina manages the finances and our two employees. We have been relying mainly on word of mouth and a number of trade shows and green building events -- where people interested in promoting the construction of environmentally responsible homes and workplaces gather -- to get our name out to the public. In just three weeks, and with limited marketing, we are already serving upward of 100 customers a week.

So, what's in a day of an eco-entrepreneur? Here's my typical schedule:

7:15 a.m.-- Off to work. I leave the Toyota (TM ) Prius and biodiesel truck at home and start my morning by walking three short blocks to the store. My first step is going through the to-do list for the day. I need to start with this because once we open, it gets busy with...

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