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Green Businesses Find Strength in Numbers
Published Friday, March 20, 2009

When Jim Reinertson was marketing his organic lawn care business, it seems only fitting he would find a grassroots solution. Reinertson, who owns Purely Organic Lawncare in York, Maine, and Andrew Kellar, founder of Portsmouth-based Simply Green Biofuels, got together to brainstorm how best to cross-pollinate their environmentally friendly businesses from a marketing standpoint.

Figuring customers interested in biofuels would likely be drawn to organic lawn care as well, Reinertson and Kellar joined forces, offering discounts to each other’s customers. The resulting mutual boost in sales convinced them that forming an alliance was smart business. As a result, the Green Alliance, based in Portsmouth, officially launched about a year ago.

For Reinertson and Kellar, it made sense to reach out to other green-minded businesses, as there is marketing strength in numbers. Finding the right person to help organize such an alliance was key to the success of the venture, now 35 businesses strong and growing at an average of three to five new members per month. Sarah Brown was brought on as the organization’s project director.

Promotion and Transparency
Annual membership in the Green Alliance costs $1,200 to $5,000 depending on the size of the business, providing members with marketing and insuring transparency in the green marketplace for customers.

It’s like a green PR firm, says Brown, a former journalist and dedicated environmentalist. “There are so many businesses that already have incredible sustainable initiatives. Getting their stories out and letting consumers and other businesses know what they were doing toward that goal was what was missing,” Brown says. “Most small businesses don’t know how to promote themselves effectively.”

Consumers can join a consumer co-op for $35 annually, which provides exclusive discounts with business partners. It also works to prevent “greenwashing,” or the practice of making sweeping claims about a product’s green factor that either aren’t true or can’t be verified.

Together with Deana Aulisio, one of seven Green Alliance advisory board members and a doctoral candidate with the University of NH’s Environmental Research Group, Brown developed an in-depth “report card” system by which consumers can evaluate just how sustainable a business is—like a greener Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. “I felt like we needed a quantitative way of evaluating businesses within the alliance, because they are such a diverse group,” Aulisio says. “What applies to a restaurant doesn’t necessary apply to a hair salon.”

The result was a series of 60 questions that rate each business on how well they’re doing, and help identify areas needing improving. The results are posted on the Web at greenalliance.biz.

Aulisio regards Brown’s rating system as truly innovative. “Nothing has been done like this, that encompasses all types of businesses, where members can log on and, no matter what they need—whether it’s getting their laundry done or their car fixed—link to a local business whose sustainability report card is posted,” Aulisio says. “It could definitely become a blueprint used by other alliances across the country.”

Green Concord
Brown is quick to credit Debby deMoulpied, who founded Green Concord (greenconcord.org), as the state’s green business alliance pioneer. “I was looking for information and found [out] about what Debby had done. She was a big inspiration to me,” says Brown. deMoulpied established the nonprofit consortium of 10 businesses in downtown Concord in 2007.

It started for deMoulpied with a mid-life crisis that led her down the path of personal reinvention. She wanted to do something meaningful with the rest of her life while capitalizing on green industry trends. She launched Real Green Goods, a 1,300-square-foot earth-friendly store on South Main Street in Concord, specializing in fair trade and homegrown alternatives to products sold at chain department stores.

Detecting some apprehension among fellow eco-friendly business owners, deMoulpied sought common ground and started networking, eventually establishing an alliance that resulted in a brochure of member businesses. Full members of Green Concord pay $1,000 per year and are featured in the organization’s brochure. There is also a supporting membership available for $150 annually. Because it is a nonprofit group, Green Concord is equally focused on increasing its role within the community. The group has already helped to establish initiatives like single-stream recycling, and is working toward future goals, including a free downtown bike rental program. “That’s something we’re discussing. It’s in its infancy, but it’s all part of our mission,” deMoulpied says.

She admires Brown’s ambitious spin on the green alliance concept and sees it as a “fantastic” marketing strategy. “It’s a really cool concept. She tweaked my green alliance idea by making it a cooperative, and has really gone gangbusters with it,” deMoulpied says. “Green was the big buzz word two years ago. Now it’s grown into sustainability. Being a green business means different things to different people. There are different shades of green. Showing you can function in a sustainable way is what matters now.”

The alliances help to give green businesses more credibility as well. “By forming an alliance, we are not just one crazy business on Main Street,” deMoulpied says. “We are part of a growing number of businesses that care about the big picture of sustainability. By forming a network of local businesses, we can capitalize on the fact that shopping locally is one of the things that falls under the big umbrella of sustainability.”

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