When I need advice about my small business, I often turn to my family who are fifth generation fine jewelry makers. They get this bit of wisdom better than anyone: If you try to be everything to everybody, you'll end up with nothing; and, if you stay in the middle of the road, you'll miss the opportunity to author an authentic point that speaks to the reality of your customers' lives.
At the Little Cupcake Bakeshop, when we began work on our green mission in 2005 -- the "pre-An Inconvenient Truth era," as some environmentalists like to call it -- there was no indication we'd be successful.
Built into the core of our business model are carbon solutions that we've tried to make palatable to our customers. We largely drew on best practices from the greening efforts of college campuses nationwide. That part came easy. Messaging, though, is an ongoing puzzle. "Green" touches products, store design, operations, staffing, community relations and marketing. It impacts everything we do, but carbon-reduction isn't something the customer can feel, see or touch.
As a traditional-bound, Republican stronghold, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn was an interesting landscape to launch a green project. Conventional wisdom suggests that green projects gain more traction in some of Brooklyn's more liberal neighborhoods, like Carroll Gardens, Park Slope or Williamsburg. But I knew we could earn Bay Ridge's attention and consideration. Faith plays a big part in people's lives here. Growing up Catholic, and having an intimate understanding of the local community, I knew that if we did this right, people would come to see climate and pollution control as a moral issue, rather than something political.
To save money, we view every facet of our business through an environmental lens. At our bake shop, we implement measures to reduce as much carbon as possible. We've installed CFL lights, light dimmers, motion sensors, Energy Star equipment, low flow water aerators, energy efficient appliances like Dyson's new hand dryer, which is 80 percent more efficient than conventional models, and Low E window panes. The shop also uses reusable mugs, plates, forks and spoons, instead of disposable ones. (When we began serving reusable porcelain mugs, we saved approximately 125 cups, lids and sleeves per day. The savings are incredible. One simple change saves us over $9,000.)
I believe now more than ever that responsible small businesses are poised to become leaders in the battle to reverse our nation's environmental woes. When it comes to managing a real business in a real community, fundamentals like efficiency, conservation and waste reduction, matter more than ever before.
We've been so successful with our green mission that we've just opened a second shop in Manhattan's SoHo district. We've retrofitted two spaces using green materials and practices. Our opening date was 10.10.10, as it marked an auspicious occasion to stand together with people around the world organizing climate change events. This international day of action, led by 350.org, went down as the largest climate mobilization event on record. We hope our opening played a small role in educating people about 350ppm.