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Leading the Green Charge

These businesses walk the walk in cities known for being environmentally conscious.
December 12, 2008
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/199170

In the January issue, Entrepreneur compiled a list of green-minded cities across the U.S. For this online exclusive, we tracked down several businesses that will help keep their cities on the sustainability map. From an eco-friendly nightclub in Los Angeles to a green lifestyle store in Minneapolis, read on for profiles of business owners who hope to save the environment, and make money at the same time.

Los Angeles: Ecco Ultra Lounge
Ecco Ultra Lounge is one of the West Coast's first eco-discos, a green-friendly nightclub that caters to a celeb-crazed Hollywood crowd. The Los Angeles venue is the brainchild of longtime area promoter Danny "B." Bitar and his Canadian partners, who remodeled club Tokio and acquired adjacent space to create Ecco.

From recycled interior materials to a sound system that's self-cooling, from low-flow bathroom fixures to an L.E.D.-based lighting system that uses 70 percent less energy than most club setups, Ecco walks the walk. And that's good for business: Green mania has been sweeping Hollywood, and now party people can imbibe (mostly) guilt-free.

"The theme definitely fits the style of people I'm going for," says Bitar. "It gives it a little plus. On a business level, just the fact you're unique gets you a second look. But in two or three years I think the whole club world is going to go this route."

Beyond its green accoutrements, Bitar thinks his venue will stand out on the so-called Cahuenga Corridor of night spots because it has the kind of high-end sound system--a $350,000 rig by Turbosound--that's often overlooked by the competition. Other celeb-friendly venues focus on interior design and A-list invites but then fail when it comes to sound and music policy, Bitar says. Of course, it doesn't hurt that air from the subwoofers is routed to cool the amplifiers, thus saving energy that would be used by fans.

Ecco officially debuted in December with a host of superstar DJs providing tunes for opening-week festivities. Bitar hopes the new venue will clear $10 million in revenue for 2009. To help reach that goal, thespian tree-huggers with deep pockets are more than welcome to eat, drink and be conscious: "All hybrid cars," Bitar says, "will be valet parked for free."

Chicago: Green Exchange
Opening soon: A 95-year-old brick factory, renovated and updated to provide retail and office tenants the latest in green technology, including solar thermal panels for hot water and air conditioning, a rain-capture system for plant irrigation, air-quality control systems, a flood of natural light sources, energy efficient escalators and on-site trash sorting. Oh, and there's the best green of all: New tenants will be eligible to tap into a $500,000 pool of federal cash. Are you in?

The Chicago Green Exchange is a unique project that claims to be the first "green mall" in the nation. The 272,000 square-foot space, including lofts and storefronts, is scheduled to open in spring and already counts several retailers, including Greenmaker Supply, an environmentally friendly building-materials store, and MeGoGreen, an eco-focused search engine, as tenants. The building has room for as many as 100 businesses, which are already pre-leasing space for about $20-$30 per square foot monthly.

She-kahh-go. Say it. It doesn't exactly scream green. Rather, the Windy City conjures images of overweight Bears fans stuffing down one last hatt-dog before full cardiac arrest settles in with sweet mercy. In reality, though, a leaner, greener Chi-town is at the forefront of the eco-friendly business revolution, thanks to the Green Exchange building. The forthcoming workforce there already has class nomenclature: "green-collar."

"There's an incredible groundswell of green activity in Chicago," says Phil Baugh, the project's director of community development. "It's our goal to take this model and roll it out across the country."

Philadelphia: Greenable
Sure, you can pick and shop your way through a big-box store hoping to find supplies with the lowest guilt factor, but at Philadelphia's Greenable Building Supply + Design everything's eco-friendly, including the advice. It's the city's only full-service green-building supply and design company. And they mean full service.

At Greenable you get your paint, stripper, insulation, counters and carpets with the peace of mind that the utmost thought has gone into making the materials as Mother Earth-conscious as possible. But besides being a one-stop shop for home improvement monkeys, Greenable offers a range of consulting, planning, design and architectural services for projects ranging from a kitchen redux to a 120-unit residential redevelopment project.

Greenable can make the interior, the blueprints and the energy bill more efficient. And eco-friendly doesn't have to mean eco-spensive.

"There's the myth that green is more expensive and it really isn't," says Angelo Anastasio, who opened the endeavor in 2006 with business partner Lynne Templeton. "We can put a formula together and show them that with things like tank-less radiators and solar hot water they can achieve savings."

It might be hard to think of the City of Brotherly Love, land of Rocky Balboa and Geno's Steaks, as a green hotspot, but it is. New municipal regulations, for example, allow for quicker permitting on green construction projects such as Energy Star-certified homes. "There are a lot of progressive architecture and design firms really pushing the envelope on eco-friendly design here," Anastasio says.

"What we really enjoy is seeing people here learn that green is beautiful," he says. "It's not about living without. It's not like you have to sacrifice to live green. It's about high quality and high durability. It is chic."

Minneapolis: Twin Cities Green
It's not always clear where to go for eco-friendly alternatives to traditional products, but in Minneapolis, the answer is simple: make a trip to Twin Cities Green, a one-stop shop for all things green.

In 2006, former actors Tina and Ryan North, both 34, opened Re-Gifts, a small retail store offering gifts and work by local artists made from recycled goods. The couple soon encountered a bigger demand than their shop could satisfy, and six months later, set up Twin Cities Green in a new 3,000-square-foot location.

"We had lots of people asking for larger items like composters that we obviously couldn't house, so we decided to open the second store as the all-encompassing retail shop," Tina says, naming an inventory that includes custom furniture made of reclaimed wood, organic latex mattresses, high-quality cloth napkins, natural cleaning supplies and glass baby bottles.

"When you look at the top cities for green initiatives, [Minneapolis] is right up there, and I think we've helped," she says. As a home and life store, Twin Cities Green also supplies customers with information on how to go green. The Norths donate space within the store to local nonprofit Do It Green to run a resource center for the community. "If you want to remodel and convert to solar power, we can point people in the right direction."

Since Re-Gifts and Twin Cities Green were consolidated in June 2008, the store has done well, doubling revenue figures in the past few months. A good business plan has been essential to success so far, but cash flow is still a problem. "It wasn't the best year to open such a significant store," Tina says, "but we're hoping people want to shop more locally and work with artists."

She also hopes Twin Cities Green will eventually become part of a more substantial "green mall," and continue to provide valuable resources for those in pursuit of a greener lifestyle.

Austin: Trip Verde
If TripVerde co-founders Scott Willis, 45; Kapil Sabharwal, 43; Raj Mehta, 44; and Marianne Linde, 36, get their wish, carpooling will be as easy and convenient as driving your own car. You'll be able to step out of the house, text a desired destination into your phone, and instantly receive a message from someone in your ridesharing network who is headed the same way and can give you a ride.

Founded in May 2008, TripVerde facilitates static carpools--pre-planned trips to work or an event--but the ultimate goal is to provide dynamic services, or ridesharing on the fly.

"It took us four months to research the space and build a better mousetrap, and the goal now is to get more funding," says Willis, the company's CEO. Obviously, the biggest hurdle is achieving network density, and the focus now is on marketing to businesses, event organizers and affinity clusters like school groups and churches. Eventually, he adds, the plan is to move into other downtown markets with HOV lanes.

The first active customers signed on in September, so TripVerde still has a ways to go, but Willis anticipates positive momentum in 2009. Despite its fledgling status, the company currently provides rideshare solutions to corporate customers in Austin, and is an official transportation partner for major events like the Houston Marathon and the annual Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair, which attracts nearly 8,000 visitors.

What also separates TripVerde from traditional bulletin-board type services is an element of human supervision. "We do have technology that makes the matches, but we also have 'ride jockeys,' or actual people who add an extra dimension to coordination," Willis notes.

The City of Austin, he says, is implementing a transportation initiative that will increase the daily number of rideshares to 200,000 by 2020, noticeably reducing traffic congestion, lowering accident rates and improving air quality. "Austin is a very green-minded city, and we hope to be a very key part of that."