How to go eco-friendly, cut costs, increase revenue and attract customers.

By Abby Weingarten

Photography by Chris Lake

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April is Earth Month, a good time to incorporate sustainable business strategies that can cut energy, save money and position your company as earth-friendly, a selling point for many consumers.

Both the Sarasota County Green Business Partnership (GBP) and Sustainable Manatee help business owners, organizations and government entities incorporate more sustainable practices.

In Sarasota, 166 companies are certified through the Sarasota Green Business Partnership since the free program started eight years ago, according to Tom Franklin, the GBP program coordinator. To qualify, a business must pledge to reduce waste and conserve natural resources; and implement various waste, water and environmental standards on the required checklist.

“Once businesses complete our application, I’ll do an onsite assessment that takes about an hour,” says Franklin. “There is very little paperwork because we know how busy business owners are.”

The process could take anywhere from a month to a year, or more. An upscale resort might invest in expensive high-efficiency boiler systems, while a coffee shop might simply switch its disposable dinnerware to a more biode-gradable material. A lot of the changes don’t cost anything, Franklin points out, like reducing paper, electricity and water use.

In Manatee County, 17 businesses have registered for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce’s Sustainable Manatee Program (SMP), which is open to any current or prospective Chamber member.

LOCAL COFFEE + TEA

Local Coffee + Tea was among the first 10 businesses to apply and qualify for membership in the Sarasota County GBP.

“I got involved a year before I even opened my business in 2007 because it just fit with my whole perspective on promoting local businesses,” says Michael Duranko (above), who operates Local Coffee + Tea out of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Selby House Café with partner Glynis Chapman. “The program helped us navigate the permitting process and gave us more of an awareness of how we could be more environmental and economical.”

For example, Duranko and Chapman opted for using recyclable cups instead of Styrofoam. Later, they began limiting the number of cup sizes available and offering discounts to repeat customers who brought in their own cups. They also import sustainable products and compost coffee grounds and tea leaves.

“Doing this saves not only in paper costs but also in trash and hauling costs, which really add up,” Duranko says. “But the main thing I used the Green Business Partnership for was as a marketing tool. When I started, the concept of buying local wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today, so I hammered home the economic impact of spending with a local company rather than Starbucks. We got a lot of business out of it, and I think it changed the way people thought about buying within the community.”

The GBP’s advertising campaigns, news releases and online directories provided Local Coffee + Tea with a built-in promotional foundation, and Duranko supplemented it with his own marketing. While he is unable to quantify how much money he saved or how many people have found his business through the GBP’s efforts, he considers the program “invaluable” for visibility and brand recognition.

Through the café at Selby Gardens and his booth at the Saturday morning downtown Sarasota Farmers’ Market, Local Coffee + Tea also has increased its wholesale business. More than 15 area establishments now carry the company’s teas and coffees, including Selva, Veg, the Coffee Loft, Artisan Cheese Company and Maggie’s Seafood.

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Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery

This family-run duette winery was the recipient of the first Green Business of the Year Award in 2013 from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. Bunker Hill has been so committed to sustainable practices since its inception that the business actually helped set the bar for the Sustainable Manatee Program.

“We’ve been green forever, and the chamber even held its green committee meeting here to see what we do,” says Lenora Woodham, co-owner of the winery with her husband, Larry.

The Woodhams planted their grapes (which are native to Florida) about 18 years ago and opened the business in August 2010. They do not use any juices, concentrates or imports, and they compost 100 percent of the sediments from the winemaking process. They only use recycled wine bottles.

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“Never has a bottle of wine left the premises in a new wine bottle,” Lenora Woodham says. “We have received from our customers over 26,082 recycled wine bottles in the past year.”

Bunker Hill also saves money by irrigating with water that is collected from a seep spring, and the water moves with solar power to the vines. They use real cork and avoid printing labels that could end up in landfills. They ship products exclusively in recyclable cardboard containers. Their buildings are even constructed from steel that can be repurposed at the end of their lifecycle, she says.

“When we ship wine, there is a note enclosed telling the customer what to do. FedEx will pick up the box and return the bottles, wax and corks back to us so we ‘close the circle,’” she says. “We’ve been committed to this from day one.”

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The Resort at the Longboat Key Club

The Resort at the Longboat Key Club is the first GBP-certified resort in Sarasota County. It is among several resorts, hotels, golf clubs and other hospitality-centered businesses in the program.

The resort’s water and energy conservation, waste reduction and new clean air practices also have earned it Florida’s “Green Lodging” certification, which was established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2004 to encourage hotels and resorts to preserve the state’s natural resources. Its Longboat Key Club Moorings—a 291-slip deep-water marina—has been designated a “clean marina” for educating boaters about environmental concerns, preventing storm water runoff, and controlling fertilizers, says the resort’s communications director Sandra Rios.

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The resort has also installed low-flow showerheads, faucets and toilets in the bathrooms; promotes in-room recycling for paper, glass, plastic and cardboard products; uses recycled paper content in napkins; eliminated plastic cups and Styrofoam; and uses exclusively green cleaning products.

Blackout drapes prevent light from reaching hatching sea turtles making their way to the Gulf, and room keys are made of 100-percent recycled PVC. The resort also uses programmable office thermostats, an 80-percent organic menu at its Sands Pointe Restaurant, drought-tolerant landscaping, and removes invasive plants and trees. All of these programs have saved money or generated more revenue, Rios says.

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“The guest who stays and seeks out our resort tends to be culturally sophisticated with an appreciation of and support for sustainable programs and environmentally sound business practices,” Rios says. “By using environmentally friendly golf course maintenance practices, we help maintain healthy bird and fish habitats. By monitoring our waste and using as much biodegradable products as we can, we reduce landfill waste. Also, there are many business groups that will only hold meetings at locations that are green-certified.”

“Many business groups will only hold meetings at locations that are green-certified.”

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