Best Green Businesses

Photography by Gene Pollux By Susan Burns December 31, 2009

Lighting the Way

Beacon Products is an established 25-year-old Manatee County lighting company, but few locals know that it’s now a leader in designing, patenting and manufacturing energy-saving lighting for the outdoors.

Beacon’s LED (light-emitting diode) lights and architectural fixtures replace energy-hog lamps along city streets and college campuses all around the country. Locally you can find Beacon’s lights at Citrus Square on Orange Avenue in Sarasota, along Boulevard of the Arts and Cocoanut Avenue, and inside the sconces at Sarasota’s Selby Public Library.

Founded by Michael Imparato in 1984 and then purchased by another lighting entrepreneur, Perry Romano, in 2001, Beacon was acquired last year by major lighting company Hubbell Inc. as a separate division. Romano is now vice president and general manager, overseeing 55 people in a 55,000-square-foot facility, and Imparato is vice president of sales and marketing.

Romano, who jumped on the LED technology three years ago, says, “I saw that energy savings became a tremendous opportunity. We could produce lights that save people energy and money.”  LEDs, computer chips that produce light, can cut energy costs up to 75 percent in addition to providing a better quality light. Because they’re so long-lasting, LEDs require far less maintenance and replacement, rivaling the savings in energy costs.

Beacon’s business was down 20 percent last year, but Imparato says many other companies in this competitive industry have suffered 50 percent to 60 percent declines. The future is bright, he says, because the world is outlawing incandescents, and “We’re the pointy end of the spear in LED technology.”

Guilt-free Fuel

For two years, Dusty Swartz, founder of bioDiesel2go, has been crusading to convince owners of diesel vehicles to switch to biodiesel, an alternative fuel that primarily utilizes used cooking oil. Biodiesel costs the same as regular diesel; it’s nontoxic and biodegradable and can be used in existing diesel engines with no mechanical modifications.

So far Swartz has been pulling a 500-gallon trailer from client to client to fuel their vehicles on site. He’s sold about 30,000 gallons to date. Ted Sparling of Gulf & Bay Constructors in Sarasota is a typical client; he bought 2,000 gallons of the fuel for his company truck at no more cost than regular diesel and, Sparling says, at a lower cost to his conscience.

Swartz, who has largely funded biodiesel2go on his own, believes business is going to expand. A mini biodiesel refinery in Venice should be up and running this year, so Swartz will no longer have to travel to Central Florida for his fuel. And the state has just mandated that municipalities and governments that have local biodiesel providers must use this fuel. That’s good news for Swartz, who is the only provider in the region.

To accommodate a larger demand, Swartz has just purchased a 3,000-gallon truck tanker that can provide fuel to fleets of vehicles like county school buses. He’d also like to sell biodiesel at an existing independent gas station/convenience store. “I want to make a difference, be a pioneer,” he says.

Not Your Grandfather’s Golf Cart

Six years ago, Ken Chester had an elegant idea: Why not install solar panels on top of his electric golf cart so it wouldn’t run out of energy around the ninth hole? Today his Cruise Car Inc. makes solar-powered, hybrid electric golf carts that range from a two-person vehicle to a 24-passenger tram. The 35-mph carts have made their way to resorts as far away as Tahiti, to businesses in the United Arab Emirates, the American Embassy in Burkina Faso in West Africa, and in Cairo, Egypt, where a 14-passenger bus takes tourists to the pyramids. In South Africa, a Cruise Car is going to be used for the World Cup. The FBI is using a custom-made cart for border patrol. The president of Turkmenistan ordered three 14-passenger buses. They’re also being used on prison campuses and at V.A. cemeteries.

Chester says he has no competitors in his niche.

Cruise Car grew by more than 100 percent in the past 12 months, and is on track to eclipse that in 2010. If banks begin loaning again, Chester could handle even more orders. Currently he employs 15 people in his Northgate facility off U.S. 301 in Sarasota.

Chester has expanded his concept, selling zip charging systems for rapid battery recovery, GPS tracking systems and eco ports (“cart barns”), which are solar-powered structures where clients can park and recharge their vehicles. When the cars are out and about, the structures send back energy to utility companies. He’s also created Eco Trans Alliance to help clients reduce their carbon footprint, especially in the area of transportation. “We started out

in the transportation business, but we want to be experts in reducing the carbon footprint in every area,” says Chester.

Homes Green Homes

What started out as a failed real estate investment four years ago turned into a passion and an award-winning company, MyGreenBuildings, for Steve Ellis and his partner, Grant Castilow. Ellis, a former waste management consultant for Fortune 500s, purchased a tiny bungalow in Sarasota with the intention of remodeling and reselling; but the real estate market crashed, leaving him with an expensive albatross.

To find an edge in a flooded market, Ellis asked Castilow, his contractor, to redo the house as a beautiful example of the best in green building. The house, which was the first LEED certified remodel in Florida and earned the second-highest Florida Green Building Coalition rating in the state, quickly sold.

Since then the energetic pair have won multiple design and green awards for their projects, including a recent national award from Remodeler Magazine in the green remodeling category.

The company’s revenues have grown 150 percent since 2008, and staff now numbers eight, says Ellis—quite a feat considering the fallout in the local building industry. Ellis says the concept of MyGreenBuildings, their branding campaign and the processes that he and Castilow put in place to run the company have paid off.

And he stresses that their green homes are beautiful as well as efficient. “Our clients are not wearing Birkenstocks,” says Ellis, “and they don’t want haystack walls. We build high-performance luxury homes, and we’re saving jobs, reducing carbon, improving the health of our bays and decreasing the need for foreign oil. I’m living my dream job.”

A Taste for Green

Fredda and Craig Pohl have owned Nellie’s Deli, Market and Catering for 17 years. It’s been a popular restaurant with a big local fan base, but the couple always wanted to take the business green. It was cost-prohibitive to retrofit their longtime old location in a shopping center off Beneva, but when they decided to move to larger quarters at Fruitville and Beneva roads last October, they made every aspect of the building and their business eco-friendly.

They chose green products in construction and bought recycled materials at Sarasota Architectural Salvage. Their kitchen appliances are all Energy Star, the paint is soy based, and even the glue is nontoxic; their building is now eligible for LEED certification.

The Pohls also purchase food locally when possible, clean their produce with green wash, package take-out food in plastic made from corn and use plates made from sugarcane. Even the bamboo plates and cutlery the Pohls use at their catering jobs are environmentally gentle. The couple also worked with Julie Childers Henry, a local green business coach, to create a green mission statement and train their employees about their commitment to the environment and recycling.

Craig, Nellie’s chef, says there is an added cost to developing a menu and buying green, and that he has to be careful with pricing, “but people’s ears perk up when they understand what we’re doing; people have a higher global consciousness now.”

Rain Men

Skip VerMilyea and Jack Burden want people to understand their Sarasota’s Raindrops Cisterns does more than catch rainfall gushing from gutters during a storm. Raindrops Cisterns is really a water reuse system that redirects captured water to water lawns, flush toilets and be used for taking showers, washing dishes and drinking. These systems can supply up to 65 percent of a household’s needs, they say.

Burden started out in the garment production business in the Far East, then moved to Florida to work in real estate. VerMilyea operated an oil refinery in Pennsylvania before moving to Florida to run a gutter installation company; he eventually began to design his own cistern systems.

They met about a year ago and decided to partner. In the last year, they have designed, built and installed above- and below-ground cistern systems for homes, schools and restaurants throughout Florida, and their designs and strategies are being used as far away as Missouri and North Carolina, as well as in Sarasota County and local water management manuals and in educational materials for the statewide Plumbers and HVAC Contractors Association.

Revenues in 2009 were $250,000, exactly what they projected, and the partners say they believe next year they will see growth. “We’re dedicated to education, sustainability, policy work and creative design,” says Burden, “and we’re interested in being able to market products and services internationally and identify those markets. We are a start-up company, but we’re broadening our horizons quickly.”

Healthy Building

It would be hard to ignore the contribution David Sessions and Willis Smith Construction have made to green commercial construction in this region. This 38-year-old company opened its brand-new, green, 18,000-square-foot headquarters last year, winning accolades, awards and one of the few LEED Gold certifications in the state for its sustainability.

Sessions, the president of Willis Smith, was committed to showing that commercial construction can be green and affordable, and he corralled his 50 employees into brainstorming the green elements that were important to them, stressing that he wanted a healthy work environment as well as a building that would consume less energy.

The new headquarters incorporated a rainwater harvesting system that has reduced the company’s potable water consumption by 80 percent, a solar roof that provides 30 percent of the building’s electricity, wood that has been certified socially responsible, low VOC paints, energy-efficient windows, extensive recycling (including 60 percent of all the construction waste from the project) and Florida-friendly certified landscaping.

Sessions is so proud of the building that he invites anyone who is interested to take a tour so he can educate them about the possibilities. So far, more than 600 people have toured the building, which uses special signage to point out all the sustainable elements and their effects on employees and the local environment.

“We wanted to make a community statement,” he says. “We wanted to be recognized as a leader in sustainability.”

About the Contest

Our Best Green Businesses contest honors companies in Sarasota and Manatee that are helping us live within the limits of the planet, developing innovative green products or services, and have a business model that is sustainable. We received 110 nominations.

The panel of judges included Biz941 editors Susan Burns and Ilene Denton; Nick Gladding, an environmental attorney with Adams and Reese, serving his second term on the Florida Energy and Climate Commission; and Jerry Karnas, the director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Florida Climate Project. Below is a list of the finalists, including our winners.


First green IT certified managed services

provider globally

Beacon Products




CPA Associates—Certified public accountants and consultants with an all-electronic filing system and green business practices

Cruise Car Inc.



Consultancy that provides homeowner education about energy-efficient solutions

Elite Solar Services Designs and installs solar systems for residential and commercial applications


A consultancy that advises architects, developers, building owners and individuals about energy-efficient strategies

Godzilla Ink &

Toner Exchange

An ink and toner provider whose remanufactured products do not go into landfills

Green Directories USA

A yellow pages for green businesses across the country


Delivers renewable

energy at cell tower sites

MyGreenBuildings WINNER

Nellie’s Deli


Raindrops Cisterns


Sarasota Architectural Salvage

Removes and recycles valuable materials from homes and buildings and sells them retail

Scott PAint Corp.

Regional paint company that picks up reclaimed paint to keep it out of landfills and processes the product into a usable paint again

SmartHouse Integration

Specializes in home automation and energy-efficient systems


Custom Molds

Manufactures paver bricks from 100-percent recycled car and truck tires

Willis Smith Construction


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