Environmental sustainability is a buzzword these days, but when it comes to small businesses, it takes a lot to incorporate sustainable practices. For these business and nonprofit owners/founders, sustainability goes way beyond being good to the environment. It’s also a boon to the health of employees and customers, as well as a way to support our local economy. They are committed to being green, no matter how much extra green it may cost to uphold those values.
“Some products in hair salons can be rather toxic or cause medical issues for the people who handle them day in and out,” said Christina Bowers, owner of Sacred Salon in Truckee. Before she opened her own business, she saw her fellow stylists becoming sick from some of the chemicals they were forced to inhale day in and out. While she was pregnant Bowers found out her daughter had a serious birth defect, and that was the final motivation it took for her to start a salon that would not just be sustainable for the sake of the environment, but also provide a healthy and safe work environment for her and her stylists.
“I had been talking about opening an organic salon for several years, but I didn’t feel motivated to take on so much more work until I learned that my health was directly affecting the health of my child,” Bowers said.
Bowers stays incredibly dedicated to her organic, sustainable business philosophy. The lights on the exterior of the salon are solar, and her furniture is all custom made from reclaimed, locally-sourced wood. Even her business cards are recycled paper with soy-based ink. She only serves her customers organic drinks and snacks, and tries to buy products for the salon that are made in California.
Bowers’ way may be a more burdensome way to run a business, with significant added costs, but it hasn’t hurt her progress or profit. She has already opened a second location, and recently opened a barber shop called Neat, all located in Downtown Truckee. But her goal for the future is to be able to travel to existing salons and educate owners about how to transform their salons into an organic oasis. She wants people in the industry to understand that they have a choice of whether to expose themselves to products that are known to be dangerous.
“People will ignore how sick they become just because it’s convenient,” Bowers said. “I’m sad I didn’t choose to inconvenience myself and move to a different salon that would’ve been healthier.”
She thinks business owners ought to be the ones breaking ground in making sustainable choices the norm because they are leaders in the community and should set the example, as well as create a healthy environment for community members to live in.
“I care a lot about our environment and preserving it for the generations to follow, and I care a lot about health and the health of the people who work in my space,” Bowers said.
Tahoe Food Hub founder and executive director Susie Sutphin explained that the purpose of her nonprofit is to create a food system that provides access to local foods for consumers, while also supporting small farmers. It also serves to connect customers with the origins of their food, whether they purchase at the Tahoe Food Hub’s shop in Alpine Meadows, or from a local restaurant that uses Tahoe Food Hub as a food supplier.
“Sustainable doesn’t just mean how you’re growing the food,” Sutphin said. “If we focus on just fixing the agriculture, it has a circle effect. Economy, health, and environment — agriculture, when done properly, can fix all of those things.”
Sustainable agriculture can help stimulate the local economy by keeping money in the area. It also raises the quality of life for farmers and drivers because everyone can be paid a fair wage for their work. According to Sutphin, growing healthier food is also better not only for people’s health, but for the soil and environment.
“A food hub builds equity back into the food system, ensuring the supply chain is fair beginning to end,” Sutphin said. “We don’t question the fact that our cell phone is going to cost $100 per month, but god forbid a tomato be $3.50, which is going into our bodies.”
The Food Hub also uses its knowledge and resources to help address food security issues in Tahoe. Sutphin said they had an educational garden in Truckee, where they harnessed the 300 days of strong sunshine Tahoe is said to get to grow food year-round. Tahoe Food Hub also enlists the help of farmers to donate food that is edible but not retail quality to Project Mana, a local food pantry.
“We can address our food security issues by growing locally,” Sutphin said. “It’s important to literally get your hands dirty, and to make those better choices, whether for your own health or to support farmers or for the environment.”