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How Green are South Orange Businesses?

A look at local green business initiatives on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Whether for environmental purposes or profit gains, businesses across several platforms are going green in South Orange. Many use typical green products, such as energy-efficient light bulbs and napkins made of post-consumer recycled materials. Others are making more serious strides to reduce their carbon footprint.

Few green initiatives are as showy as a recent one at South Orange Starbucks, where free coffee was offered to anyone using a re-usable coffee mug, part of a franchise-wide program. But for a handful, it's virtually effortless to be eco-friendly. The business model of Other Mothers, for example, is contingent on customers recycling gently-used products for resale. Yet many have to work a bit to comply with green business practices. 

Mary Jo DeFranco of Signal Graphics understands that printing extensive amounts is not green. To counteract the paper output, she recycles as much as possible, a task easier said than done. "The building has a high-grade paper receptacle," she says, "but lately recycling has been a challenge. The receptacle is always full."

That hasn't stopped DeFranco. When the bin is full, she carries loads of paper, at least three or four large bins a week, to her car and drives them to the recycling center. Otherwise, "I always feel guilty," she says.

Some businesses say that going green makes sense because it helps the environment while adding to their profits, or saving their customers money.

Clarke McCarthy, owner of Other Mothers, says, "We are not only being green, but our customers are saving green. You can save thousands of dollars." She says the items filling the 4,000-square-foot store would all otherwise have "ended up in a landfill."

George Berkeley, owner of The UPS Store, works hard to keep harmful products out of landfills and, therefore, the eco-system. He collects and recycles everything from batteries and light bulbs to eyeglasses.

"After riding around in a submarine for 12 years in the Navy," on 90-day tours, "you recycle everything," Berkeley says. The Navy veteran, 60, adds that, "being close to the ocean all my life, you become very aware of what we do to this planet."

Berkeley is a registered handler of hazardous materials, the only UPS Store owner in the region to hold the license. As such, he collects and properly recycles batteries and CFL light bulbs.

"These bulbs are a disaster waiting to happen," he says. "I started collecting them because I can ship them to a facility that will remove the mercury from the light bulbs, so that it does not end up in the eco-system." Home Depot is the only other place Berkeley knows of that recycles the CFL bulbs.

Berkeley also collects cell phones, sending them to a facility that modifies the phones so they can only dial 911, then donates them to a battered women's shelter. On April 13, he sent a shipment of more than 300 pairs of eyeglasses for the Lions Club's eyeglass donation program. When a CHS organization collected used sneakers for a charity drive, Berkeley shipped them for a "deep discount."

Internally, Berkeley is a stickler for recycling. "My employees will tell you I'm the biggest pain the butt," he jokes. "I go through the trash, and if I see anything that should've been recycled, I yell at them." 

Berkeley's wife, Jennifer, is also environmentally conscious while running her store, The Beaded Path, which recently moved from Maplewood to South Orange. "Seventy-percent of our inventory is natural," Jennifer Berkeley says. "Semi-precious stones are the original 'green' because they come right out of the earth."

One of the few aspects of Berkeley's business that is not green is international shipping. In addition to semi-precious stones, The Beaded Path sells beads from Ghana, which are made of recycled glass.

During the three-month renovation process of The Beaded Path's new space, Berkeley removed the drop ceiling to allow for more natural light. She also uses energy-efficient lighting, despite the higher cost.

Berkeley invites her customers to join in on the recycling action by bringing in older jewelry. "What's old is new again," she says. And when they are leaving the store, purchases and designs are packaged in eco-friendly material. "Most of our packaging is done in undyed, natural kraft paper with paper raffia and natural eucalyptus for accent," Berkeley says. The store stamps its logo onto packaging, rather than using stick-on labels.

During the move from Maplewood, the Berkeleys packed everything in recycled boxes, which were then recycled again once the store was settled in the Village. The UPS Store also has recycling arrangements with Kitchen a la Mode and Dunkin' Donuts. Any clean boxes and packaging products, such as packing peanuts, that have not touched food are given to Berkeley, who sells them in the store. Customers who use recycled boxes receive a discount on shipping.

"It's more than recycling," Kitchen a la Mode owner Ben Salmon says, "it's getting rid of another box altogether. It's good for me, good for him, and good for the environment."

Salmon was already making an effort to recycle the "thousands upon thousands" of boxes he receives through shipments, by driving to the recycling center. Now he simply walks them across the street to The UPS Store. It saves energy and fuel in addition to cardboard.

"We do the little things to lessen our carbon footprint," he says. Salmon brings coffee grinds home and tosses them in his compost bin. He also helps his customers stay green.

"Wherever I can, I bring in green products," Salmon says. This includes stocking compost bins and products made of recycled plastic, bamboo and organic cleaning lines. By carrying as many U.S.-made products as possible, Salmon cuts down on energy outputs from shipping internationally.

It's likely that other businesses are making efforts to go green. In an e-mail, Village Trustee Janine Bauer said the village does not collect data on green business practices currently in place, "but the Village is proactively stepping up both education and enforcement of recycling for commercial businesses and large apartment houses."

While businesses such as The UPS Store, Other Mothers and Signal Graphics are leading the way, there is vast room for improvement.

Eden Gourmet, a grocery store frequented by customers seeking out organic products, offers a 10-cent rebate for using a reusable shopping bag, collects plastic bags for recycling, uses energy-efficient fluorescent lighting and is looking into alternative energy sources.

"The most interesting step towards going green is the research we have been doing to replace conventional sources of energy with solar energy. We are still in the early stages of our research, however; it is an initiative that our owners are very excited about," said spokeswoman Lia Malatesta. "This green initiative is great for the environment and saves us dollars at the end of the day as well. It's a win-win."

Bernard Jackson, owner of Gallery 61, is also considering solar energy. 

"We wanted to put a small windmill on top of the building," he says, "but the town wouldn't allow it. So now we are shopping around for an independent supplier of solar panels. We can't afford public service anymore." 

While Eden Gourmet is making strides on the energy front, the combination grocery store/deli is not advancing in terms of reducing waste. The store does not compost at all, Malatesta admits. Cooking oil is recycled, but that is the only food product not tossed into garbage bins.

Eden Gourmet is not alone. In calls to more than a dozen local restaurants, randomly chosen from the Patch directory, none make an effort to compost. (Cait and Abby's Daily Bread does not compost, but they donate all leftover food at the end of the day to a program that delivers the products to a local shelter.)

Whether considering alternative forms of energy or helping customers recycle, it's clear that several local businesses stand out in terms of going green. There is no way of measuring just how environmentally efficient each store is, but with increased education, businesses in South Orange can continue to reduce the area's carbon footprint, an effort many residents appreciate. 

In addition to local businesses, the Village is looking for ways to become more green, such as adding solar panels to the roof of the Department of Public Works building.

"I know it's seeping into everyone's consciousness, not printing paper, using bio-diesel, saving energy," Bauer says. "It just makes sense and saves money."

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