USA TODAY

Small businesses, big ideas

Spring/Summer 2012 (Green Living Magazine)

 

Curbside recycling doesn’t cut it for these four small business owners. By building sustainability into their business models, entrepreneurs are finding unique ways to reduce their footprints and grow their businesses.

 

VeeV Acai Spirit

 

Back in 2007, brothers Carter and Courtney Reum were feeling restless. Both

Columbia University graduates and employees of Goldman Sachs, they were hitting the bar scene in New York City and getting sick of the lack of beverage variety.

 

“Mixology was just becoming a new trend, so we started thinking about how to create a better drink,” Carter says.

 

They took the acai berry, an antioxidant-rich fruit native to Brazil, and used it to flavor a new concoction. The result: a fruity spirit with similar properties to vodka. The brothers formed a company, named it VeeV Acai Spirit and moved out to Los Angeles.

 

Carter Reum says sustainability was integral to the company’s mission from the first day. “Social responsibility was just coming to the forefront then,” he says. “We’d spent time working in companies that didn’t really weave those principles into their DNA—they were just too big. We wanted to start a company that was built on those principles.”

 

VeeV Acai tries to recycle nearly everything, transforming vinyl advertising banners into shipping bags and glass bottles into shot glasses and cheese trays.

 

Even pits from acai berries take on new lives. “A few years ago, Courtney went down to a processing facility and saw tons of acai berry pits just lying around,” Carter says. “He came up with the idea to turn those pits into bracelets. We now give those bracelets to bartenders and put them in gift bags for celebrities.”

 

The company donates $1 to rainforest replantation for every bottle sold and takes environmentally friendly measures at tasting events.

 

“Rather than use plastic tumblers, we use 12-ounce mason jars at events,” Reum says. “People love them; they will come to future events with the same jar.”

 

Dear L.C.

 

Lynn Caputo loved studying art in school, so using her wedding invitation company’s eco-friendly policies to benefit school art programs just made sense.

 

During a studio cleaning session last summer, Caputo had a thought. “I looked around my workspace and realized that I had tons of scraps, paper, and supplies, all of it high quality,” she says. “I wasn’t sure what to do with them, so I talked with my mom.”

 

Caputo’s mother, Mary, is a sixth grade teacher at Chandler Magnet School in Worcester, Mass. She spoke with the school’s art teacher, who was “over-the-moon excited” to use the supplies for class projects. Caputo says she plans to take a box of supplies to the classroom every few months.

 

“When you work in an industry that uses a lot of paper, like I do, not all of the items are recyclable, so it is important to find other ways to reuse supplies,” she says. “I love doing something that has a positive impact on the world.”

 

Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast

 

In 2007, Kristin Fintel was thrilled to realize her dream of opening a bed and breakfast, but something didn’t feel quite right. At Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast in Newberg, Ore., Fintel’s lodgers were going through soap quickly, often not finishing a bar during a visit and leaving Fintel with hundreds of bards unsuitable for reuse. The native Oregonian and avid recycler turned to the Web, seeing ways to avoid wasting soap.

 

“I hate throwing away things unless they are completely and utterly useless,” she says. “I found Clean the World and I thought ‘perfect!’”

 

Clean the World partners with hospitality companies and hotels to recycle partially used bar and liquid soap and distributes it to children in third world countries.

 

“We keep a box in our supply cabinet and when we clean rooms, we throw partially used soap in there,” she says. “We only have four rooms, so it takes us about a year to fill up the box, but it makes me feel great to give back in that way. Last year we sent 19 pounds of soap.”

 

Appalachian Kitchens & Winery

 

Craft shows are wildly popular in northern Georgia, and Janice Walters-Taylor is a regular merchant, promoting her jam and jelly company. Wine is a main ingredient in her creations; she uses hundreds of wine bottles each year.

 

In 2002, she began taking empty bottles to Bottle Benders, a company that transforms them into colorful wind chimes. “It makes me happy to know that the glass is not going to waste,” she says.

 

Every few months, Walters-Taylor drops off a load of bottles at Bottle Benders. She often comes back with a wind chime, purchased at cost. “I always get excited to take my bottles to Bottle Benders,” she says.

 

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Courtney and Carter Reum of VeeV Acai Spirit.

Katie Morell specializes in feature writing, breaking news and corporate communications.