A little research will reveal waste of all kinds: energy waste, industrial waste, residential waste, government waste, corporate waste — the list goes on. Producing goods, operating a business or even just living a modern life inevitably creates byproducts that adversely affect the environment. But some brave and innovative Toledo entrepreneurs are challenging the paradigm of waste by solving the problems of inefficiency and committing to a cleaner business ethos.
Bersée & Utz Heirloom Farm
A visit to Bersée & Utz Heirloom Farm in Waterville is a reminder of a warmer, richer but nevertheless bygone world that has been lost to the forces of industrialization and globalization. Bersée & Utz is a Community Supported Agricul- ture (CSA) farm operated by two couples: Jim and Teri Bersée and their son, Nathan, and his wife, Heather. For the uinitiated, CSA farming is a growing agriculture model in which independent farms supply local residents with fruits and vegetables on a subscription basis. Bersée & Utz offers a 22-week season where every week members can pick up ,or have delivered, a full or half share of the farm’s harvest of such things as strawberries, tomatoes, sweet corn and peppers.
“We work organically and sustainably,” says Teri, a fifth generation descendant of the first Utz to farm the property. “We’re trying to feed people the right kind of food grown in their backyard. There are organic sections in most stores, and some even say ‘local,’ but we’ve learned that often means regional. Would you call something grown five states away local?” Bersée and Utz’s emphasis on locality is a major component of their sustainability. “When you buy vegetables shipped long distances,” says Nathan, “think of all that oil, not only for shipping but packaging. We can help reduce that. We even ask that members bring reusable bags when they come pick up their share.”
Bersée & Utz’s commitment to eco- friendliness is most evident in their farming methods. To combat harmful pests, the Bersées turn to nature by releasing predatory insects like ladybugs and only use pesticides approved by the National Organic Program as a last resort. At the end of every season, they till what remains of their crop back into the earth, where it provides a natural fertilizer for the following year. Their rows are lined with “companion crops,” such as clover, which feed nutrients back into the soil and limit weed growth. “I was struck by the lack of insects when we started,” says Heather. “Our field had been conventionally farmed, and the soil was dead and dusty. Now it’s dense, loamy and a home for earthworms, praying mantises and spiders. It’s alive like it should be.”
After three years of farming, the family has found their niche. “Demand is growing,” says Jim. “Chefs want freshness, and people are becoming health-conscious. They want strawberries that taste like strawberries, and crisp spinach and kale that stays green. There’s a high demand for flavor and to keep dollars in the local economy.” Visit www.locallygrowngoodness.com for more information.
Much of the public discussion over emerging green technologies centers on the supply side, mainly solar and wind power. The biggest setback to these new technologies is that they lack the ability to meet current U.S. energy demand. LED Technologies President Jon Flory and CEO Timothy Ruppel have decided in response — they’ll reduce the demand.
A side company from Flory and Ruppel’s R/F Marketing Group, LED Technologies is a relatively new startup, only a few months old. It is the exclusive nationwide distributor for Custom LED Supply from Dayton, Ohio. LED, or light-emitting diode lighting, is the latest and most efficient development in green lighting. A 100-watt incandescent bulb will cost $44 per year to run and require replacement about three times per year in a frequented room like a kitchen. An 11-watt LED bulb will put out the same amount of light for less than $3 per year and won’t need replacement for 15 years. “We’re using a technology that has actually been around for a long time,” says Flory. “It’s the same technology in your phone, TV and computer. NASA’s been using it for years. But LED has only recently been adapted to commercial lighting.”
LED Technologies specializes in the sale of LED lights of all shapes, sizes and colors to industrial and commercial customers. “Businesses have the potential to receive the greatest benefits from LED. They consume the most energy by far and they are eligible for federal grants [which are set to expire at the end of the year] if they can reduce their energy consumption across the board by 50%. Our LEDs can hit that by reducing lighting costs by 70%,” says Flory. Like all new tech, LED bulbs are more expensive than their conventional counterparts, but LED Technologies reports that their clients typically recoup their investment in three years. “There’s a strong demand for LED,” says Ruppel. “We started by asking ten companies, ‘do you want to upgrade your facility, finance it from the cost-savings and save money long term?’ Every one of them said yes. That’s unheard of.”
The entrepreneurs who have ventured into the LED market believe it is growing because it presents an opportunity to revolutionize the power industry. “Our team’s passion is to change the world,” says Andy Bittner, CEO of Custom LED Supply, “Lighting is the most inefficient user of energy. We’re green guys and we’re energy guys. Our goal is that kids never know what it’s like to change a light bulb.” For more information, call 866-734-7687.
Who’s sorting our recycling bins?
If you attended grade school within the last twenty years, you undoubtedly had to recite the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. In years gone by, enthusiastic recyclers had to sort their own recycling on fears that unsorted submissions would be discarded. But those days have come and gone, and many municipalities like Toledo offer “single stream” curbside recycling pickup that requires no pre-sorting whatsoever.
“The recycling we collect in Toledo is transported to ReCommunity Recycling in Ann Arbor,” says Republic Services sales manager Paul Rasmusson. “They use a high-tech process involving magnets and lasers to separate glass, metal, plastic, paper and cardboard.”
Rasmusson says that several of the myths surrounding the do’s and don’ts of recycling are largely outdated. “They want bottle caps now because there is value in plastic these days, and in fact many caps contain nylon. Most pizza places now have a paper insert which absorbs pizza grease so you can recycle cardboard boxes. With better technology, there’s a greater tolerance in recycling.” But Rasmusson adds, “There are still things that can ruin a batch. Not all glass is recyclable; plate glass and auto glass should really go to an industrial recycling center. Ceramics tend to break into tiny unrecoverable pieces and can ruin glass collection, and styrofoam is entirely unacceptable.”
A Single Stream Recycling Guide of acceptable materials can be found on the City of Toledo’s Refuse & Recycling Collection website. We encourage people to check this list regularly for changes,” says Rasmusson. “Now is not the time, but in the future we expect to collect used aluminum and iron cookware and electronic waste.” toledo.oh.gov/I-need-help-with/Refuse-and-Recycling.
“Print is dead” was a phrase uttered by Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters that has been adopted across the blogosphere of the twenty-first century as a way to describe the current state of traditional publishing. To
the contrary, Homewood Press of northwest Toledo demonstrates that print is not only alive and well but green and vibrant.
“We’ve been recycling paper since the ‘90s,” says Homewood’s vice president Mark Dubuc, who runs the company with president and brother, Scott, “but we really jumped into sustainability in 2008 when we installed our wind turbine. There was a big push toward a ‘paperless society’ where everything would go online. There was this shadow cast that all printers are polluters. But advertisers and readers still need tangible material, and industry publications tell us print is still the most effective means of communicating to the public. Our answer is that printing can be sustainable and responsible if you’re working with the right company.”
The wind turbine that ignited Homewood’s passion is light industrial model that is 90 feet tall, which allows it to catch the wind stream. “We were the first printer in the region to produce wind power on-site, and at the time, only Clay High School, the Toledo Zoo, and Homewood had wind turbines.” By harnessing wind energy, Homewood has reduced its power consumption by 10% and prevented the release of three tons of carbon dioxide.
Homewood has switched to soy and vegetable-based inks and recycled paper stock, but the green initiative most staggering to visitors of Homewood’s operations is their massive recycling operation. All of the excess paper, known as “falloff,” no matter how small, gets recycled, as do their ink cartridges, congealed ink skins, aluminum design plates, rubber contact blankets, plastic bundling straps, broken wooden pallets and consumer recyclables from their workers. “Unfortunately, we used to send two six-yard dumpsters of garbage to the landfill every week,” says Dubuc. “Today, we only have a two-yard dumpster for monthly trash pick-up while we’ve hired Gateway Recycling & Waste Reduction to collect a whole semi-truck trailer of recycled material once a week. Green has become the core of who we are. It seems like every year we’re doing something new. Next, we’re looking at LED lighting.”
Homewood Press also recycles back into the community by donating some of the falloff space from its print jobs for materials for local nonprofits such as the Toledo Opera, the Toledo Symphony and Little Sisters of the Poor. Homewood Press, 400 E. Stateline Rd., Toledo. www.homewoodpress.com. 419-478-0695.
Recycling roadblocks for restaurants
With so many venues, Toledo’s vast food service industry is naturally one of the area’s largest waste contributors and a sector with some of the greatest potential for becoming green. This city can be proud of the progress its local restaurants have made toward sustainability, but the green path is not an easy road. Rising costs, a stagnant economy and a lack of City services for businesses present substantial challenges for Toledo’s numerous eco-conscious restaurateurs.
“We’re doing what we can when we can,” says George Mancy, general manager of Mancy’s Italian Grill. “When it comes time to replace something, we go with the green option. About five years ago we put in low flush toilets, and we just redid our kitchen with energy efficient equipment and recycled flooring.” Restaurants are often criticized for their use of styrofoam containers, but they seem to be a necessary evil for much of the industry right now. “We’ve looked into [recyclable] containers, but there’s such a huge cost difference. We’d love to invest in them, but our number one priority is maintaining quality and value, even as operating costs continue to go up.”
Unfortunately, the City does not offer recycling to businesses except for cardboard, and several restaurants such as Deet’s BBQ in Maumee would take full advantage of the service if offered. “Curbside recycling is available only to residents,” says Deet’s co-owner Lisa Deeter, “so occasionally we do take plastic bottles to the recycling dumpsters that are in The Anderson’s parking lot, just because we hate to put them all in the trash. However, time doesn’t allow for that very often.”
Balance Pan-Asian Grille
Since opening in 2010, Balance Pan-Asian Grille has developed a reputation for its culinary boldness, healthy menu and refreshing decor, so much so that this inexpensive yet “upscale urban” eatery spread to a second location in 2012. The restaurant’s founders, CEO and Creative Director Prakash Karamchandani and Head Chef HoChan Jang, are driven by a deep set of core values. “Being eco-friendly and a socially conscious business is at the base level of our concept,” says Karamchandani. “It’s in every decision we make.”
Balance has made very pronounced decisions regarding eco-friendliness, including installing low-energy certified commercial kitchen equipment and frequenting local farmer’s markets. By utilizing social media advertising, digital menus, email receipts and a homemade ticketless POS system, Balance’s paper usage is almost nonexistent. Perhaps most noteworthy is their unique serving dish. The business originally used plates and reusable plastic takeout containers, but the company did away with plates altogether and adopted a standard 100% post-consumer and compostable container made from blended plant fibers, which the owners of Balance custom designed. “Why no plates? Plates aren’t that green. Washing plates consumes huge amounts of water and energy and releases more chemicals into the environment. We have high respect for water and are big on water conservation. It’s a principle in our training manual, and all of our staff are trained in it. This water-saving approach does create more waste, but our waste is biodegradable.”
Karamchandani and Jang have more eco-friendly plans for the future, including a transition to even greener chemicals, in-house sorted recycling and a hydroponic or aquaponic garden on the roof or in the basement of a future location, so food is grown and consumed in one facility. “We’re looking for a landlord who would be open to the idea,” says Karamchandani.
Anyone who has tried to “go green” knows that it is not the easiest nor the cheapest thing to do, but for the owners of Balance doing what’s right outweighs the cost. “If you’re going into business for the sole purpose of making as much profit as possible, then yes, you’ll buy the cheapest food and materials, and not care where they come from. The thing is people care about the environment and where their food comes from and they expect restaurants to care too. But customers put those expectations on hold when they go to a restaurant. Why shouldn’t they have those expectations fulfilled? When a customer chooses to spend their money with us, we have a choice, and we choose to give them value and to honor those expectations.”
Balance Pan-Asian Grille is located at 5860 W. Central Ave., Toledo, and 514 The Blvd., Maumee. For more info, visit www.balancegrille.com.