The New Hampshire
Trend toward sustainability
in U.S. businesses
Bob Eckhert turns
heads on his morning commute. The UNH natural resources
professor is the proud owner of a 2004 Honda Civic
Hybrid, a car powered by a combination of gasoline
and electricity. People are impressed by the car's
flashy silver exterior, Eckhert said, and doubly impressed
when they find out its gas mileage.
"I get about 50 miles to the gallon," Eckhert said. "But I'm not in it for the
payback. That's never even come into the equation for me."
By showing his car to people around campus, Eckhert wants to send a message to
the public about the importance of leading an earth-friendly lifestyle. Eckhert
is a proponent of sustainability, the practice of living in-synch with the environment
and discontinuing the exploitation of its resources. With his new hybrid car,
Eckhert leads by example. He hopes his purchase will foster a growing market
small businesses and large corporations like Honda that embrace
The past decade has seen a steady increase in U.S. businesses moving toward sustainable
practices. Major oil companies like Shell and Sunoco are exploring alternative
fuel sources such as hydrogen power. The organic food industry in America has
risen an average of 20 percent per year. Enticed by environmentally minded consumers
like Bob Eckhert, many companies are learning that the switch to sustainability
efficiency, employee productivity and gross profit.
Krystal Planet is an up-and-coming business capitalizing on the consumer interest
in sustainability. The company's motto, "Improve the Environment and Make Money
at the Same Time," emphasizes the profit to be had by adopting sustainable practices.
Krytsal Planet sells green tags, or renewable energy certificates, to New England
homeowners and electricity companies. With the purchase of a green tag through
Planet, East Coast consumers "trade" the electricity in their homes by supporting
wind farms in the Midwest.
Mark Kent, a representative with the Rhode Island-based company, said rising
oil prices in the United States are creating consumer
demand for wind power.
"It's becoming more lucrative," Kent said. "People like the idea that their energy
is coming indirectly from a renewable source."
Krystal Planet has recently partnered with major energy companies like General
Electric and Valmont to explore the potential environmental and financial benefit
of alternative energy sources.
Environmentally conscious businesses like Krystal Planet flocked to UNH last
month for the first annual Northeast Campus Sustainability Summit. On a rainy
Friday afternoon, under a large white tent that stood out against a backdrop
of scarlet foliage, members of the Durham community drank hot cider and sampled
organic breads while they chatted with company representatives about the rewards
At the far end of the tent, tucked into a corner alongside a display of cornstalks
and pumpkins, Patrick Miller of the Jordan Institute shared his organization's
findings on the benefits of sustainability in the workplace. The Jordan Institute
is a science-based non-profit organization that recently conducted studies on
green buildings, structures that bring elements of the natural world
"We're finding that there's a link between the amount of natural light in a work
environment and employee performance," Miller said.
Larger companies investing in the environment aren't the only ones benefiting
from sustainable practices. Elizabeth Obelenes is a small-time organic farmer
in New Hampshire who sells pesticide-free cucumbers, green beans and Swiss chard
to neighbors and friends. At last week's fair, while passing out literature printed
on recycled paper, Obelenes said there is a growing demand for local, all-natural
produce in New Hampshire.
"I know one farmer who makes close to $40,000 per year with
organic farming," she said. "It's all about how much knowledge you
But not all entrepreneurs experimenting with sustainability are interested in
increased productivity or profit. When Bob St. Peter graduated from UNH in 1998
he wanted to find a job that was rewarding, a job in which he could help people
on a daily basis. St. Peter was hired as development director for Sustainable
Harvest International, a non-profit organization that teaches impoverished farmers
in Central America about sustainable methods of agriculture. According to St.
Peter, farmers are finding increasing crop yields when they adopt sustainable
"We had one farmer whose yield went from $600 to almost $4,000 in one year alone
by growing his crops organically," St. Peter said.
While St. Peter himself may not profit from the lucrative practice of sustainable
farming, he said he benefits from the knowledge that his organization is working
to spread environmental awareness to Central
Business and non-profit organizations invested in sustainability couldn't survive
without consumer support. Adam Ward, the organizer of last month's Sustainability
Summit at UNH, said he makes purchasing from sustainable companies and local
businesses part of his regular
"When you buy apples from local orchards as opposed to getting them from California,
you're saving energy," Ward said. "In turn, you're helping to boost the local
In addition to his support for sustainable businesses, Ward tries to incorporate
environmentally friendly practices into all aspects of his life. He uses public
transportation whenever possible. He buys used clothing from second hand stores.
During the summer months, he even has his own garden that overflows with ripe
tomatoes, green peppers and
creeping summer squash vines.
"No matter how sustainably you live, you can always do better," Ward said.
Eckhert agrees with Ward in that there is always more room for sustainability.
That's why, in addition to cruising the streets of Durham in his hybrid car,
Eckhert heats his home with local wood and lives in a solar-designed house. When
he needs eggs, Eckhert pays a visit to a local farmer in Barrington. He supports
sustainable businesses whenever possible with the hope that increased consumer
demand will encourage more companies to invest in environmental health.
"It's never too late for companies to go on a greener path," Eckhert said. "Making
small changes can make a huge difference in the