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Biz Miss Asks: Green Business Certification

July 2nd, 2009

Did you know that in addition to running the San Francisco Bazaar and working full-time in science education, that Jamie Chan and her husband Blas Herrera also own Urban Fauna Studio, the best little fiber arts shop in San Francisco?  It’s enough to make a girl feel downright lazy.  Ever the overachievers (and responsible business owners), Blas and Jamie recently went through the process to make UFS a certified green business.  Jamie agreed to share their experience with me so we can all become green businesses, too!

First a little background on their business: Urban Fauna Studio sells independently made (Indie) and eco-friendly craft supplies and tools. They focus on ecologically and socially considerate manufacturing practices (i.e. no-petrochemicals used, sustainable raw fibers and woods, biodegradable products, and recycled materials), products made in the US and handmade items. At UFS you can explore fiber arts such as spinning, knitting, felting and weaving. They offer a revolving series of arts and crafts workshops for small groups (see their calendar for details). At Urban Fauna Studio they believe in supporting fellow indie crafters. They host a growing community of consignment artists and crafters, all of whom are committed to bringing quality handmade goods to their customers. Blas has a background in environmental science and Jamie is a science educator. Both of them come from families that have long enjoyed the fiber arts, crafting and DIY.

Why did you decide to pursue green business certification?

Just because many shops are independently owned and selling green products does not make their business practice green. We decided that a more genuine commitment to sustainability was to get certified by the San Francisco Green Business program. SF Green Business helps San Francisco businesses adopt environmental practices that are sustainable as well as profitable. They set stringent criteria, provide technical assistance, and publicly recognize and promote Green Businesses with a seal that enables customers to shop in keeping with their values. The Program is made of up of three City agencies: the SF Department of the Environment, the SF Department of Public Health, and the SF Public Utilities Commission.  We are the first fiber art and craft shop in the SF Bay Area with a green certification. We feel this sends a message to our customers and our fellow business owners that our commitment to sustainable retail goes beyond selling green, we live green too. It’s not hard to do considering many of us engage in green practices in our personal lives.

What are the benefits of being a certified green business?

San Francisco Green Businesses can save money by implementing practices that lead to cost savings in energy, water, and garbage bills. We have sought out a greener web provider who uses 100% green

renewable energy, Carbon Neutral, who was actually less expensive than our previous, non-green, web hosting provider. We also participate in Carbon Offsetting with our electrical company and reduced our garbage bills.

We use all non-toxic, plant based cleaning chemicals which make us feel safer in our workspace and for our customers entering the store. We buy 80% post consumer, chlorine-free, recycled toiletry papers, 100% post consumer, chlorine-free printer papers, and 80% post consumer, chlorine-free business cards and promotional materials.

We enjoy a marketing edge over the competition. Coupon books, web site listings and other promotional strategies are fine. But a certification system with this level of transparency about standards and regulations makes us feel secure that people will know we are not trying to “green wash” them with hype.

Blas spent his college career studying environmental policy and social justice and I have studied marine sciences. We have seen the data firsthand and know this planet is not heading in a good direction with our current rates of consumption and use.  He and I both care very much about the future of our environment and we want our business to reflect that. The biggest benefit is the peace of mind that this certification brings, that we are helping to make our local and global community better.

How long did it take over all?

We started the certification process right before we opened our shop.  So about 10 months.

What did it take to earn the certification?  Were there requirements you found particularly easy or difficult to fulfill?

We had to submit a written application and then a detailed table or checklist of actions we would take to make our business meet their retail business standards. Then we had a phone consultation with some

follow up e-mails. There was an initial site visit from a consultant. Between that time we had more e-mails and to provide more evidence that we were engaging in green practices. This included taking pictures of certain parts of the store, providing bills and proof of certain services.  Then there was an on-site assessment to verify that San Francisco Green Business standards are being met. We had a few more things to change and follow up on after our assessment. After submitting our changes, our San Francisco Green Business status was awarded! We were listed on the site within two weeks and warmly welcomed into their community. Nothing was particularly difficult. It was at worst, annoying and eye-opening to realize how every detail of our business could be greener. We thought we were “green” already and it was good to know that someone else was there to ensure we got all the aspects of our business to be more sustainable.

Would you recommend the process to other crafters/designers or only to people with stores?

Yes, if your business is certifiable we would suggest it. They currently certify hotels, restaurants, offices, retailers and dentists. This INCLUDES home businesses….and we do mean you, indie crafters! Your studios, offices and work spaces within your home can be certified. It does not take a long time. Our case was an exception, most applications should be approved within 4-6 months.  There is really no reason not go through the process if you can devote the time. We estimate that we spent no more than 20 hours total on this certification process. The certification program in SF is free of charge.  Many towns have a green certification program…we encourage you to look at your options and get involved.

Did you get any help during this process?

Nope. We didn’t know of any certified green indie retailers at the time, but now YOU do! Feel free to contact us. We are willing to answer questions and in general help to promote other green indie craft businesses. The nice thing about being indie is that we all really DO need each other to make an impact in the world of corporate run, big box stores. Being green together, being transparent about our goals, is a good thing. Lean on people in your local business community, you’ll be surprised about how much you can gain from it.

Well, folks, there you have it.  I’m definitely going to look into this for my own home office.  Thanks, Jamie!

Posted by Biz Miss

Recession-Friendly Business Tactics

March 8th, 2009

Most businesses these days are seeing a dramatic decrease in sales due to the recession.  Most businesses I’ve been reading about are reporting approximately 30% decreases in this year’s sales over last, but one industry is actually growing: crafting.  According to the New York Times, this past holiday season sales of handcrafted goods and craft supplies were both up over last year.

One reason for the growth of crafting is obvious: saving money.  It costs much less to make your own gifts than to buy them from a retailer.  And on web sites like Etsy, you can often find handcrafted items for a steal because they are not marked up to cover the costs of middlemen.  People are also staying home more often, both because they can’t find work and because they are spending less money on going out.  This means more time to spend on crafting.

Another reason for the uptick in sales is that people are considering each purchase more carefully.  When customers have to be extra choosy about how they spend, they consider not just the upfront price of an item, but how long it will last, how safe and environmentally friendly it is, and whether it goes to support a local artisan (and therefore our own economy) or a large factory overseas.

Naturally, the largest increase in sales has been in craft supplies.  There are sales figures from Michael’s and JoAnn to back this up in the New York Times article, but it’s easy to see anecdotally as well.  One of the products I sell is a cross-stitch pattern for a “Meat is Sweet” sampler.  Normally I sell only one or two of these per craft fair, but at the last SF San Francisco Bazaar I sold out of the ten I had halfway through the day.  I also visited the Stitches West knitting expo last weekend and all of the yarn and supply booths were packed.  Jamie’s own Urban Fauna Studio had three people working their tiny booth but it was not enough to satisfy the throngs who were clamoring to buy.

According to Entrepreneur magazine, the most popular craft right now is sewing.  This makes perfect sense.  From what I can tell, most clothing (and accessories, and home decor items) currently available is extremely overpriced, poorly constructed and made in less than ideal labor conditions.  But with the help of the Internet, you can design your own fabric using services like Spoonflower, and then turn it into a dress, a bag or an apron using any one of millions of free online tutorials.

So how can you use these trends to help your own craft business?  Firstly, thank your customers for what good choices they’re making.  Tell them you appreciate their choice to buy a product that is made to last and that helps to stimulate our economy.  You can include this type of message in your newsletter or in a note you include with each shipment.  Throw in a special repeat-buyer’s-only coupon, too.

Secondly, give the people what they want.  Convert any designs you can into kits, patterns, and materials, especially sewing projects.  Offer one or two of these for free and promote the heck out of them.  Submit them to blogs like Craft Magazine, and bulletin boards like Craftster.  You’ll pull in lots of traffic for the free stuff and if people like what you offer, they’ll be back to buy others.

Third, create combo deals.  In tough economic times, folks love the Value Meal.  Offer a free pattern when you buy three, or make sets of products that are cheaper than three or four individual ones.

What are you doing to make the most of the recession?  Share your ideas and comments below.

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