Business and Operations
Editorial: The Growing Pains of Going Green
June 12, 2008 By Jane Ayer
A very wise frog once lamented,
“It’s not easy being green.” Kermit, of course, was talking about his
skin colour. But the same can be said of most efforts to be more
A very wise frog once lamented, “It’s not easy being green.” Kermit, of course, was talking about his skin colour. But the same can be said of most efforts to be more environmentally friendly.
While putting this issue together, I had a long conversation with American bakery owner Maury Rubin (you can read the interview for yourself in our Final Proof column). Rubin opened New York’s City Bakery in 1990, a business that had quietly (and on its own dime) put into place a number of green initiatives over the years, from composting to recycling. While building a second City Bakery in Los Angeles, Rubin says he encountered nothing but resistance from the builder towards any green or environmental aspects he wanted to incorporate into the site. He was so frustrated with the entire process that he made a promise to himself to create a business that was entirely green. A few months later, he kept that promise, and Birdbath, Neighborhood Green Bakery opened its doors for the first time, with walls made of wheat, flooring made out of cork, and staff outfitted in hemp, linen and vintage uniforms. Even after succeeding in building a business that is virtually entirely “green,” Rubin says there are still naysayers who peck away at the business and its efforts.
“Trying to do something good for the earth right now is such a damned if you do and damned if you don’t process. There are so few decisions that we know are absolutely right. If you do this, you’re going to save energy there, but that’s going to create more energy use over there,” he says. “It’s really easy to be a naysayer about this. We’re saying, ‘Look, we’re bakers, we’re citizens of the earth, and the earth is in trouble.’”
And because of his desire to do something about that trouble, Rubin has stuck with it. New York City now has two Birdbath bakeries, with another two in the works for the city, and one more planned for L.A.
While his motivation for creating a green bakery may come from a moral desire to do something good for the earth, Rubin is also a businessman. If Birdbath weren’t making money, Rubin wouldn’t be opening more locations. Bloggers all over the city are raving about the business, YouTube has numerous video clips featuring the bakery, and Rubin has become a darling of the local press, from alternative to mainstream. That’s some pretty good (and very free) advertising.
Rubin also recognizes he wouldn’t have a venue for realizing some of his “green” goals if the bakery didn’t have products that people want to eat.
“I would not have the leverage to do anything involving the environment if I didn’t have pastry people are just crazy about,” says Rubin. “None of this is built on an ideal, it’s an ideal that’s built on the reality that we make great stuff.”
No one ever said going green meant taking the easy street. It takes will and commitment to get there. But it can also start small, just like it did with City Bakery. It can begin with recycling, and composting, offering paper bags or reusable bags instead of plastic ones, offering incentives to anyone arriving by foot or bike.
Maury Rubin has proven that being green may not be easy, but it can certainly be rewarding – including financially. And that’s a fit with any business.
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