Sonoma County Businesses Go Green to Get Into Black

Local businesses are embracing the concept of sustainability amid the realization that going green — besides having a positive impact on the planet — can also bring their bottom line into the black.

Once limited to agriculture, sustainable practices have spread to sectors as unlikely as technology, food manufacturing and financial services.

Santa Rosa businesses as varied as Keysight Technologies, Redwood Credit Union and Amy’s Kitchen all offer up evidence that even small changes in their operations can have a significant impact on the environment.

Executives at these companies note that sustainability practices are now integral to their mission, especially as scorecards on corporate behavior now provide investors insight on whether a firm is behaving appropriately in every aspect of business, from sourcing to labor rights.

Also, consumers are demanding it.

“The bottom line it’s consumer preference, which ironically some of that came from (government) mandates that have evolved into market desires. That continues to grow from all directions,” said Ben Stone, executive director for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

While the term is increasingly ubiquitous in the business world, the definition of “sustainability” is more amorphous. A United Nations commission definition commonly cited called it “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

But over at Traditional Medicinals, the Rohnert Park-based herbal and medicinal tea manufacturer, it can be explained simply, with staples.

The company has been an environmental leader since its founding in 1974, from paying fair wages to its suppliers in developing countries to last year fully converting to local renewable electricity. It recently upgraded its machines at its Sebastopol plant that pack the organic tea harvested from such countries as Kazakhstan and Egypt. The new, faster Italian-made machines do not use staples that tie a bag to a tag along its string. The result? Traditional Medicinals is saving more than 200 million staples from production annually.

“It’s cool because our customers can now compost all of the tea bag,” said Ben Couch, the company’s sustainability manager. “Even though it’s just an aluminum wire … it’s a pretty big difference at the end of the day.”

CEO Blair Kellison said the impetus for many of the ecological advances are coming from the marketplace, especially from millennials who are concerned even about supply chain issues. “Part of it is being driven by consumer demand,” he said.

Those practices also are paying off in the company’s budget. Traditional Medicinals last year sold almost 13 percent more products than in 2015, but purchased only 0.4 percent more herbs and 6 percent less packaging by weight. Those savings can be used for other parts of the business.

“The staples were part of a more holistic sustainability approach,” Couch said. “They are more of a function of our (overall) operational efficiency.”

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