Sustainability has become the new buzzword among businesses and consumers alike. In fact, approximately 81 percent of S&P companies in the United States published sustainability reports in 2015, according to Environmental Leader and the Governance and Accountability Institute. Every business defines sustainability differently, however, the overarching principle remains the same. “(Sustainability is) meeting the needs of the current generation without making it more difficult for future generations to meet their own needs,” said Matthew Williams, director of the University of Florida Office of Sustainability. It’s not necessarily giving up things but rather coming up with new ways — or, sometimes, even old ways — of doing things, he added. Over the past decade, the threat of climate change has compelled companies to give more thought into what resources they are using. Sustainability covers environmental, social and economic practices.
“We only have one planet — I don’t want to see it polluted and destroyed,” said Brad Brooks, co-owner of Root and Pecker. From restaurants to marketing firms to lawn care services, Gainesville businesses are following suit and beginning to adopt green methods. The following Gainesville-based companies have successfully adopted sustainable practices.
While the large majority of landscapers use machinery powered by gasoline, Tom Snogles,
owner of Sun Power Lawn Care in Gainesville, has opted for a more Earth-friendly option. “I said…no one does it here in Gainesville, and it needs to be done; it was an obvious choice,” he said. “It gives us a unique selling point and helps the environment.”
Sun Power Lawn Care uses all-electric equipment that runs on solar-powered batteries. The machinery costs more to begin with, but the engines are 90 percent efficient versus gas-powered equipment that is 27 percent efficient. Less maintenance is needed for the solar-powered equipment, further balancing the costs.
The company also offsets its carbon emissions through We Are Neutral, a carbon-offset nonprofit. Through the organization, companies can fund carbon-positive initiatives such as planting trees to balance out the carbon their operations emit, limiting their contributions to climate change. This allows Sun Power Lawn Care to be considered a zero-carbon company.
Snogles quickly found that using solar-powered machinery had another unexpected benefit: quiet equipment. “Sometimes, clients don’t even notice that the lawn care service has come and gone. I’ve gotten calls from clients asking when we are planning to stop by their home, only for them to go outside and realize our team has already been there.”
Restaurants accounted for 37 percent of total food waste in the U.S. in 2012, according to a survey by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance and Business for Social Responsibility.
The sheer amount of waste that comes out of a restaurant makes it difficult to be sustainable. However, here in Gainesville, Root and Pecker minimizes food waste by composting, recycling, buying food locally, and growing many of its own veggies and herbs. It also grows 25 percent of its lettuce in a hydroponic garden in the back of the property, and Brooks is planning to double that.
“I would hope to have zero plastic waste and all produce grown onsite and all food (come) from local areas, but in order to make money, I had to pick and choose my battles,” Brooks said.
As he moves forward on food waste, there are other conscientious opportunities for the restaurant: Root and Pecker uses in-house cups that can be run through a dishwasher instead of being thrown away.
Brooks’ newest sustainable project is worm beds. “You take all of the non-dairy, non-meat products, throw them into beds and red worms feed on it…once they’ve consumed the food in there, what’s left is worm castings, which is a good fertilizer,” he said.
Parisleaf, a local branding and web design agency, practices sustainability in almost every aspect of its space.
“I think it’s important to take care of the place in which we reside,” said Alison Paris, principal and COO of the company. “It’s minimal effort for maximum reward.”
In order to offset its carbon emissions, Parisleaf plants trees for each of its projects, in partnership with Trees for the Future. They also use soy and vegetable-based inks instead of petroleum-based ones.
Housed in a 100-year-old building, the Parisleaf office was redesigned with sustainability in mind. LED lights illuminate the inside, while large windows bring in plenty of natural light, which allows them to lower their energy related emissions.
“We have many plants, and one of our tables has plants that line it — it acts as a film between people’s workspaces while also cleaning the air,” Paris said.
Parisleaf also recycles twice as much as what they throw away, she said. “We encourage people to carpool or bike to work,” she said. “We have a shower in the office if an employee wants to wash off.”
The minimal paper they use is made out of sugarcane instead of wood, Paris said.
They also repurpose items rather than throwing them away, such as using an old cheese grater as a strainer.
UF has become a leader in sustainability. Williams said the university has been practicing sustainability since the ‘80s.
Today, it has 14 sustainability focus areas and 200 active projects. From energy, waste, and water to diversity and other social aspects, UF covers it all and also incorporates sustainability into its course offerings.
Its recent feats include the installation of several electric vehicle charging stations along with a goal to make 10 percent of the university’s vehicle fleet electric by 2025. In addition, for Florida bike month in March, the university teamed up with the City of Gainesville to host events that encouraged bicycling over other modes of transportation.
“It’s important because when the university operates in the most sustainable way, all of the students and the researchers get a chance to see it and see how they can incorporate that into the work that they do,” Williams said.
Fracture, a local photo printing company, prioritizes sustainability for the Earth and its customers.
Abhi Lokesh, CEO of Fracture, said the company uses as little paper as possible, uses recycled material for packaging, recycles unused materials and purchases carbon credits to offset emissions.
“We’ve just scratched the surface in terms of being sustainable,” Lokesh said.
Sustainable practices are financially beneficial in the long term, he said, and while it isn’t the easiest in the short term, it is well worth it.
From recycling to composting to solar energy, there are endless ways to practice sustainability. Although it is a common misconception that sustainability can be an expensive practice, for many business owners, it comes down to more than money.
Whatever the incentive may be, it is clear that local businesses of all kinds have adopted industry-specific practices to reduce their impact on the world around them.