Generation Green offers products that are good for people, the planet

These days, “green” seems to be on everyone’s lips. To some, it a trendy buzzword; for others, it’s a way of life. Heather and Steve Johnson are among the latter.

While researching products for their young family, they were incensed about the kinds of chemicals that are legal to use in consumer products, from plastic to shower gels to household cleaners. Eventually, the couple made a conscious effort to not only lessen their environmental impact, but to lessen their exposure to chemicals as well.

“As we made changes in our personal life, we found an increasing interest among family and friends to know how and where we found these safe, yet effective and stylish products we were using,” says Heather. “We found ourselves answering that we spent hours researching online, went to multiple local stores to buy a variety of items, or in many cases were relegated to simply buying online. We quickly realized we needed better local access to greener goods, all in one place.”

They created that place themselves, opening Generation Green, an eco-living store in Dublin, in September 2008. Read on to learn how the Johnsons go about finding goods for their store, why they make it a point to educate the community about sustainability, and which local businesses have earned their respect along the way.

Heather and Steve Johnson of Generation Green

The Metropreneur: What can visitors expect to find at your store?

Heather Johnson: A very eclectic mix, but everything is green in some way. We search for items that are recycled, recyclable, reusable, sustainable, Fair Trade, handmade and/or local. Many products possess multiple “green attributes.” As far as product categories, it truly started with us saying to ourselves, “What do we need in our daily lives?” From there we added categories like YOUR HOME, which includes everything from Fair Trade home accessories to laundry detergent and cleaners.

Some of our other categories are as follows. YOUR YARD has items like composting supplies and rain barrels. YOUR BODY has everything from cosmetics to hand soap and shower gels. YOUR CHILD has toys and organic apparel. YOUR STYLE has items such as handmade and/or fair trade jewelry, scarves, and bags. And YOUR TO GO WARE, which includes items for kids and adults alike, from stainless steel water bottles to all kinds of food containers, such as bento boxes and stacking tiffin sets.

[M]: Generation Green only carries products that are sustainable and socially responsible, which means in many cases you have to find goods that are handmade locally or certified fair trade. Is that a challenge?

HJ: It can be a little bit of a challenge, but thankfully we are seeing the demand for these products increase and with that we see more products becoming available in the marketplace. To find new products we do extensive online searches, we attend local green festivals and art shows, we read local and national publications, and occasionally attend trade shows. We also use online resources like the Skin Deep Database −Environmental Working Group is a non-profit that compiles this info− to research not only products and companies, but individual ingredients as well.

We feel a great responsibility to find not only green, but truly safe products. Once we find products we are interested in, we almost always order sample products to test prior to adding them to our offering. If we personally don’t or won’t use it, we won’t sell it either.

[M]: You and Steve also go out into the local community, speaking to children and adults about how to be good stewards of the environment. How long have you been doing that and why do that kind of work when you also have a store to run?

HJ: We have done this since the day we opened the store. We passionately believe that in order to really make a difference, we have to spread awareness and education on the issue. Our store is called Generation Green for a reason. We know that it will be much easier to simply raise this generation to be more mindful about their consumption and the products they use, than to fight to change their habits and perceptions later in life as adults.

We definitely see it in our own children, who are very eco-conscious, yet are only 5 and 7 years old. We also just want to give all that we can back to our community and start a dialogue about what it means to be a good citizen, both locally and globally.

[M]: What were you and Steve doing professionally prior to opening Generation Green and how has that work influenced the way you do business?

HJ: My experience was in management, purchasing and design. All of those easily transition to this job. I do most of the product purchasing, while Steve and I share the responsibilities of merchandising the store. Steve had worked in recycling while in college and as a project manager after. Those skills easily transitioned, too, as Steve does most of the business [accounts receivable/accounts payable].

And at the end of the day, after experiencing three corporate layoffs, we had become pretty disheartened by much of what “corporate America” had to offer. We spend a lot of time researching our vendors for Generation Green and search for companies who are trying to be green from the ground up, are concerned about not only the products they produce, but also how they manufacture them, and offer fair employment opportunities for the people who work for them.

[M]: You do several things to ensure Generation Green is green from the ground up? Do you think it’s especially important to lead by example in your line of work?

HJ: Absolutely. People sometimes have this view of being green as difficult or expensive. We want to show them that it is simply not true.  So not only do we try to offer a variety of products to make it easy to go green, we definitely walk the walk, both at our store and at home.

Here are a few ways that we make our business green from the ground up: non-VOC paint, recycled/recyclable carpet tiles, reclaimed/reused display fixtures, print only when necessary and print two-sided on “draft quality,” everything recyclable gets recycled, we are a GreenSpot Certified business, and we even compost our organic waste− leftover food from lunches, etc.

At home, we have been composting for 10-plus years. We have five rain barrels− three hooked up and two soon to be added. We have a rain garden, have torn up grass and added edible gardens and plants in its place, use a reel mower, have our yard organically treated, recycle all that we can. We only produce one small grocery store bag of trash per week for a family of four, have low-flow shower  fixtures and dual flush toilets, just to name a few.

[M]: Are there any local businesses or business owners you admire for their green efforts?

HJ: Yes. Sara Rampersaud of EcoAssist Consulting/Your Green Review, Nate and Jenn Elfner of Elfner Organic Lawn Care, Made By Amy D products, and Lucky Ladle.

[M]: What are your short-term goals for Generation Green?

HJ: We are currently very excited to be adding an online store. You can view the main page and some press details at  Products are currently being added and we hope for the site to go live in the next month or so.

[M]: What are your long-term goals for the business?

HJ: Our long term goals include adding a blog to our website, so that we can continue to spread awareness and education on issues that affect the environment and our health. “Healthy for People, Healthy for the Planet,” as we like to say.

We currently post not only product updates, but interesting articles, local events, etc. through Facebook and Twitter. We would also like to expand our educational outreach to local schools and start hosting more in-store seminars and classes.

[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?

HJ: We often like to remind people, “You vote with your wallet. Every dollar you spend is sending a message to manufacturers about the types of products, manufacturing, and business practices you support.” We choose to offer eco-friendly products while supporting local artists and vendors and fair trade practices whenever possible. Demand better.