Green Festivals

Entrepreneurs empowering communities in developing nations

During his speech titled “Accelerating the Green Economy ” at San Francisco’s Green Festival last month, Dr. Kevin Danaher, Global Exchange co-founder, spoke of the triple bottom line. The triple bottom line takes into account more than the traditional measures of a corporation’s success; it involves the organization’s social and environmental values.

As I went around talking to the exhibitors, I found that they themselves became more educated, socially conscious, and innovative as a result of the products they discovered along their travels. They aim to improve the standard of retail around the world by supporting communities and empowering small businesses worldwide.

Kuna Prints by Mama Shaman, by far the funkiest shoes at Green Festival, supports a community of Kuna matriarch crafters in Colombia. The traditional Kuna dress known as Mola were of interest to Natalia Swanson, a Colombian-born San Francisco native, who upon walking down the street with the shoes made from the Mola would be bombarded with request such as “let me buy them from you! Take them off, I want them!” The shoes are made with all vegan materials; Natalia and her husband live a vegan lifestyle. Kuna Prints supports a community that would otherwise not have many sources of income, Natalia explained. The couple has been in business for about two and a half years. When asked what kind of shoes she sells the most, she replied, “The Mary Janes. Everyone wants them.”

Kuna Prints shoes booth at SF Green Festival

Photo courtesy of Heidi Hennig Arno

On their first trip to buy precious stones such as quartz and garnet in Nepal in 2005, Cameron Grace McGowan and Willie Nielson, the founders of Crystalline Dream, noticed that many impoverished children were living on the streets and decided they needed to help out in some way. They decided to become involved with the Helpless Colony Orphanage, located on the outskirts of Kathmandu, where impoverished families migrate in hopes of finding a place with opportunity. They’ve also begun to collaborate with Stones for Change. Stones for Change is a relatively new organization that hopes to change the current standards of mining by benefiting communities of artisanal miners. Their efforts will make it so that everyone can feel better about the jewelry being purchased knowing that it was acquired from fair trade sources.

Cameron and Willie with the kids from Helpless Colony Orphanage

Cameron and Willie with the kids from Helpless Colony Orphanage

Crystalline Dream’s biggest seller, Himalayan Quartz, is mined from inside a mountain named Ganesh Himal III, which stands at 24,373 feet tall. In order for the quartz to keep its energy intact, the quartz is hand mined – no machinery or blasting is used in the process. However, when they first started to buy from the local miners, Cameron and Willie noticed that the quartz stones were chipped at the points. They then took it upon themselves to educate the miners as well as pay them higher wages when they took care of the quartz in the proper manner, so as to conserve the energy and avoid chipping at the points, which makes for a more valuable crystal. Chipping was soon avoided by packing the stones with moss to protect them from banging into one another through the miners three-day trek down the mountain.

With tourism down due to the civil war in Nepal, purchasing stones from the local miners helps the community flourish. Whereas once there may have been a scarcity of food or warm clothing, the people of the community no longer have to worry about how they will obtain such necessities. In fact, one of these families was able to send one of their kids to study in Malaysia, something that would have been unattainable without the profits from mining quartz.

What these entrepreneurs have in common is that they are not only conscious of the effects of the earth, but of the communities that become empowered and developed by their businesses. The entire weekend was infused with motivational speeches bringing light to the positive messages brought forth by these new businesses: collaborate to bring about change, support organizations by spreading the word, educate each other, and make business more accountable.

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Nourishing the body, SF Green Festival ’09

Photo by Amber Blankenship

Photo by Amber Blankenship

At the 8th annual Green Festival in San Francisco this year, I noticed that each company has its own approach to environmental sustainability.  Where one company’s focus lies in  sourcing the most natural ingredients for their product lines, others may also focus on social causes, or on reducing waste.

Nick Kelly, founder of Kaia Foods educated me and reminded me of the “radical transparency” which Joey Shepp listed as a consumer “want” during his “Social Media and Sustainability” speech. Kaia Foods wants to disclose what’s in their raw, organic oatmeal.  Their passion for educating consumers on proper nutrition is the motivation behind the brand.  The company believes in bringing minimally processed food to the market; the philosophy “Keep it Simple.” Nick preaches on the benefits of eating fewer calories; contending that the practice may extend your life span.   In addition to promoting a wholesome diet, Kaia foods donates 1% to the Hunger Project and the UN Food Program.

While Kaia Foods strives to educate consumers about the benefits of eating raw, unprocessed, natural foods, the family producing Inesscents products seek to feed and heal your skin. They have been operating for 10 years, out of Ashland, Oregon, solar infusing calendula flowers and working with homeopathic doctors to create a series of natural body care products that nourish and cure the skin. “Why intoxicate your body with ingredients that are used as preservatives in lotions?  Your skin needs to breathe and it can only do so if you allow it to eliminate the toxins by not clogging your skins’ pores with unnatural ingredients,” explains Tsadae Neway. For example, their African Black Soap, fairly-traded from Ghana, contains no animal fats or chemicals, and is best for treating rashes, acne, ringworm, eczema, and dandruff.  As a certified B Corporation, the business has received high ratings in leadership, which emphasizes the company’s accountability and transparency as far as its efforts in sourcing from organic and fair trade producers.

For a chocolate manufacturer, competition is vast. Yet, Earth Source Organics operations manager, Adam, claims that the secret to their “Righteously Raw” chocolate bars is that they’re more than just raw chocolate bars.  The raw cocoa surrounds a super-food filling, which consists of either Goji Berries that are known to improve circulation and vision, Acai berries, rich in Omega 3, 6, and 9, or Maca root, for energy and vitality.  Earth Source Organics works on their recipes for a period of about 3-4 years to perfect and attain the final, customer-approved flavor.  They’re also environmentally conscious.  Righteously Raw chocolate bars are packaged in soy-ink printed recycled paper.

As a consumer, it was my curiosity to engage these companies to find out what made them environmentally or socially conscious. I was glad to find that transparency is something they embrace, as well as education and finding the most natural and healthy ingredients for their consumers.

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