Earth-friendliness has become selling point for local business

| Friday, April 23, 2010

Auto repair typically isn't considered an environmentally friendly industry. But Ransom Towsley recycles what he can — antifreeze, tires, batteries and air conditioner refrigerant — at his Honest-1 Auto Care Shop in Collier.

He opened the business two years ago at a vacant, five-bay garage that was becoming an eyesore along Washington Pike. "So even my shop is recycled," said Towsley, who just added biodegradable motor oils to Honest-1's product line.

Green has become a selling point. As big businesses cut product packaging, use locally grown foods and power plants with solar energy, small startups, too, are focusing on products that create less trash, soil contamination or emissions.

The Earth-friendly movement of recent years "has been very beneficial to the development of my company," Paul Kletter said of his Green Gears Pedicabs, which transports people and cargo through Downtown, the North Shore and nearby areas on seven bicycle-pulled carriages and carts.

Green Gears recently started handling food deliveries from Bella Sera Urban Trattoria in Market Square, one of two restaurants in the Pittsburgh area to be certified by the Green Restaurant Association. The restaurant recycles fryer oil and composts trash, for example.

Kletter said his bikes — pedaled by independent contractors, like many urban taxicabs — can help other businesses cut pollution. "With the large environmental push, not only am I offering a unique service, but it aligns perfectly with these green initiatives that companies are trying to do," he said.

Since opening a year ago, Green Gears has shuttled children to a summer camp in Lawrenceville, sightseers on Downtown tours sponsored by the VisitPittsburgh tourism promotion agency, baseball fans headed to PNC Park and visitors to the South Side. Rentals slow down in winter, naturally, but operators can run their bikes year-round.

This year's goal is to make a bigger push into Downtown, to serve residents there.

"I want people to see this as a legitimate, cost-efficient form of transportation," Kletter said.

The Small Business Administration said it's just starting to study the green trend among startups and specifically, will look at green technology created by small tech companies, said Joseph M. Johnson, economist with the SBA's Office of Advocacy.

Green products and businesses clearly are more abundant these days, he said, and is office is studying the issue at least in part because the Obama administration has made it a focus. "The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act had numerous provisions to incentivize green business investment," he said.

The Green Business Alliance is encountering more startup companies that want to be eco-friendly, "either in the products they sell or the way they run their operations and offices," said Hilary Kusel, executive director of the Boca Raton, Fla.-based organization.

The alliance works with about 100 companies nationwide, helping them "greenify" tasks like printing and copying.

Two other green-focused businesses in the region are just getting started. Rashko Dorosiev's Happy Earth Lawn and Garden is selling The Happy Gardener's line of organic lawn and garden products including biodegradable pots, while running a web log at to teach consumers how to use the products and offer other tips.

Dorosiev moved from Ohio to Monroeville last summer so that he and his wife could send their two sons, both with autism, to better schools.

"I decided to start a business that can provide for my family, and do something that I truly love to do," he said. "A lot of people, when they hear 'organic lawn and garden' they think animal manure and imagine the smell and the mess. But the products we sell are based on sea vegetables."

Mont Handley is working with Johnston the Florist's greenhouses in North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County, to test his "Pittmoss" growing substance made from recycled newspapers and organic additives.

Handley is VisitPittsburgh's national sales director now, but his first job was in a Chicago area nursery. Most peat moss is harvested from Canadian wetlands, he said, and his product could be cheaper for growers while recycling newsprint.

A native of Gary, Ind., Handley moved to the Pittsburgh region in 2005, got caught up in the green movement and started to experiment with formulas for his plant growing material. Johnston the Florist grew poinsettias and spring bulbs in Pittmoss, and is using it for hanging baskets.

Honest-1's Towsley is an executive with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Bellevue, who run a personal care home and other businesses. He was looking for a business to run for extra income, but didn't want "the franchise of the day."

"Auto repair isn't sexy, but it's a $40 billion industry," he said.

His business is Pennsylvania's first Honest-1 repair and maintenance franchise. For every customer, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company plants a tree in a blighted area through a partnership with the American Forests organization, and Towsley's store planted 2,581 trees last year.

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