By Ali C.M. Watkins
Biz West/Prairie Mountain Publishing
Boulder County companies are weaving sustainable practices into their business models and paving avenues for their customers to do the same. City and county resources and a common love for recreation that characterizes the area are propelling businesses towards green practices.
Boulder is home to several companies that prioritize environmental stewardship, according to John Tayer, CEO and president of the Boulder Chamber. He believes that proximity to nature inspires business leaders to care for it.
“It starts with the character of business leaders that move to this community. They are surrounded by natural beauty, they tend to have an appreciation for environmental preservation, and that spirit helps to guide them in their business practices,” Tayer said. “And when you carry that as a value, it’s something that you want to share, and make sure that others carry that awareness in their practice as well.”
Brittney La Gesse relocated to Boulder from Wisconsin five years ago. She needed a change of pace, and Colorado’s scenery attracted her to the state. A year after moving, La Gesse founded Refill Revolution LLC, a store that sells bulk personal care items and sustainably sourced and packaged goods.
After participating in the zerowaste movement, a practice to divert trash from landfills through reusing items, composting and recycling, she wanted to help others minimize their trash production. For her, Refill Revolution is more than a store. It’s a way to educate and guide customers.
La Gesse prefers the term “low-waste” as opposed to zero waste, because creating some trash is inevitable, she said.
“I think when people hear ‘zero waste,’ they think they have to fit their trash in a Mason jar, and that is totally not the case,” La Gesse said. “I really wanted to be the support system for people.”
Up until a little more than a month ago, Refill Revolution had a storefront on Arapahoe Avenue. Customers could return to the store with reusable containers and refill them with things such as body wash and cleaning products. A loss of in-person customers during the pandemic contributed to La Gesse’s decision to close the storefront.
La Gesse is delivering bulk items through the Refill Revolution ecommerce site, and smaller items in reusable or compostable containers including biodegradable dental floss in a refillable canister.
￼Because Refill Revolution is delivery- only now, La Gesse is being cautious with her packaging. She uses compostable or recyclable parcels, reuses packing materials and seals everything with a plantbased biodegradable tape.
Longtime Boulder resident Mark Wood, founder and “Applemaster” of the apple chip brand Appleooz, also built his business from a personal belief to reduce waste. He grew tired of watching the uneaten apples from his backyard fruit tree rot away. He began dehydrating slices for snacks. One day, he left the apples in a little longer than intended, creating apple chips.
In 2014, Wood led a program called Donate Colorado Apples where apples were harvested from Boulder County homeowners. The Appleooz chips made from those donations were then provided to schools in the county.
“By doing things like that, it got the community to support us and really recognize that we’re not only a food business but we’re saving resources by harvesting food that would be going to waste,” Wood said.
Wood doesn’t like wasting a single seed of an apple. He gathers the leftover apple peels and cores from production and offers the scraps to any farm looking to feed their animals.
Though Appleooz was founded in 2012, it is in the “startup stage.” 1908 Brands Inc., a Boulder firm that’s the parent company to several local brands, including Boulder Clean, acquired Appleooz in 2016 before releasing it from its portfolio a year later. Wood retained the branding rights and relaunched last year to complete the story he started, he said.
Wood is a one-man team, dehydrating and packaging more than 1,000 apple chips a day. Currently, he is using direct-to-consumer channels. Because the brand recently relaunched, he is using plastic packaging because it’s cheaper to buy. He also introduced small individual-sized bags during the relaunch, though he prefers selling large bags to reduce waste. It’s less than ideal to him.
However, the relaunch is allowing him to become a supplier to bulk markets. He delivers Appleooz in tupperware on his bicycle to one market that he partners with, Nude Foods Market in Boulder. Their staff then repackages the apple chips into mason jars.
“I want to continue to offer packaged products, because that’s the simplest, most cost effective way to get it out to the average consumer. However, my commitment to the environment and to the history of Appleooz has led me down this path of selling our product, our crunchy apple chips, in bulk containers like Tupperware containers,” Wood said.
Appleooz sells to other bulk stores including Infinity Goods: Zero-Waste Grocery Delivery in Denver and Simply Bulk in Longmont.
Heidi and Devin Quince were customers of Simply Bulk for six years. When the owner announced his retirement, the couple decided to purchase the store on Main Street to keep the business alive.
Barrels, bins with scoops and dispensers hold more than 500 items, including spices, pet food, oils and grains. Customers can bring their own reusable containers or purchase one at the store. About 85% to 90% of the items in Simply Bulk are sold in bulk, Devin Quince said.
Devin Quince said that Simply Bulk tries to source from local or U.S. suppliers. Items that aren’t possible to find nearby are vetted to be certified fair trade and organic. Another criteria when choosing a supplier is if they deliver goods in recyclable or compostable materials.
“We enable our customers to live a more sustainable lifestyle, have a more sustainable shopping experience by providing the option to not have single use packaging that they take home so it just makes sense for us to sort of practice what we preach,” Devin Quince said.
He said Longmont’s sustainability program for businesses has been a supportive system. Simply Bulk was named “Best Environmentally Friendly Business” and a “gold standard” company in 2020 from Longmont’s Sustainable Business Program. The program supports and recognizes businesses, nonprofits and farms that make substantial efforts to reduce their environmental footprint and engage with the community, according to Berenice Garcia Tellez, an economic sustainability specialist at Public Works and Natural Resources for Longmont.
Since the program launched in 2019, 41 businesses have been certified as sustainable and 124 have participated in the Sustainable Business Program, Tellez said. She added that last year, 27 businesses were certified, about half of which are owned by people of color.
“As many small to medium businesses are often busy with the immediate concerns of running a business, sustainability isn’t always top of mind, but implementing more sustainable practices is becoming increasingly important, and it’s easier to get started than many businesses realize,” Tellez wrote in an email.
Tayer said there’s a wealth of resources available for businesses throughout Boulder County to take steps toward sustainability. He said that there’s county programs and nonprofits that are ready to help.
Partners for a Clean Environment, a program that was founded in 1993 and works with local governments and businesses in Boulder County, advises business owners on reducing their environmental impact. Advisers help navigate solutions for water conservation, waste reduction, energy and transportation. According to the PACE website, 136 businesses throughout the county have received certification from the program.
Tayer sits on the board of Resource Central, a Boulder-based conservation nonprofit. The organization’s programs are for residents and schools but contracts with businesses to extend its services, he said. Resource Central collects and sells reclaimed materials for construction projects. The nonprofit also has water-conservation solutions with low-flush toilet installations and converting lawns to low-water native plant species.
The city of Boulder’s Universal Zero Waste Ordinance requires businesses to separate recyclables and compostables from the trash and train employees on sorting. Upslope Brewing Co. in Boulder has benefitted from the current waste-diversion infrastructure, using it as a roadmap, said Elizabeth Waters, sustainability coordinator for Upslope Brewing.
The brewing company partners with Eco-cycle, a nonprofit recycler and zero waste organization based in Boulder, for a pilot program, Waters said. Eco-cycle recycles the grain bags Upslope uses during the brewing process. Grain bags aren’t recyclable through single-stream recycling. The brewery also uses Eco-cycle for other hard-to-recycle items including pallet stretch wrap.
Plastic six-pack rings are reused through a take-back program, where Upslope returns rings back to the producer. Waters said that customers are encouraged to bring back their own used sixpack rings to the taproom so Upslope can ship them off to the producer.
Upslope conducts an annual waste assessment. Water said that the last audit in August 2020 revealed that Upslope diverted 75% of its waste from the landfill. If including the disposal of spent grains, then nearly all of its waste is diverted, Waters said. Waters said that Upslope is aiming to divert 85% of waste, excluding spent grains, from the landfill by 2025, mirroring the zero waste goal of Boulder.
“We’re efficient, but we could definitely still improve. There’s always room for improvement,” Waters said.