July 2013 “Faces of the Green Pages”: Solar Service, Inc.; Niles, IL

As a regular featured speaker at our Chicago Green Festivals, Solar Service, Inc. owner Brandon Leavitt enjoys seeing his customers from 36 years of Chicagoland solar installations drop by to say hello.

“We’ve counted more than a dozen of our customers at the shows, some of them clients from 30 years ago whose solar systems are still going strong,” says Brandon. We asked him to tell us more about his first solar installation and about his inspiration to start his solar company…

Green America: What does your business do and what are your most popular products?

Brandon Leavitt: Solar Service designs and installs both solar PV and solar heat and hot water systems for new and existing residential, commercial, municipal and multi-family buildings in the Chicago area.  Today, our most popular products are multi-family solar hot water systems and residential and commercial grid connected PV.

What makes Solar Service green?

Brandon: Obviously, by selling and promoting the use of renewable energy systems we are a green business at our core. Also, Our solar thermal panels are made in Florida and Minnesota.  The solar storage tanks are manufactured in the USA. The vast majority of our PV panels are produced and/or assembled in the USA.  We have never purchased PV panels made in China.

We are a ’family friendly’ company where our employees’ needs for flexible work time are respected.  We have always recycled our in-office plastics, glass, metals, batteries and paper.  We pay our refuse hauler extra for a bin to recycle cardboard.  Every year our holiday party is financed by the proceeds from the sale of leftover scrap copper, steel and aluminum from our installs.  Our crew plants a vegetable garden each spring outside our warehouse.  All our drinking water is purified on tap.  Our sales director drives a company-owned Prius.  And of course, all three of our company buildings are solar powered…both PV and thermal!


This Solar Service installation for HarvesTime Foods in Chicago incorporates PV panels as a part of the store’s awning.

Continue reading “July 2013 “Faces of the Green Pages”: Solar Service, Inc.; Niles, IL”

An Ahh-Haa Moment: Our April Green Biz Interview with Clean Conscience

For Corie and Jerry Thornton, being green is a holistic pursuit. With their reusable bags designed to help you avoid disposables when you go shopping, they’ve also created a business that uses recycled materials for its made-in-the-USA manufacturing.

“We are very confident that green is here to stay,” says Corie. “Americans can do a lot domestically to help us move towards a sustainable society and economy. Our philosophy is that we should do our part in keeping the US green first. If we are strong at home, we will have the strength, resources and capability to help others either by setting an example or sharing in the fruit of our efforts.”

Continue reading “An Ahh-Haa Moment: Our April Green Biz Interview with Clean Conscience”

Life Without Plastic (our January 2012 green-biz interview)

With backgrounds in law, business ethics, management, biochemistry and ecotoxicology, Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha made a life-changing decision after their son was born in 2003. They started looking for ways to reduce their family’s toxin exposure in everyday life, and when they began to discover the problems with everyday plastic, their difficult search for stainless steel or glass baby bottles gave them the motivation to start their own business, Life Without Plastic.
“Both of us were feeling like we were spinning our wheels in our previous jobs and not really making a positive difference. Too many meetings and reports that led to nothing. We were looking for something more meaningful,” says Jay. ” We knew other families were on the same quest for plastic-free baby bottles, so we essentially started the company with just these two products.” 
We asked Jay to tell us more about the problems with plastics and how their business makes it easy to go plastic-free…

Sustainable Fiber Arts (our Nov. 2011 green-biz interview)

“One company isn’t going to save the world,” says Stephanie Schiff, owner of Ecobutterfly Organics. “It has to take place in the consciousness of the people as individuals, over and over, one at a time until the ideas eventually just become part of the way we think as a society.”

Along with her online portal for purchasing super-sustainable fiber-arts supplies, Schiff provides information on the whys and hows of her business: WHY she won’t use GMO corn-based packaging, or HOW she finds suppliers that meet her green standards. She says that as people become educated to how a green and fair supply chain works, she sees them shift to support a greener economy.

Through our interview, Ecobutterfly educated us on everything from color-grown cotton to the life-cycle of the Monarch butterfly.

Continue reading “Sustainable Fiber Arts (our Nov. 2011 green-biz interview)”

Restoring a Native Population (our Oct. 2011 green-biz interview)

“Currently, the Great Plains are dominated by cattle and by industrial farming, which are not sustainable,” says Mark Tilsen, co-founder of Native American Natural Foods. “These practices drastically reduce biodiversity, while grazing activity by buffalo actually encourages it. Industrial agriculture increases soil erosion, while the natural prairie grasses that buffalo prefer hold the soil in place.”

To help restore the prairie and the buffalo, Mark Tilsen and Karlene Hunter started a green business that would grow the buffalo population to supply the raw materials for their protein-rich snack bars.

We asked Mark to tell us more about the relationship of the buffalo to the prairie, how his company benefits the Oglala Lakota, and the meaning of the name Tanka…

Full interview here »

gWhiz! Eco-friendly Diapers (our Sept. 2011 green-biz interview)

When Jason and Kim Graham-Nye traveled from Portland to San Francisco for the Green Festival in November of 2010 to collect their People’s Choice Award for Green Business of the Year, it wasn’t their first visit to the Green Festival.

While attending previous Festivals in Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, Jason says, “We were able to meet new customers face-to-face and show them our product. It was absolutely critical to the success of the company. In addition to this, there was one particular Green Business Conference in Chicago in 2007 where I met 8 people in the space of 20 minutes — during the ice-breaker activity — and we have all stayed friends ever since. It’s not all business!”

We asked Jason to tell us more about the world of diapers, and in the process we learned about his and Kim’s romantic past in Australia…

Read the interview >>

Fair Trade Footwear and Fashion

NEW Fair Trade rubber rain boots

Think you can’t find Fair Trade footwear? Think again. From the Fair Trade latex in the soles of these sneakers, to the sustainably harvested organic cotton uppers, to the final fair-wage manufacturing facility in Pakistan, Autonomie Fair Trade sneakers are a model of fair sourcing.

“Social entrepreneurship has been a passion of mine since my senior year of college,” says Autonomie founder Anne O’Laughlin. “I received a grant from my university to conduct field research in Taiwan on sweatshops and migrant labor issues. This opportunity of getting to personally meet workers that produce our garments; to hear their stories; to befriend them; and to witness upfront their daily struggles triggered my desire to pursue a career in social justice and do whatever I could that would bring them better working conditions and a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.”

We asked Anne to tell us more about the Fair Trade products in Autonomie’s line… not just sneakers, but also children’s clothing, flip-flops, and new this spring Fair Trade rain boots made from Fair Trade rubber.

Read the interview »