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Going Green in Leelanau County

“We are not just selling cherries anymore; we are trying to make a better world,” says Cherry  Republic President Bob Sutherland, who has taken a cue from one of the country’s prominent environmental philanthropists and made an effort to “green up” his popular Glen Arbor business that sells all things cherry — from ice cream, to salsa, to clothing. True to form, Cherry Republic installed dual-flush toilets and a solar-thermal system this past May.

Sutherland is not alone as the green building movement gains traction in Michigan and beyond. And that’s a breath of fresh air. As recently as 2006, buildings accounted for 40 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States and 38 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions.

In our state, environmental improvements could serve two purposes. Michigan boasts the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and green jobs and technology could prove to be a savior. Grand Rapids, for instance, boasts 26 buildings that are LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) — making it per capita the top city in the country.

Leelanua’s Green Businessman 

Of course, you have heard of Bob Sutherland, the local boy who began by selling T-shirts out of the back of his car. Since those meager days, his business has grown to become the leading distributor of specialty cherry products worldwide. Meanwhile, Sutherland’s environmentally-conscious business practices have distinguished Cherry Republic among local businesses as a green pioneer. The company donates one percent of its sales to environmental nonprofits — an amount that has already topped half a million dollars. Sutherland cites Patagonia outdoor clothing company founder Yvonne Chouinard as the impetus for his environmental mission.

Chouinard “was a huge inspiration to me,” says Sutherland. The two met 11 years ago when Chouinard came to Traverse City to speak on behalf of the Michigan Land Use Institute, an environmental and land use advocacy organization. Sutherland took to heart Chouinard’s pleas to do more for the planet.

The three-year goal at Cherry Republic now is to reduce energy consumption by 40 percent by creating renewable energy and adopting energy conservation. “We’ve already gotten to 20 percent in our first year,” Sutherland adds with a smile.

The “green team” at Cherry Republic — staff members who focus on cutting energy consumption and educating fellow employees on ways to conserve energy at work and home — has teamed up with Eco-Building Products of Traverse City to implement environmental improvements at the store in Glen Arbor. “We started with the basics, changing light bulbs, increasing the insulation, and installing thermostats,” Sutherland adds.

The next step was to purchase construction materials from Eco-Building Products such as paints, clear finished, and adhesive that off gas very few, if any, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that pollute indoor air. He installed three Caroma dual-flush toilets in employee and guest restrooms in the Glen Arbor location that will save 24,000 to 36,000 gallons of water this year. The most expensive investment was to install a commercial Solar-Thermal System on the roof of Cherry Republic’s Cafe.

The Green Building Alliance

Cherry Republic and Eco-Building Products (EBP) are paving the way for other local businesses by spreading the word about green-building techniques. “We are very proud of our association, because we are helping them make a living so they can make more companies in our area greener too,” summarizes Sutherland.

“We were so inspired by Cherry Republic’s commitment to have a positive impact on the environment, we thought that we needed to recognize the company for its efforts. “Barnes explains. “So we developed our own Environmentally Preferred Purchasing Program (EP3 for short) similar to President Bill Clinton’s 1998 Executive Order, entitled Greening the Government through Waste Prevention, Recycling and Federal Acquisition.”

The Traverse City Firm’s Environmentally Preferred Partnership (EP3) is based upon a mutual commitment to have immediate positive impact on Mother Nature. (Go to Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program for information.) All of EBP’s products and systems eliminate or reduce negative environmental impact as soon as they are installed. In exchange for purchasing and installing its eco-building products and systems, Eco-Building Products provides it’s partners with valuable empirical data (often in the spreadsheet form) that measures environmental impact and financial Return on Investment (ROI).

This valuable data ensures that its partners are well-informed, calculated, well-balanced and sustainable. EBP provides its EP3 partners with volume discounts and “broad scope” discounts that encourage its partners to take action on several environmental fronts as long as it is economically sustainable. Cherry Republic has purchased products that promote good indoor-air quality, save water, off-set carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) by reducing Kilowatt-hours usage, and generating clean energy.

Water Efficiency and Free Hot Water

Glen Arbor does not have public restrooms, and will not have them until next spring. In the meantime, Cherry Republic has gone though four sets of toilets in six years and experienced the stress of high water usage on its septic field. If used correctly a Caroma dual-flush toilet has the ability to save 14,000 gallons of water each year in a commercial setting,” explains Jim Barnes.

Meanwhile, Eco-Building Products’ solar-thermal system heats water that can be used for washing Cherry Republic’s cafe dishes, guests and employee hands. This represents over 200 gallons of water each day during the high-volume summer season. Unlike solar (photovoltaic) panels, which turn solar energy directly into electricity, solar-thermal systems harness the sun’s energy for thermal energy or heat.

Several concave vacuum-sealed glass tubes are visible on the roof of café. No matter where the sun is in the sky, these tubes direct light to copper pipes in the middle of the tube. “When the liquid heats up inside the copper pipe it turns to a gas and transfers its heat to a medium (either water or a water/glycol mix) in a closed-loop system that will then transfer the heat into a water storage tank in the utility room,” Barnes explains.

“It’s the most efficient, best payback, cleanest, and longest-lasting form of renewable energy. Everyone in Northern Michigan should have one,” encourages Sutherland. “A single-family home with a two-panel system will typically cost $8,000-$10,000 installed,” estimates Barnes.

Federal Tax Credit Inspires Solar Energy and Green Building

Besides earning a 30 percent tax credit on average, solar water heating can reduce carbon emissions by one ton per year if replacing natural gas, and three tons per year if replacing electric hot water heating. Cherry Republic has also begun buying wind power energy credits from a wind farm in McBain, Michigan, called Heritage Sustainable Energy.

“Our whole green initiative here has invigorated me as a business owner,” says Sutherland. “Creating a green team has inspired employees. They are more loyal and proud of what we are doing here.”

As founder of the Sierra Club Foundation David Brower put it, “There is no business to be done on a dead planet.”