Bush Effect Boosts Green Economy
Enrique Gili
SAN DIEGO, United States, 13 Apr (IPS) - A low-rise bungalow on a busy street here serves as the world headquarters and nerve centre for Whale Tails, a tortilla chip company dedicated to making healthier snack food -- and healing the planet.

At the door stand a woman with a silver mane of wild hair and man with an infectious grin. They are eco-entrepreneurs Ric and Terry Kraszewski, a husband and wife team who are out to change consumers' opinions about snack food.

The Kraszewskis are part of a growing trend among businesses looking far beyond the bottom line to embrace principles that are economically and environmentally sustainable. Embedded in their value system is the belief that the private sector can bring about positive environmental or social change through leveraging resources.

"It's a great time to be an entrepreneur in America," said Ric Kraszewski, who was raised on the counter-cultural ideals of the 1960s. For the couple, both lifelong water lovers who have lived near the Pacific Ocean for 30 years, it seemed only fitting to tie their enterprise to marine conservation.

A day of surf exploration 17 years ago led to the genesis of Whale Tails. Coming down with a case of the munchies, he along with Rick Grant, Whale Tails third co-founder, had a guacamole-induced insight. Why not create a whale-shaped tortilla chip made wholly from organic, non-genetically modified ingredients?

These days, the Kraszewskis have a lot to smile about. After finally securing a trademark on the name in 2005, they launched a niche product that's steadily gaining traction on the shelves of whole food stores throughout the region and Pacific Northwest.

The Kraszewskis demonstrate the attributes of successful entrepreneurs -- total faith in their product and an obsession with detail. At times, jargon like "market penetration" passes Ric's lips, but for the most part the discussion flows over the trials and travails of launching a small business.

Having perfected the formula for their tortilla chips, they're now in the process of refining the packaging. Consumers, if they take the time to read the bag between nibbles, ingest inspirational copy with phrases such as, "Whale Tails tortilla chips is dedicated to whales and people like you who want to make a difference."

Ultimately, they'd like to have a biodegradable bag that forces leviathans in the food and beverage industry to take notice. Getting the 20-billion-dollar a year U.S. snack industry to follow their lead in making a more eco-friendly product would be considered a significant accomplishment. "If it encourages them to make a difference, that would be awesome," Terry said.

Hundreds of like-minded businesses seem to agree. Membership in "One Percent for the Planet", a non-profit organisation that matches businesses with environmental groups, is soaring of late.

A network of businesses have joined the alliance "to do the right thing" of putting the environment before profit, as their charter simply puts it. Members agree to donate one percent of their earnings to pre-approved environmental organisations.

"We're helping them become a powerful force for social change," says the group's executive director, Terry Kellogg. The four-year old organisation began slowly, and then suddenly took off. As of this year, One Percent has grown to nearly 500 members, with more businesses joining each day, many of them in the past year and a half.

Kellogg attributes the uptick to the "Bush Effect." Since President George W. Bush has taken office, news about the environment has gone from bad to worse, he says, spurring the private sector and consumers to take action.

Collectively these businesses and the consumers they serve are known as the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), a fast growing demographic willing to spend money aligned with their progressive values. According to the publishers of the trade publication LOHAS Journal, the marketplace for these goods and services has undergone double-digit growth in the past few years, and is now ringing up 230 billion dollars in sales annually.

Members offer a myriad of services in many sectors of industry, from organic food to renewable energy.

Still, the size and scope of this market can be misleading. Organic food, for example, accounts for just 2.5 percent of food sales, and .02 percent of the land in the U.S. currently under cultivation. Much of the organic produce needs to be imported or trucked over great distances from farm to plate, leaving a wide gap between what consumers expect and what's readily available.

But the Kraszewskis view this growing market as a huge opportunity with a tremendous upside. Their tiny chip company has projected sales in the three- to five-million-dollar range over the next few years, of which they have earmarked 10 percent for environmental research, education and preservation.

An informal board composed of marine scientists and non-profit staff members are advising the company. Approximately three to four cents from every bag sold of Whale Tails chips are donated to whale research and marine conservation.

The first such beneficiary was Julio Solis, founder of the recently established Magdalena Bay Keepers, a group based in Baja, Mexico that helps protect Pacific Gray Whales in their breeding grounds. The donation has allowed the Baja Bay Keepers to maintain and fuel their patrol boat, Ric explains, keeping afloat the dreams a small team of environmentalists in real need of money and resources.