Savvy Start-Ups Help New Yorkers Buy Green

By Zonia Edward

In years past, being green simply meant recycling your used newspapers, bottles, cans, and the occasional piece of scrap metal.

New York City has been a hotbed of eco-friendly activity in recent years, but the majority of native New Yorkers have found it difficult to buy into the green movement.

Today, however, entrepreneurs are inventing creative ways to help the environment and make living a green lifestyle practical.

In four vignettes, we will take a look at the companies that are helping New Yorkers realize that incorporating green services and products into their lifestyle is the best way to get the most for their dollar.

Holistic Fitness

The Bushwick section of Brooklyn is undergoing rapid change. The area is quickly becoming the home of visual artists, musicians, actors, and dancers.

While the zone is still full of warehouses and industrial plants, the migration of young and educated clientele has made it the perfect neighborhood for Green Fitness Studio to thrive.

A top-notch eco-friendly fitness center has never been done in the five boroughs before.

“Our concept was to create an environmentally-friendly studio while providing top-notch classes,” said Ryan Manchester, General Manager of the Studio, “There is nothing like it in the area, so it motivates people to work out.”

Opened on December 21, 2009, Green Fitness Studio is the first LEEDS certified building in Brooklyn. LEEDS is a certification program administered through the United States Green Building Council and provides third-party verification that measures a building’s sustainability performance in nine key areas.

The areas are: construction site sustainability, water efficiency, energy use monitoring, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, locations and linkages, awareness and education, regional priority, and innovation in design.

According to Manchester, the studio follows through on these initiatives in a plethora of ways.

“All of our water outlets have fixtures on them that only allow for low drip, low flow [water pressure]. So all of our showers use way less water than a typical residential shower would,” said Manchester, “We wash everything on site so that we can monitor all of the cleaners that we are using. We only use non-toxic, eco-friendly products to clean the studio.”

According to one of the studios yoga teachers, fitness and the green movement complement each other perfectly.

“I think it is a huge factor. The sprouting of the green movement and the abundant amount of yoga teachers and practitioners [has created] a sense of community,” said Chris Maddox, a yoga teacher for 2 years, “I mean you can do yoga at your house get a video and just pop it in.  But more people what to participate in a community of like-minded people and that’s huge.”

Looking forward, the studio is trying to market the fitness studio to New Yorkers from all backgrounds.

“While the majority of our clients live in the area and are mostly young artists. We also cater to the Hasidic Jewish community. We have special hours for the men and women, so that they can come in and work out,” said Manchester, “We are constantly looking to diversify our client base by trying to get different types of people into the studio.”

Out of Landfills and Into Your Home

According to the NYC Department of Sanitation website, construction and demolition debris is one of the categories that does not have a designated recycling program.[1] In addition, construction debris accounts for more than 60% of the solid waste stream[2]

In an 18,000 square foot warehouse, Justin Greene is keeping waste out of landfills, while helping homeowners save on remodeling materials.

Greene’s non-profit organization, Build-It-Green, is a retail outlet for salvage and surplus building materials. The store located in Astoria, Queens takes materials from buildings that are being demolished and materials donated by contractors in order to prevent these goods from ending up in landfills.

“Land fills have a big effect on the climate because they release greenhouse gas that affects the ozone layer”, said Greene, “It is important to reuse these materials. It helps prevents new materials from being harvested.”

Home and small business owners can receive up to 70% off the original price on many of the same goods one can buy at Home Depot or Lowes. Customers can save on everything from lumber to kitchen appliances.

“Our customers are mostly homeowners, but we also get many bar owners and interior designers who shop at our store” said Greene.

Greene also states “everyone in the community is an active partner in keeping material out of landfills”. He routinely receives salvage material donations from residents not only of Astoria, but also from all parts of New York City.

In addition, BIG offers homeowners free kitchen deconstruction when they are ready to remodel. Every deconstruction gets treated as a donation and each customer receives a tax-refundable receipt.

BIG also offers free do-it-yourself classes for anyone in the New York City area. Classes include topics on from building a cat-scratch post, wood refinishing, and drywall plastering.

While New York City is a trendsetter in many areas, but that is not the case when it comes to the recycling of demolition waste.

“New York is behind other cities,” said Greene, “We have used other models to craft this idea and adapted it to meet the needs of the city.”

Eco-Gear for Tots

Being green can be for babies too.

While pregnant with her second baby, Lena Gorelik started to compile a list of natural, organic, and safe products for her new bundle of joy. In the midst of her research she found that the many baby products, such as toys, pacifiers, and bottles, contained harmful toxins. Out of her desire to give her own children the safest products, Grow in Style was born.

“I believe that natural and organic products are the only kind children should encounter,” said Gorelik, “By wearing eco-friendly [clothes], you are not only benefiting yourself, but also the planet as well. If you read the news today, you can see that the planet needs as much help as it can get.”

One of the company’s biggest sellers are diaper cakes. Diaper cakes are cakes made from diapers – a three-tier creation of organic diapers to be exact. These products make wonderful centerpieces for baby showers and are also a perfect gift for mothers-to-be.

“Of course we didn’t invent the diaper cake, but we realized that there weren’t many companies catering to the eco-friendly community,” said Gorelik, “Unlike a large bouquet of flowers, which can run the same price and end up in the garbage just a few days later, every part of a diaper cake can be used by a new parent.”

The Goreliks also stock eco-friendly toys, and pacifiers. These products are made from non-toxic paints and do not contain any phthalates, or BPA.

Several states are taking steps to ban BPA and phthalates in toys; however, these chemicals have been banned in European toys for over a decade.

Bisphenol-A or BPA and phthalates are chemical compounds primarily found in the manufacturing of plastics. Recently conducted studies have shown that these chemicals have harmful effects on the prostate and brain.

Organic baby clothes are becoming quite popular with parents.

“Our green baby shower ideas page is very popular,” said Gorelik, “We are always trying to expand and add more products. I am hoping for this place to become more of an authoritative source on eco-friendly baby products.”

A Safer Way to Dry Clean

Dry cleaners across New York City have been using the PERC process to launder garments for over 60 years.

PERC cleans by using petroleum-based solvents; one in particular called Tetrachloroethylene (also known as Perchloroethylene) has been classified as a hazardous air contaminant by the Environmental Protection Agency.[3]

Green Apple Cleaners is a front-runner in the dry cleaning industry and uses CO2 and wet cleaning in order to give their clients the cleanest clean.

PERC solvents have been proven to leave toxic residue and soot in clothing; which can contaminant air, water, and has even been linked to causing some forms of cancer.

“Everyone in the dry cleaning industry knows that PERC is harmful, it is a known carcinogen. Even dry cleaners who use PERC know it’s a carcinogen, but they still use it,” said Shawn Crabb, director of sales and marketing, “For them PERC is more cost-effective.”

Dry Cleaning: The Organic Way

CO2 and wet cleaning has been approved as the most natural way to launder garments.

“CO2 cleaning is actually a process that uses gas CO2 and we pressurize it and turn it into a liquid. It is a very effective cleaning solvent; it bonds to bacteria and other cleaning solvents that were built up in your clothes,” said Crabb, “The last process is a bio-degradable cleaning solvent that flushes out all residues that are left on the clothes.”

Green Apple’s executive staff even went so far as to get a worldwide environmental certification. Begun in Germany in 1978, Blue Angel certification seeks to inform potential customers about environmentally friendly products; which give global support to green products.

“If you have blue angel certification, you have the safest products, no toxins, no animal enzymes. It is all plant-based,” stated Crabb, “In Europe, they are way ahead of the curve in terms of sustainability. America is slowly coming on, but we went to Europe because we wanted the highest standards.”

The dry cleaning industry is largely un-regulated and in the future, Green Apple is hoping to push New York City to pass legislation and help educate more consumers on the benefits of switching to organic cleaners.

“In the next 15 years we are looking forward to heavy regulation of the dry cleaning industry, said Crabb, “If we think about how we are spending our dollar in every aspect of our life from food, to what we wear, to what services we use. It would make a huge difference and we can take a green initiative in every aspect of our lives.”

[1] See Link:

[2] See Link: Pg. 6

[3] See Link: