The city of Chicago has been going "green" under the environmentally-friendly leadership of Mayor Richard M. Daley. City laws now require all new public buildings to incorporate recycled or renewable materials and energy-saving green technologies. For one Chicago business the rapidly-growing demand for green building components has spelled overnight success.
Greenmaker opened for business in September 2005. It has earned more than $1 million in profits in its first year, selling such environmentally friendly building products as toxin-free paint, bamboo and linoleum flooring, low-flow toilets and insulation made of recycled denim. Customers can order on-line, or come in and browse the showroom in space rented from a remodeling supply company in the city.
"We sell a lot of different environmentally friendly building supplies," says Lyrica Hammann, a salesperson at Greenmaker. The idea, she says is "that someone could come in here, take a look at our showroom and be able to get ideas for pretty much everything they would need to do a remodel of an existing home or to build new home [that is] environmentally friendly."
Hammann has a degree in environmental studies. She worked in sales at a smaller, similar store in Maine before making the move to Chicago. "And I have found that Chicago is a really exciting place to be. It's a city that has a lot of motion taking place in environmental issues and sustainable development."
Chicago's green initiatives, driven not only by the mayor's office but also by growing public demand, opened up new business opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs like Greenmaker President Ori Sivan. "One of the big drivers to start the business was that the city had set forth some very significant mandates," Sivan says. "Some of them were benefits they were offering for going green, some of them were limitations to access city money unless you went green. We also see how the city impacts the homeowner. They've generated a lot of interest."
Before Sivan and his partner Joe Silver opened Greenmaker last year, there was no place in Chicago for builders or homeowners to go to get the supplies they needed to meet those mandates. Green-minded homeowners had to drive more than five hours to Iowa to purchase materials.
Sivan, who has a master's degree in environmental engineering, says he was looking for the opportunity to work in an area that would allow him to help prevent damage to the environment instead of trying to repair damage that had already occurred. "The dominating paradigm was to solve problems after someone else had caused them. We call this 'end of the pipe solutions,'" he says. "Those types of solutions are reactionary by definition, but also very expensive. So I was looking for a way to get more into the front end of the decision making, and I realized what better place than in the consumer marketplace."
Sivan and his partner, who were high school friends in Chicago, strive to keep prices affordable at Greenmaker, so consumers don't have to rule out building green because it's more expensive.
He says their customers have "run the gamut from the larger general contractors in the city that work on projects like museums and schools to a young couple painting their baby's room. We deal with developers who are doing one home at a time and a developer that might be doing 18 units, condominiums."
Sivan believes that demand for green building materials will only grow with time. "To many people I'm sure I sound like an idealist, but I'm fairly confident that in 20 years it will sound almost mundane," he says. "Of course you build energy-efficient buildings. Of course you don't build with toxins in the homes. Of course you try and maximize passive solar heating and cooling. Of course you try and maximize day lighting. I think all of those things will seem so passé that what we are talking about as this future great world that could happen will seem like 'well, yeah, duh.'"
Like an idealist, Ori Sivan is driven to make the world a cleaner, greener place, but he says being green already makes business sense today. "All one has to do is look at companies like Patagonia, like Whole Foods, [and] Toyota. Even GE has gone green in some respects," he notes. "This makes absolute business sense and that is where this comes from and that is where it needs to go."
And as long as Chicago continues to build its reputation as an environmentally friendly city, business should be good at Greenmaker.