Eugene Weekly : Greener Ventures : 10.09.08

by Paula Hoemann

Are capitalism and sustainability compatible? What kind of modern business owner takes the long view over short-term profits? Can the ecological and social costs of doing business be taken into consideration on the profit/loss sheet along with paper and pens? What does our marketplace look like in a world where the real responsibilities of doing business are shouldered by the owners and visionary entrepreneurs? Well, I hope to show a glimpse here in Greener Ventures.

A locally owned retail store, Uncommon Scents, claims to “walk softly on the earth.” I spoke with Eva Promen, owner and manager, to ask her what that meant in her business. “Well, we’ve been in business for 34 years, and all of those years we’ve been very environmentally conscious,” she said. One of the ways Promen has done that is by providing refills for her customers; this practice not only keeps the packaging out of the landfill, it allows re-use, which is also more effective than recycling. She is also very conscientious about the products that she offers. Over the years a product that was once considered healthy or natural may now have an endangered ingredient or cause environmental or health problems. The full life span of each product must be considered as well. 

“Years ago some of the facial scrubs, for instance would have little polyethylene beads in them and we said, no, if we’re going to have facial scrubs we want to have something healthy that’s going down the drain when you’re washing it off.” Such concern and integrity takes a lot of time and effort, and Promen is cautious of new product marketing: “You have to be very wary of the latest trend relative to who’s really doing the research and why.” 

But what about big selling products? What about the bottom line? “If our employees don’t feel good about what we’re selling, it gets a little harder to sell,” Promen replies. “But you know, we’re not 100 percent pure either — it’s impossible, but you do the best you can do. It is about integrity and being as conscious of your intention as possible … about what you can feel good consciously offering and where you can draw the line on what’s available and what’s not, what you can offer your customers and what you can’t …. and still make a profit.”