Blog : Local Organizations Thrive Despite Tough Economic Times

By Patrick Haigis | Dec 3, 2014 | in

By Craig Robert Brown

Six years ago, the Green Alliance was little more than a three-business organization run out of a one-couch, one-desk Kittery living room.

Fast forward to the present unsually warm, fall day and its founder can barely find the time to sit down and answer a few emails before spiriting herself away to yet another event.

Like business itself, the Green Alliance office – now located on the third floor of downtown Portsmouth’s historic Franklin Block building – is teeming, with the company’s four employees and throng of college volunteers scrambling to piece together the organization’s monthly newsletter, website, and prolific, daily-updated blog.

Sarah Brown, the organization’s founder and director, can’t help but be struck by how far her little organization-that-could has come.

“It seems like yesterday when this all started, and I barely had a clue of where we were going, much less who we were as an organization,” quips Brown. “Now we’re operating and moving confidently, we have an incredible, dedicated staff… It’s an amazing community I’m grateful every day just to be a part of.”

Since Brown launched the Green Alliance in early 2009, the organization has grown to include over 100 mostly small, local businesses, as well as nearly 4000 consumer members. A Kittery native who spent five years working as a journalist in post-Soviet Russia before returning home in 1999, Brown identified in the region’s growing green ethos a recession defying template.

“At the time it was me, and the owners of Simply Green Biofuels and Purely Organic Lawn Care, and that was it,” recalls Brown, who attended Barnard College in New York City after graduating from Portsmouth High School. “We recognized pretty quickly that they both had basically the same target audience, so we started thinking of the best way to bring those consumers together under one, green business umbrella, while promoting those businesses within the community.”

With clients ranging from the Portsmouth Brewery and The Natural Dog to yoga studios, construction companies, alternative energy firms and everything – including a resident green dentist – in between, the GA offers consumer members exclusive discounts to each of the partnering businesses, proving “going green” and “saving green” need not be mutually exclusive.

For the Business Partners, the Green Alliance provides targeted public relations strategies, business-to-business opportunities, marketing and sustainability-coordinator services – every business that joins is evaluated, their scores posted to the Green Alliance’s bustling website – and the like.

But while the Green Alliance’s benefits are well-known – and much beloved – by their two-tiered membership, the organization has done, and continues to do, much of their work under the proverbial radar.

“Really, the numbers we tout in terms of membership doesn’t really capture our reach,” says Brown. “Between Facebook and Twitter, our website events calendar, and our monthly newsletter, which reaches 9,000 plus people, we’re trying to sound the green horn for all the great things happening – and a lot of great things that these businesses are doing – that people are just finding out about.”

Take the Portsmouth Brewery’s composting program. Now three years running, the initiative involves the bustling restaurant and pub channeling all of its food waste to a local composting company, who then transforms the scraps into plant-ready soil. Not only has the initiative helped the Brewery significantly reduce their waste; it’s also helped the popular restaurant forge additional partnerships with other sustainable, area businesses, many of them long-standing Green Alliance members themselves.

Yet for all the gravity underscoring the Green Alliance’s chief cause, Brown insists her organization let it all hang out from time to time. It’s part of the reason why the Green Alliance puts on semi-regular parties, inviting members and non-members alike to enjoy like-minded green company, and maybe an adult beverage or two.

Like the Summer Party Cruise aboard the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company’s famed M/V Thomas Laighton, given that Isles of Shoals – itself a Business Partner – was motivated to join the Green Alliance in part because of stigmas long associated with others in their industry.

“When you hear ‘green dentist’ or ‘green insurance’ company or ‘green steamship company,’ an immediate reaction is, wait, how is that possible?” says Brown. “But sometimes a company just wants to know how to take those steps and get better, and Isles of Shoals was a perfect example of that.”

Like the country’s economy as a whole, the Green Alliance – even by its perpetually optimistic owner’s own estimations – isn’t out of the woods yet. Like any small business, there are still more hurdles than sail-smooth waters ahead.

“We’re happy with where we’ve come, but that doesn’t mean we’re satisfied,” adds Brown. “The issues that underlie our businesses haven’t gone away, and we’re all going to keep working together to strengthen our community and show how supporting local, green businesses means an improved quality of life for everyone.”