Article in La Presse – Montreal

From La Presse – Montreal published 2/6/10 (French original).

English translation provided by Karen Cowgill

A Population that Consumes Green
-by Emilie Cote

Caption: The 3600 owners of Undriver Licenses {permis de non-conduited} in Seattle have committed themselves to leave aside the car for alternative modes of transport.

(Seattle) Gea Bassett was finishing her masters in education when she started her business simply by posting an announcement on Craiglist. She soon had to hire two employees. Today, Green Cleaning Seattle Eco-Maid counts 15 cleaning women. Green cleaning women.

Wearing Lululemon yoga clothes, Gea Bassett goes into Tully’s with her laptop. She’s meeting us between two interviews. The young 31-year-old entrepreneur can’t keep up with demand.  “I have thousands of clients and new ones every day,” she says.

“There is a huge demand for green cleaning in Seattle,” explains the young mother. Our clientele is sensitive to the environment. Many families with a $500,000 house as well as offices, artists’ spaces, and architects’ offices.”

The guarantee of Green Cleaning Seattle Eco-Maid? “Our products (BioKleen brand) are natural, we recycle our bottles, and we re-use our towels,” summarizes Gea.

The young woman and her husband live in the suburbs of Seattle. They are vegetarians. They essentially eat organic food and the eggs of their chickens, which are legal to keep and very hip in Seattle, emphasizes Gea.  As for their house, it’s heated with biodiesel.

But Gea, who has a car, is far from claiming that she is perfect in her environmental habits. “Look at my coffee,” she says, looking at the cardboard container.

The young woman was born in Cleveland, in the state of Ohio. For the young girl who worked in a natural food store from the age of 15, it was normal to move to Seattle. “Seattle is a bubble in the US. It’s super here.”

It’s true that Seattle breathes quality of life. There are many yoga centers, restaurants with local organic food, and farmers markets, including the famous Pike Place Market.

“The green movement, it’s not the government, it’s the people,” says Gea.

Is it a trend to be green? “Maybe … but the fact that it’s hip gives it great exposure,” she replies.

Undriver Licenses

Scott Thomsen, spokesperson for the electric utility Seattle City Light, had warned us. “You have to attribute the environmental success of Seattle to the community. People want to be green and that’s translated in their behaviors.”

But La Presse [The Press, the name of this paper] didn’t expect to find so many people like Gea. Or like Julia Field, a woman who decided to involve herself in a green group in Seattle at the end of her 40s.

It all started with a car accident. “I decided not to replace it because I was afraid. I thought my life would never be the same, but I realized that I didn’t know the bus network,” she recounts.

Mme Field joined an organization in her neighborhood, Sustainable Ballard. One thing led to another, and she became the head of the Undriver License project. As of today, more than 3,600 members have received an undriver license. At different levels, they are committed to leave aside the car for alternative modes of transport.

The 52-year-old woman explains that she changed her habits slowly. “I began for example by looking at the labels and I realized that I was eating crackers that came from England.”

Julia Field is not an eccentric granola or an extreme militant. No more than the president of Sustainable Ballard, Jenny Heins. “In Seattle, it’s part of the culture. It’s the people who go around in Hummers who are the strange ones. There are a lot of groups like ours,” she stresses.

Mme Heins is also the regional director of the Green Festival, which drew 33,000 people in Seattle last spring.

According to Mme Heins, the “green” network creates a snowball effect. She cites as example a microbrewery which organizes one day per month where 20% of receipts go to an environmental organization.

“The clients win, the business wins, the city wins, and the environment wins,” she concludes.