As far as online shopping sites go, Four Green Steps has set quite the goal for itself. Approaching its six-month anniversary, the Montreal-based company is working toward becoming the “green” product equivalent of Amazon.com.
“When you think of ordering things online, you think Amazon, but there’s no one site that comes to mind when thinking of green products,” explained Brittany Shein, director of community and school program for the company. “We’re trying to build the largest green marketplace online &- that’s the idea.”
The business offers a host of organic, eco-friendly and sustainable products ranging from the mundane (organic pecans, recycled office paper and organic bug spray) to the more exciting (coffee butter hand and nail cream, bamboo clothing, organic mattresses and water softeners).
Four Green Steps acts as an intermediary between the customer and the merchant. Vendors from around the world who fit the company’s environmental mandate are invited to place their products on the website’s marketplace free of charge. In return for offering the service, Four Green Steps takes a percentage of bi-weekly sales.
Although vendors were reluctant at first to sell their goods on an unknown and brand-new website, company president, Jaye Portigal-Yarrow, said business is picking up quickly, thanks to word-of-mouth.
“Every second we keep hearing “someone just signed up, someone just signed up.’ The marketplace is growing as we speak, and people from the green community are learning about us as we speak and they see that it’s not just a marketplace, but it’s a lifestyle,” said Portigal-Yarrow.
The lifestyle this Concordia University cinema and animation alumnus is referring to involves three other steps that comprise the site and which set it apart from otherwise similar eco-shopping destinations like greenhome.com, greenshopper.com and even Amazon’s “green” product section. Alongside the marketplace are the infozone for environmental news and videos; a community section featuring blogs, recipes, green lifestyle tips and event listings; and lastly, the school program, which provides educators with tools and projects to help integrate environmental learning into the curriculum.
“We wanted to make it a comprehensive site. That’s why we have the community, infozone and school program,” explained Portigal-Yarrow. “From A-Z we want people to find great and unusual information, and give them a unique perspective &- we want to turn everybody onto green living.”
A major component of the business strategy, the three other steps are also part of the founder’s larger mission to have a positive impact on the planet. Longtime businessman Bill Yarrow could not be reached for an interview, but his wife, Portigal-Yarrow, said her husband’s primary reason for launching the website stemmed from his desire to leave a strong legacy.
“The bottom line is he wanted to do something that was good. He thinks educating people about how to have a cleaner life is going to have a large impact,” said Portigal-Yarrow. “We basically want to leave the world a better place than when we started. I know it’s corny but it’s true.”
Helping the couple accomplish their goals is a team of nine young staff members Portigal-Yarrow describes as “very creative and pro-green with ideas pouring out of them and the energy to implement them.” And as it so happens, two of them are homegrown Concordia talents. Tracy Gutwillig, an MBA graduate, is in charge of the marketplace, while Chris Campbell, who holds a BA in political science and western culture, is the chief editor of the infozone. The youthful staff at Four Green Steps can also be credited with integrating the company into the online world, with a Facebook page, Twitter feed, MySpace site and blogs.
“When I get to blog it’s my favourite part of my day,” said 23-year-old Shein, who said she thinks social networking has played a central role in attracting people to the site. With a major in political science and a minor in education from McGill University under her belt, she calls the community and school program “my babies.”
“Eventually, once we have a lot of schools, my vision is that a student from Nepal will be doing a project with a student from Montreal and they’re going to do it online and send it to their teacher,” said Shein, who worked with educators to develop the school program.
For the community and school program director, the three other steps are just as important as the marketplace. “We have the other sections, because you can’t just buy things, you need to know why you’re buying them,” she said. “We want there to be something for everybody, and we don’t want them to look far,” added Portigal-Yarrow.
But with the demand for green products growing at an accelerated pace, some might wonder if Four Green Steps is worried that regular stores will soon become competition. “People don’t want to go to a store,” said Shein. “If you want to make these switches and green your lifestyle, you don’t want to search for it, you want it all to be in one place.”
In fact, they’re hoping mass consumption of eco-products will fuel competition and lead to a drop in price for items which are typically more costly. Currently, the marketplace lists items ranging from $2 for a wooden soap dish to $6,495 for a specialized water system. Shipping charges vary depending on the vendor. To date, Four Green Steps has yet to turn a profit. But with every step, and as they begin their entrance into the advertising phase, they’re still keeping their eye on the prize.
“We want [people] to know if there’s a green alternative, all they have to do is go to Four Green Steps and we’ll have it,” said Portigal-Yarrow.
Four Green Steps is looking for interns and environmental bloggers to join their team. For more information visit www.fourgreensteps.com, or e-mail Brittany Shein at [email protected]