Sharon Rowe, founder and CEO of ECOBAGS Products and author of The Magic of Tiny Business: You Don’t Have to Go Big to Make a Great Living, gabs with Marla and Tony about the origin and impact of her trademark lightweight, expandable, cotton string bag. Sharon recalls the moment that started a movement. It happened over 30 years ago, after her plastic grocery store bag broke in the middle of a busy crosswalk scattering her groceries all over the street. Juggling her young son on one hip as she hurried to gather her items, she noticed how many people were walking around with plastic bags and thought to herself, “how utterly useless – you can’t even get a second use out of it – they are completely useless.” That’s when she decided to take one tiny step toward change.
After struggling to find a right size multi-use bag that fit her needs, she remembered the European mesh bags she’d seen people use during a post-college trip. A couple of her friends on their way to Europe agreed to bring her back a few of the French net expandable bags. It wasn’t long before people in her neighborhood took notice and being an actor in need of additional income, Sharon decided to develop an alternative to the single use plastic bags that she’d seen floating in the Hudson river, clinging to fences and hanging from trees. And viola -the ECOBAG was born, the original reusable bag, now sold worldwide.
The Problems with Plastic
Many people don’t remember a time before plastic. Marla recalls her first plastic soda bottle and witnessing the transition from glass to plastic, never imagining how 50 years of using plastic would change the environment. Much of the food industry is completely dependent on disposable plastic and Styrofoam. While plastic has many wonderful uses, plastic bags are made from oil, a non-renewable resource that have far reaching negative effects. Sharon mentions being interviewed for the movie “Bag It,” regarding the destructive impact of single use plastic. The movie started as a documentary about plastic bags but progressed into an exploration into plastics and their effect on our waterways, oceans, and even the human body. Tony adds that our culture went from things being built to last to being an almost entirely disposable economy. That’s why when asked what business she’s in, Sharon responds, “I’m in the business of cultural change.” She goes on the share that, “this isn’t just a bag business, this is a cultural shift business created to inspire, spark, encourage a cultural shift. ECOBAGS is a first step in a long line of progressive actions one can take to reduce the impact on the earth.
Sharon emphasizes that just by bringing your own ECOBAG or slipping your small purchase in your purse and politely refusing to take a bag influences the employee and the person behind you in line. All the sudden there’s a chain reaction because something was put in motion. Sharon believes that’s where “the plastic bag awareness” has opened the door to other sustainable practices. Leading by example is the younger generation like Sharon’s daughter that now asks for “water with no straw,” at restaurants and does not purchase single use water bottles. This type of awareness is not only happening on the consumer level but is also making its way up the supply chain to the distributer level.
A Disposable Culture
Sharon states that “our culture is a disposable culture.” She notes that even business ventures have become disposable as many businesses don’t expect to last more than 5-10 years. Starting a business used to be a long-term investment, however, that is not the trend today. People are just too afraid of incorporating as they don’t know how long they’ll last. As someone that works at the last locally owned electronics retailer, Tony has seen many local competitors go by the wayside. Tony emphasizes that is why it’s so important to buy local.
Before the market bust of 2008, Marla notes even houses were deemed disposable as the trend was to live in a home for 2 to 3 years and then flip it for a profit. This meant the homebuyer had no stake in the neighborhood, local businesses or the home’s sustainability. Like Sharon, Marla’s company, The Green Home Coach, is about cultural shift in the home; educating people on how to make greener choices in their purchases and practices which naturally bleeds over to other areas of their lives. It’s also important people understand it’s not all or nothing, even small changes have huge benefits.
The Magic of Tiny Business
Not buying into the all or nothing, go big or go bust myth is exactly what Sharon addresses in her book, The Magic of Tiny Business: You Don’t Have to Go Big to Make a Great Living. Sharon wrote the book to “take the cover off the mystery called business.” The book provides practical tools and tips built on the foundation of her own successes and failures to help aspiring business owners start an enterprise without compromising their beliefs, losing themselves or becoming overwhelmed. Believing in the importance of self-sustainability, there’s even a chapter about how to keep healthy and focused, not just on-task, but fully engaged in life. Sharon states, “I want people to understand they can build a sustainable business that’s profitable.” Her desire is to offer entrepreneurs, the hope of not only making a difference but enjoying life while making a profit as well. And it all started with a broken, plastic bag and a woman who wanted to clean up the Planet one bag at a time.
a Green Gab podcast with Marla and Tony
Get Marla’s award winning book Living Green Effortlessly: Simple Choices for a Better Home , now available on Kindle!