Keeping Berkeley healthy: Businesses speak on importance of sustainability initiatives

Photo of Berkeley Organic Market & Deli
Joe Sison/Staff
Berkeley has worked to reduce its gas emissions through different measures. Local businesses have also worked toward sustainable practices and products.

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Two and a half years ago, Hafez Alsaidi’s father started the Berkeley Organic Market and Deli with the philosophy of providing the best possible products for customers. Alsaidi, now the manager of the store, strives to keep Berkeley residents healthy through sustainable measures.

In 2006, Berkeley residents voted to reduce the community’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% before 2050. By 2018, the city of Berkeley reduced 26% of greenhouse gas emissions and signed a natural gas ban in 2019.

UC Berkeley sophomore Lucy Zhang believes the natural gas ban will economically impact businesses in Berkeley. Since natural gas is relatively cheap, according to an email from Zhang, business’ operating costs will increase. Alsaidi also noted that the price differences between sustainable products and less environmentally-friendly goods are significant.

“We grew up in an environment where we value every single possession,” Alsaidi said. “We didn’t really have a lot and my father, he is very cautious about what he puts on the table and where it came from.”

Touching on short-term sustainability initiatives, Alsaidi said he implements produce labeling in his store. He flags the origin of the products, which allows customers to better understand where the groceries are coming from and encourages them to choose local, organic produce.

Alsaidi added that he actively reaches out to plant-based companies to supply the store. For example, he prioritizes oat milk over almond milk because oats consume less water than almonds, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s hard, believe me, it’s hard. People like to know why buying locally is worth it, and if you give them the reason why, I really do believe that they will be OK with it,” Alsaidi said.

Alicia Taylor Low, owner of Down to Earth Mosaics, decreases her small business’ electricity consumption by creating her artwork in the morning rather than at night. Since her studio is directly connected to her home, she said the impact of energy use is noticeable as excessive electricity usage adds to her house bills.

Additionally, Taylor Low reuses plastic or cardboard packaging that companies use to wrap up art materials.

“Any kind of sustainable efforts is just part of our lifestyle, so that extends into business, and I don’t have any good or wise advice on how to get that to be an easier process. I think just having a focus is a start,” Taylor Low said.

Campus sophomore Bonnie Zhao said sustainability is no longer a differentiating factor that would give companies an advantage; it is now a requirement, especially for Generation Z consumers.

However, stores with specific business models are challenged to adapt to both COVID-19 pandemic and sustainability-driven city policies, according to Alex Knox, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, or TBID.

In order to provide additional support, the TBID acts as a liaison between small businesses in the district and the city, Knox said.

When the Berkeley Single Use Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance was implemented in 2019 to reduce disposable plastic foodware, TBID responded with Trash Corral, a program to improve street aesthetics, and Social Bubble Dining Solution, a business promotional effort where stainless steel straws were gifted as prizes, Knox added.

Knox also noted the popularity of secondhand clothing stores and the growing awareness that the fast fashion industry is not sustainable. Echoing Knox, Zhang said society is placing a heavier emphasis on purchasing sustainable products.

“Buying green is not enough. We need to actively educate people on what it means by being sustainable,” Zhang said in the email. “Sustainable business used to be a topic that many of us overlooked, I’m glad that there is more attention towards sustainability.”

Jasmine Lee is a business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JasmineLee_02.