When the pandemic pushed Teton Toys to find an alternative to in-store transactions, the business went from zero online sales in 1999 to $150,000 in 2020.
That meant more shipping and more boxes and potentially more waste. But, proprietor Wes Gardner is proud to say, every toy, puzzle or game traveled to its new owners in a recycled box.
“We didn’t buy a single box,” he said.
To further reduce waste, Gardner has reached out to vendors about their packaging. He told one he wouldn’t buy anything more if it continued shipping things to him cushioned in Styrofoam. After he asked another to stop wrapping items in plastic, it switched to recyclable material, though he’s not necessarily taking credit for that.
A member of the Teton County Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling advisory board, Gardner said he found ideas and inspiration for such efforts through local programs.
One is RRR (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) Business Leaders, a program managed by Teton County Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling and the nonprofit Riverwind Foundation. The other is BEST (Business Emerald Sustainability Tier), an advanced certification for RRR members. Teton Toys is working its way through the steps toward BEST certification.
Camaraderie and information sharing will bolster anyone’s efforts to become more sustainable, Gardner said.
“You need support, you need engagement with others who think like you, you need to have encouragement, you need to know you’re not alone, you need to know there’s other people who share your zeal and commitment,” he said.
Gardner is among business owners helping to steer a change in RRR Business Leaders this year from a recognition program to one that’s more a source of information and resources for businesses and nonprofits looking to reduce their environmental impact.
“We are considering this the pilot year,” said the Riverwind Foundation’s Mari Allan Hanna. “It’s still very much administered by Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling and Riverwind. We’ve put together a steering committee to advise Riverwind and ISWR about how to make this successful.”
The arrival of COVID-19, plus some budget cuts, provided an opportunity to rejigger RRR.
“We were feeling the need to reinvent it,” Hanna said. “The pandemic hit and we had time to talk about it and consider the steps going forward.”
With a membership of about 180, RRR Business Leaders had grown too large for Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling to continue running it the old way — as a recognition program using ads to spotlight members.
“It wasn’t sustainable, and it wasn’t the kind of program that continued to give back to its members,” Hanna said. “We wanted this program to be a resource for the community instead of just one more thing on everyone’s to-do list.”
The annual dues are going from $25 to $50. But the big change is instead of the money going to Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling, Hanna said, “we are turning those dues back to the membership. The dues will directly fund the program.”
There are now new quarterly information sessions. The first one, April 20, featured representatives from longtime RRR members talking about how their organizations achieved sustainability (watch the video at TinyURL.com/ye3b8bdk). A future session will spotlight how to purchase in a sustainable way.
Another new RRR Business Leaders feature is an annual grants program, managed internally, through which members will apply for funding for sustainability initiatives.
With budgeting based on dues and support from Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling and Riverwind, the initial pot will be around $2,000 to $4,000. The hope is to start the grants program this fall.
“It’s a way of energizing and incentivizing each business to come up with ways to really push the conversation,” Gardner said.
For example, say an RRR Business Leader requests $2,000 for a new method of sorting out a certain recyclable product.
“That’s the Business Leader using his or her imagination to come up with a strategy to divert more waste,” Gardner said. “Whether the grant is given or not, that’s a really functional way to get more waste out of our landfill.”
With RRR Business Leaders evolving, now is a great time for businesses and nonprofits to become involved, Hanna said.
“There are opportunities for educating yourself and finding resources,” Hanna said. “There are opportunities for leadership and opportunities to grow this program in new ways and create a force in this community.”
To read a flyer about the revamped RRR Business Leaders program go to TinyURL.com/3suhbfd6.
For questions or to get involved, email email@example.com.
“The pandemic hit and we had time to talk about it and consider the steps going forward.” — Mari Allan Hanna Riverwind Foundation