Tree Huggers is an environmentally responsible business, dedicated to educating customers in leading environmentally sustainable lives. Owners Angela and Dan Topp, opened their first store in Holland two years ago and a second store on Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids in 2011. Tree Huggers seeks to break down what can be an intimidating process of living and consuming more sustainably into more manageable steps.
The lack of accessibility to products was one of the leading factors that inspired Angela to open Tree Huggers. She noted that she found herself purchasing more products online but was frustrated with not being able to see the products or talk to anyone in person about them. Tree Huggers seeks to alleviate this frustration by providing a communication link with knowledgeable people who have used the products that customers may see online. Angela proudly declares Tree Huggers’ pride in, “creat[ing] a place where you really feel comfortable [asking questions].”
One fundamental difference between social entrepreneurs and traditional entrepreneurs is their commitment to creating social value and working towards eliminating social problems. This distinction is exemplified in Tree Huggers’ culture of functioning as a community as compared to a store. “We [sell products] so we can have the conversations with individuals about their compost bin or about their recycling…people can come in and get information or provide information,” Angela says.
The social value that Tree Huggers creates for its immediate customers can spread to the community as well. As an example, Angela spoke of a customer who had aspirations for renovating his home in a sustainable manner. While she was unfamiliar with green renovations, she was able to refer the customer to someone who could help–connecting her social entrepreneurship, and her customer, with another community resource.
As a social entrepreneur in West Michigan, Angela was told to expect difficulties, including a slow response to the opening of her Holland store. But she was surprised right away by the number of customers who were interested in living sustainably but had nowhere to shop before Tree Huggers.
Angela admitted that it may have been easier to start Tree Huggers elsewhere, but West Michigan is her community and she wanted to provide services to the people she thought could benefit the most from them. She wanted to offer green consumers the opportunity to do business with someone who “does things the way that they would do them.” Tree Huggers lives by the sustainability principles it promotes by being waste-free–and an example to others who wish to be.
Tree Huggers creates social value and adds to the overall entrepreneurial culture of Grand Rapids and West Michigan. It educates its customers on the principles of living sustainably and cultivates a community of individuals who share a passion for sustainability. The passion that Angela has for what she’s doing is fundamental to the success of social entrepreneurs like her and the impact they have on their communities.
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