|The founder of Earth Goods General Store, Thom Benedict, shares his vision of living in balance between human needs and the earth.|
An Interview with Thom Benedict, creator and owner of the Earth Goods General Store, located at 327 East Broadway, Salt Lake City, Utah. By Beverly Miller.
Q:Why did you decide to create a store like Earth Goods General Store?
A: “It’s a long story. I’ve been moving toward this project all my life. The journey began when I was just a kid in the early 70s. Although I was raised in Los Angeles, my parents were conservation-minded, and shared their passion for nature with me. My childhood summers were spent in Northern Michigan at a secluded cabin on a lake surrounded by forest and I especially enjoyed exploring by canoe and watching a variety of wildlife,” Thom recalls.
“I also have vivid memories of whale watching expeditions and tide-pooling in Southern California. The coastline was teeming with sea life and I would spend hours exploring. When I returned to those same pools just a decade later, they were virtually lifeless.”
Thom says he has found so much of what he remembers from the past is, today, altered beyond recognition. “Overused, over fished and over loved!” he said, in summary. “The economic lifeblood of San Pedro, my hometown, has reached an unimaginable scale. What used to be a small port town with a handful of shipping companies is now an unending sea of giant cranes offloading mountains of containers all filled with imported consumer goods. The fishing industry faces enormous challenges in the future as fish stocks around the world are plummeting.”
“There is today a genuine threat to our natural world. However, I’m encouraged by signs of positive change. It wasn’t long ago that you couldn’t find 100-percent, post-consumer recycled office paper. But today, recycling of paper and other materials is practiced nearly everywhere. People now search for ways to consume less of our shared natural resources. And many actively demand sustainable products.
We have finally reached a tipping point. Up to now the majority of people might have known about environmental issues but were typically not fully engaged in doing something about them. Cost or inconvenience are often cited as reasons to not change one’s habits.”
Thom points to evidence that many of today’s consumers are much better informed and embrace the idea that they can part of the solution. He talks about people’s use of the environmental vocabulary. “People now ask themselves; ‘What do I value?’ ‘Is it buying local , organic, non-toxic, or recycled products?’ ‘Should I buy a fuel-efficient car, or ride my bike?’ ‘What about fair trade?’
Becoming informed is not that difficult. The average person need not look far to find messages about we need to change about the way we live. Newspapers and television are full of references about the over-use and scarcity of natural resources.”
Thom is convinced that he is, right now, in a great position to respond to the public’s growing awareness. He knows this because he has done his homework. Take, for example, the idea of a “green store” business. The idea did not originate with Thom. One of the first such stores in the United States is located in northern California in the little hamlet of Hopland, and Thom remembers well his first visit. “When I walked into that space over a decade ago, my first thought was that every city and town needs a store like this!”
“The popularity of events such as local farmers markets tell me that more and more people are looking for healthier foods, so why not healthier household products as well? I also believe that people are drawn to the farmers’ markets for the feeling of connectivity with others, a feeling that is central to community. This is the same kind of community connection we want to have at Earth Goods General Store.”
As he considers the changes taking place in the market place of America, Thom points out: “Conserving energy, water, and other resources makes sound business sense. That is why even mega-companies such as Wal-Mart have taken their own steps toward environmental responsibility. Earth Goods General Store is one of a growing number of businesses that strive for a ‘triple bottom line.’ That is to say, taking into account people, planet, and profit. In our case, we’ve chosen to create a sustainable business that will directly benefit our local and global communities – human and non-human.”
Q: What products and services will you offer in the Earth Green General Store?
Of first importance, Thom's choice of merchandise and services will reflect the values of his environmentally conscious consumers: locally produced, socially responsibility, environmentally sustainable, and all conveniently located in a one-stop-shop for home and business customers.
A: “Earth Goods General Store is designed to take the guesswork and footwork out of finding earth- and people-friendly products. We want put people at ease and are prepared to help all of our customers; those who know what they want, as well as those just beginning to use green products in the home or office.
Earth Green General Store will offer a complete selection of everyday goods from clothing and baby products, office and pet supplies, to eco-gifts and home furnishings. We carry the things that people use in their everyday lives as well as some unique treasures that make our lives more enriched.
Because the store is locally owned, the staff and I and will aim to align ourselves with the values of our customers who share the common goal of making the world a better place É starting right in their own home, office, and community!
Plans also include workshops, an information kiosk, as well as a dynamic on-line presence. Thom looks forward to working with customers and welcomes them to be part of the store's evolution and growth. We encourage people to help us by asking important questions about where things come from, how they are made, what they're made of, and what happens as you use and dispose of them.”
Q: What can you say, Thom, to people hesitant to walk through your door?
“Sustainability doesn't mean sparse or radical. Nor does it mean less. Decisions that address sustainability are really decisions that seek a happy middle ground- finding balance.
A: I've had the opportunity to travel to other places in the world, including Nepal, Tibet, the Soviet Union, China, and Morocco. In many of the places I've visited, people are quite self-sustaining, often living without electricity, indoor plumbing, or lots of “stuff.” Few Americans would want to live with so little. But the people of those cultures who live on so little seemed happy, healthy and content. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from them.”