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Desert Companion

A green what?!: Unlikely green businesses

Meet six unlikely businesses that are taking things green. Compressed soil pucks and solar-powered chocolate, anyone?


So single-minded are the confectionery warlocks at Ethel M in their pursuit of creating chocolate by whatever means necessary that they have harnessed the elemental power of the sun itself for their dark, rich arts. Ethel M recently unveiled a 4.4-acre solar farm that aims to provide 100 percent of the electrical energy to the Ethel M plant during peak chocolate-making hours. Over the course of a year, that will translate into the 2,000-panel solar array supplying about 60 percent of the chocolate factory’s energy needs. In a symbiotic arrangement, Boulder, Colo.-based Juwi Solar owns and operates the solar farm, selling the energy to Ethel M. For its part, Ethel M paid less than $100,000 up front for land prep and engineering work.

“It’s honestly maybe a $30,000 (energy cost) savings over the course of a year,” says Mack Phillips, Ethel M’s Henderson site director. Not a bad chunk of change, but Phillips says it’s not really about the bucks. “Moving toward solar really boils down to our business principles of being as self-supporting and sustainable as possible. One of our primary goals is to get off the grid by 2040, using 100 percent renewable energy, with no changes in the quality of our product.”

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Of course, not every local business has five empty acres sitting around, ripe for soaking up sunlight and turning it into energy. But Phillips says other businesses can start seeing the light by not thinking big, but by thinking small. “You don’t have to go in with a goal of supplying 60 percent of your annual energy. Instead, look at small places to improve. Can a factory power its boiler using solar energy? It helps to think of it in terms of small impacts instead of this big thing to bite off.” And as chocolate-lovers know, small bites are sometimes the best. (



Next time you plan a night cruising the Strip in a stretch Hummer, screeching “Vegas, baby!” and spraying 1928 Krug on the bosom of an exotic dancer you just met named after a precious stone you can’t remember, why not do it in environmentally responsible fashion? You can if you hire Earth Limos & Buses. Launched in 2008 by Lou Castro, the company has a fleet of 14 vehicles that run on an array of alternative fuels, from liquid propane to ethanol blends to good ol’ biodiesel. That means a smaller carbon footprint while you’re busy making “Hangover” memories. Nicole Feely, director of marketing and sales, says it was tough getting a foothold in a market dominated by big names such as Frias and Bell Trans, but she’s happy to find that tourists and companies booking conventions are increasingly trying to make their Vegas jaunts greener. “We’re a very small fish in a big, competitive pond, but people really want a green alternative even when it comes to luxury transportation,” she says. And Earth Limos has stuck to its green guns; for instance, when their biodiesel fuel supplier went belly up, Feely says they spent the money to build their own fueling station right on site. The small business’ green bona fides have already attracted star attention, too: Earth Limos were delivering celebs such as Jennifer Hudson to The Smith Center’s March 10 gala. Bravo. (



There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the ingenuity of our modern industrial food complex by eating a Hungry Man TV dinner using a Pop Tart as an edible trowel, but there’s also something to be said for old-fashioned food without an ingredient list that requires a chemistry degree to decipher. That’s where Quail Hollow Farm comes in. The small, eight-acre farm in Overton isn’t just a farm. It’s a veritable organic grocery store that delivers near your neighborhood.

Here’s how its “community supported agriculture” model works: You subscribe to a growing season — prices range from about $300 to more than $1,000, depending on how often you want the farm goods — and you’ll get regular deliveries of what Mother Earth has on tap that season, from crisp lettuce mixes to tomatoes so plump and juicy they’re vaguely pornographic. (In fact, last year, Quail Hollow grew more than 70 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes.)

[HEAR MORE: Nicolette Hahn Niman, author of “Righteous Porkchop,” discusses eating sustainably on "KNPR's State of Nevada."]

“It’s like having a subscription to a farm, and our model allows us to cut out the middleman,” says Quail Hollow’s Laurie Bledsoe. Nor is there a middleman between your taste buds and all that natural veggie goodness. “The number one best thing about our produce is you’ll notice an incredible difference in flavor over vegetables that have been shipped across the country for days and sometimes weeks,” Bledsoe says. “This is local food. The next best thing is the fact that you know your farmer, and you know the philosophy of our farm, which is to be organic and as sustainable as possible.”

In addition to just-picked organic fruits and vegetables, Quail Hollow also occasionally offers fresh herbs, flowers and one-off novelty foods. This year it’s agretti, a Mediterranean herb that looks like a cross between rosemary and grass. That’s a good kind of exotic additive. (


IT services

Ah, the IT guy: A pimpled dwarf who never encountered a problem that couldn’t be solved by telling you to restart your computer, right? That’s the old breed. The 21st century IT professional is much more than that. Among other things, he understands that a company’s computers, faxes, printers and servers are more than just an informational matrix — they’re also a potential energy-sucking, carbon-intensive vortex. And that new generation of IT pro is being trained at places such as the Las Vegas Professional Institute of Technology and Accounting, which offers a certification in Green IT Specialist Certification. That covers everything from properly recycling that old Windows clunker to tweaking office computer settings to save power to turning inefficient, one-trick PCs into multitasking virtual machines.

“A lot of businesses aren’t aware of the energy and conservation implications of their computer systems,” says Laurie Clemens, director of the institute. Her courses also train tomorrow’s IT professionals in how to shepherd companies into going paperless. Now that sounds like a fresh restart. (

 Green Homes

Tract homes

Buying a tract home in a suburban subdivision used to be considered as ecologically sensitive as driving a Humvee made of baby seal skulls. As Southern Nevada recovers from the housing bubble hangover and reconsiders our fealty to the gods of sprawl, KB Home is trying something slightly different. In January, it debuted a model of its ZeroHouse 2.0 at Mountain’s Edge. In partnership with SunPower, a solar energy system developer based in San Jose, Calif., KB Home lets homebuyers shop for sustainable add-ons in a la carte fashion, adding features such as solar water heaters, low-e windows that radiate less heat and, of course, solar panels.

“We’ve always let customers build their homes to order, picking their countertops and other features,” says Jennifer Haack, KB Home marketing specialist. “We decided to take the same approach with solar and other energy-saving packages. For instance, you could go with six solar panels, 12 panels or just enhanced insulation.” And there’s no crazy retrofitting that needs to take place, as the house is pre-plumbed to take in the sun. Opting for, say, 12 solar panels adds about $10,000 to the mortgage, but Haack points out that you can shave up to $200 a month off your energy bill — and a federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost doesn’t hurt, either. If you’re looking to reach true net zero energy consumption, it’ll take some serious investment — the ZeroHouse model in Mountain’s Edge has 33 solar panels, among other sustainable bells and whistles — but as we’re all quickly learning, sunlight pays. (



Soil — it’s made from the earth, so it’s, like, automatically green, right? Not necessarily. It’s damp and heavy and filled with stuff not naturally occurring in the earth. Wondersoil, on the other hand, is made of compressed eco-pucks that contain stuff like worm castings, special fungi and other plant-approved goodies. And while we all know that water is good for plants, the ironic secret to Wondersoil’s earth-friendliness is how dry it is.

“The dryer it is, the better it compresses, and the more it rehydrates and expands,” says Patty Rubin. “When we ship our product, we’re not shipping water, so we save on freight and save on space.” And Rubin says when you do add water to grow your herbs, the ultra-condensed Wondersoil doesn’t require as much to kick off the growing. “Instead of buying a two cubic-foot bag of potting soil that weighs 90 pounds, all you need is eight or nine pounds. It’s easy to use, easy to store and promotes better plant success.”

Perhaps best of all, your own Wondersoil wasn’t shipped very far — the manufacturing plant is based right here in Las Vegas. (Available at Plant World;

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