My organization, Green Apple Supply, has truly been a labor of love.
In 2005, I discovered that my Houston home, where I lived with my husband and two small children, sat above a plume of toxic groundwater. A multinational, billion-dollar company had used dry cleaning chemicals during a metal washing process and allowed these substances to leech unmitigated into the groundwater for 40 years. This untreated water flowed south, from the facility’s site, beneath our house, and into the neighboring bayou.
Although we prepared to move, the chemical footprint had already done its damage. After less than three years living above the contaminated groundwater, my toddler Mackenzie was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, a brutal auto-immune disease that left her limping, exhausted, and in terrible pain. The likely trigger: volatile organic compounds rising into our home from the noxious plume.
Determined to free my family from the threat of toxic chemicals, we relocated to Colorado, where I turned my sights to all the other household consumer goods we used. I was shocked to find how much more it cost to choose eco-friendly products. It struck me as patently unfair that providing a healthy, non-toxic home (which I see as a basic human right) was financially impossible for most families.
It was this injustice that led me to establish Green Apple Supply, an online retailer of earth-friendly home, office, and school supplies. The organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and operates on narrow margins to make eco-products more competitive in the mainstream marketplace. We have also created Partner eStores, which offers nonprofit and for-profit organizations an additional mission-aligned revenue stream. Customer feedback has been exceptional. Shoppers — from 49 states and abroad — identify with our mission, and they value our low pricing, which often beats even large discount retailers.
Green Apple Supply is part of a larger movement toward “Compassionate Capitalism,” a model for both nonprofit and for-profit entities that prioritizes passion over profits in order to make a more just, socially-responsible economy the norm, rather than the alternative. I’m striving to make Green Apple Supply a case study for how the healthiest, most environmentally friendly products on the market can also be the most economical. I have faith that businesses can leverage their influence to be a force for good.
Straddling the fence as both a funder and a nonprofit executive has increased my awareness of the gap between a nonprofit’s needs and the desires and expectations of the funding community. Communication and effective reporting are key to overcoming these differences, and both sides need to ask the tough questions that will ultimately make nonprofits better at what they do. I hope to use this experience to help nonprofits develop sound, sustainable business approaches and work with donors on strategic programming and funding opportunities.
As I’ve grown Green Apple Supply, I’ve been profoundly inspired by the power of women’s networks. Time and again, I’ve witnessed what women can achieve when they collaborate, and I look forward to joining forces with other Rachel’s Network members to combat the prevalence of toxic chemicals in our everyday lives.
And my daughter? Mackenzie, now ten years old, is in wonderful health, with only rare flare-ups of her disease. Although it is unsettling to find fulfillment in a mission that resulted from my daughter’s illness, it was in her disease that I found my purpose. Our whole family is healthier now, but I’m still outraged by the environmental injustice faced by so many. I hope to galvanize other companies to join me and become Compassionate Capitalists — front-runners leading the charge toward a healthier planet!
Stephanie Tobor has been a member of Rachel’s Network since 2013. She is the founder of Green Apple Supply, an executive advisor to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and an avid supporter of Mission Blue, an ocean conservation initiative. Stephanie and her family live naturally in Evergreen, Colorado.