Editor’s Note: J.H. Appleseed has been named to The Story Exchange’s list of 12 Brilliant Business Ideas.
There are few more pressing matters facing us now – and impacting our planet’s future – than climate change. J. H. Appleseed, an online retail store founded by Haley Salmon, sells a variety of eco-friendly products to help you do your part. And she says she’s walking the walk when it comes to being an Earth-conscious business, unlike some companies. “I have faith that this generation knows and desires to sniff out … green-washing and engage in truly ethical consumption in an era when environmental action and social responsibility are so important,” Salmon told us. The Phillipsburg, New Jersey, company also offers site visitors information on how to live a minimal-waste lifestyle, and links to eco-conscious charities to support.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
I wanted to simply do better. I wanted to take all of the problems I saw with the typical so-called “green” retail store and fix them to provide a solution for individuals that want to shop guilt-free and can feel confident that the business they are supporting is truly doing all they can do reduce any ecological impacts and support conservation and sustainable production cycles.
How do you define success?
Success means something different to everyone or for every situation and can be found in many ways. For my business, success is measured with each new customer that was inspired by my business and my efforts to explore a sustainable lifestyle as each person or every green choice is just one step closer to making true sustainability the norm in the U.S. In my personal life, I can measure success by each time I’ve made someone else’s day even just a little bit easier or happier, and I work to ensure that I am a positive role model for others in the hope that I can inspire ways of living that involve more thoughtful and meaningful interactions with not only our environments but also the people around us. More generally I would just define success as being able to feel confident that you have left a positive impact on this planet and the people around you, and that hopefully those effects can still be felt even after you’re gone.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
We are still a small business starting out and haven’t received vast amounts of feedback, yet what I would probably consider my biggest success to date is receiving the following praise in an email from a customer: “I am so incredibly excited to have found your products! They are exactly what I have been looking for and I have so much respect and appreciation for your company.” Simply reading those two sentences seemed to validate to me everything that I have worked so hard for with this company, and I hope I can continue to impact people in such a way and gain respect for the sustainable business practices that we vow to uphold.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Finding manufacturers or suppliers that meet our high sustainability and other ethical expectations. We have occasionally run into instances where even we were tricked by companies seeming to be greener than they really are, yet we are not afraid to cut ties with brands we don’t trust and vow to be upfront about the companies we work with and their practices. We are continuously searching for the next best thing in terms of sustainable design and appreciate any feedback or suggestions on how we can do better.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
When I was in middle school I was involved in a project that drafted, campaigned for, and instituted a town ordinance that would effectively reduce the pollution levels in a local stream. This somewhat minor project helped to show me that I truly am able to make a difference in the environmental realm, regardless of how small that difference may be. This experience influenced me in continuing to pursue environmental passions throughout my educational career, from being president of the Environmental Club in high school to obtaining a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies. Although it was only a little project over a decade ago in a town I no longer live in, it just goes to support one of the integral ideologies of J. H. Appleseed that even small efforts can have large and lasting impacts.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Be confident in where you are spending your money, and take care to know what you are able to tackle on your own or what you need professional help to understand or complete.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I have faith that my message and my mission are important and I rely on that when I am struggling, knowing that there will be lots of ups and downs but I have to be persistent to reach the people that will truly appreciate what I am doing here.
Who is your most important role model?
My dad is probably my most important role model because even though we don’t always see eye to eye, he has a very strong moral compass. He also runs his own very successful business that he has maintained from a young age, starting out selling over the phone when he was only about 12 years old. After starting my own business, I respect him even more, now that I can see all of the stress and work he was dealing with on a daily basis just to keep things up and running and still have time for family. Through my father I have learned numerous lessons, albeit some the hard way. But regardless of any tension we may have had between us, I know that he has instilled in me many values such as determination, ethical responsibility, and even frugality that will surely benefit my business in the long run. ◼
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