Businesses begin to tread more lightly

Five Sixes Taxi in Key West has a new slogan: “Think pink, go green.”

The cab company, known for its bright pink vehicles, received 10 new Ford Escape hybrids this past week. They’ll hit the road in six or seven weeks, fleet inspector Danny Brown said.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Gas prices have risen exponentially in the last couple of months and show no sign of abating. Some are predicting $4 a gallon prices in the summer. The Ford Escape gets 34 miles per gallon in the city and ranks high on the EPA’s air pollution scale. High is good.

The taxi company’s owner, Jan Doelman, also selected the vehicles because they don’t produce the level of greenhouse gases that conventional vehicles do.

Doelman said it cost about $270,000 for 10 of the vehicles.

“These will be advantageous due to the fact we have smaller roads, tighter turns and, of course, higher gas prices,” Brown said. “They have better handling and turning abilities.”

Eventually, the pink Ford Crown Victorias, ranging from 1992 models to 1998, will be replaced by the sport utility vehicles. The Crown Vics get about 18 mpg

According to Ford’s Web site, the Escape hybrid “actually uses no fuel when stopped or driving at low speeds because the vehicle is powered by the electric motor.”

Doelman said the new fleet makes Key West the first city in Florida to use hybrid taxis. New York and San Francisco also have them, he says.

“With the price of gas,” Doelman said, “I think more and more are going that way.”

While going green can save businesses money, some Keys business owners have other motivations for reducing their earthly footprint. One of those is Lyndsey McGlasson, owner of Midway Café in Islamorada. She puts it simply.

“I have two small kids, and this has to be done.”

Her business is a true model for what companies can do to conserve energy and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. All of her cups and plates are completely recyclable. She said that all the paper containers will disintegrate in two weeks. This is critical since landfills, which can be a major source of both water and air pollution, are swelling.

But McGlasson has gone much further. She uses only nontoxic cleaning liquids in her restaurant. Clorox, one of the major manufacturers of cleaning solutions, recently came out with its GreenWorks label, and McGlasson has adopted it for her all-purpose and floor cleaners. The products, which have even been endorsed by the Sierra Club, also include a glass cleaner, a toilet bowl cleaner and a bathroom cleaner.

The Midway Café has also made a commitment to our global society by purchasing what are known as Fair Trade coffees. These brands ensure that the people who grow the beans are adequately compensated for their efforts. In addition, the brands she purchases are sustainably grown, meaning that the beans are grown on farms that focus not only on the health of the present year’s harvest, but also on the long-term production of coffee.

As if these commitments that McGlasson has made weren’t enough, she has also installed solar panels on her roof to generate electricity and is actually selling power back to Florida Keys Electric Cooperative.

Another local business that has taken important steps toward being greener is Gulf View Waterfront Resort on Grassy Key. Owned by Chuck Horvat, the hotel has installed a 3,000-gallon cistern that collects all the rainwater from the gutters on the resort’s buildings. It’s a critical step, because Hurricane Wilma wiped out all the trees and plants on the site. Horvat replanted more than 100 trees, many of which are Keys natives, and waters them in dry periods from his cistern. The water storage unit also feeds into his sprinkler system to water the grass.

To save money on electricity, the resort has put the new CFL bulbs in its lamps instead of less efficient incandescent bulbs. These fluorescent bulbs produce the same amount of light but at far less cost. In fact, Marathon firm D’Asign Source reported that it saved more than $7,000 by switching to CFLs.

Now Horvat is looking to install a solar hot water heating system for his pool.

Midway Cafe, Five Sixes, Gulf View and a number of other local businesses are entered in GLEE’s first Green Living Awards competition. The environmental group will announce the awards at a ceremony on Friday at Tranquility Bay in Marathon. Green Living Awards are being made in four categories: individuals, businesses, policymakers and agencies or organizations.