On Earth Day, a visit with Anchorage entrepreneurs who make sustainability their mission

  • Earth Day celebration in the parking lot of Blue Market AK on Friday, April 22, 2022. (Photo by Julie Gardella)

On Earth Day last month, I turned down a small side street off of Spenard Road and was met by the sight of a small celebration. Kids tossed bean bags at a cornhole board, a small fire pit crackled, and a folk band played merrily as guests arrived. As I approached the parking lot festivities, I was greeted warmly by Blue Market AK co-founder Jennifer Gordont.

Blue Market is a retailer in Anchorage founded on the principles of the triple bottom line: planet, people and profit. A small shop tucked away on West 31st Ave., Blue Market carries foods, household items and personal care products in bulk, so customers can bring their own reusable containers to fill up, rather than selling everything packaged in single-use plastics, glass or paper. If you happen to forget a container, it’s no problem; Blue Market has a collection of donated glass jars and bottles for anyone who needs one.

Blue Market supports its fellow Alaska businesses, carrying almost entirely Alaska-made or grown products. Co-founder Jessica Johnson told me their goal is to “fit into the circular economy, and keep things as local as possible.” They have a set of mission-based standards for their products, including no packaging, Alaska-based, nontoxic, carbon-aware and fair trade.

The festivities at Blue Market were in celebration of Earth Day. Earth Day is widely considered the start of the modern environmental movement, prompted by the release of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962. “Silent Spring” detailed the devastating environmental and human health impacts of modern industrial pollution, which brought widespread awareness of environmental issues to the American public.

Five years later, following a massive oil spill in Southern California, Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson proposed a teach-in on college campuses in early spring. He recruited the help of Denis Hayes, a young activist, in the hopes of inspiring collective action.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans mobilized across the country to protest the environmental damage of pollution on the first Earth Day. Fifty-two years later, Earth Day is celebrated almost worldwide, calling for action not just on pollution, but also on global climate change.

Blue Market was my first stop on Earth Day to visit Anchorage businesses with a sustainability mission. My next was around the corner at the old Spenard post office, now owned and managed by Cook Inlet Housing Authority. I climbed the steps up the newly renovated building and found WILCO Supply in a small, sleek space with natural light pouring in from the large windows.

The collection was artfully displayed throughout, perfectly complemented by the room’s decor. WILCO’s founder, Amy Slinker, came over and introduced herself to me, enthusiastically offering to show her products. WILCO Supply is a retailer of stylish bags, purses, and jewelry made from repurposed military items. They turn what would have been waste into modern-looking, sturdy, and useful items for service members and civilians alike.

Slinker said her passion for sustainability comes from her family. She was raised on the principle of “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” In addition to her products being made from repurposed materials, she reuses packing materials for shipping orders, she said, to “incorporate eco-friendly processes in this business, to help do my part for the environment.”

She highlighted one small bag, perfectly sized to carry a few personal items or toiletries, lined with repurposed Army Combat Uniform material, and a stunning gold necklace shaped from a bullet casing.

An Army National Guard member herself who is also married to a veteran, Slinker understands the challenges of military life. In addition to her commitment to sustainability, her other mission, she says, is “to uplift the spouses of military service members, veterans and people transitioning out.” Her business supports military families by sourcing all of her products from entrepreneurial service members, veterans, and their spouses.

WILCO Supply and Blue Market embody the principles of the triple bottom line: planet, people and profit. They are driven by more than just the traditional bottom line of making a profit; they support their community members and work towards a sustainable environment for future Alaskans.

Our connection to the environment is a part of our identity in Alaska. Earth Day is both a celebration of the planet we call home, and a call to action to protect it. Our state’s innovators and entrepreneurs incorporate the values of Earth Day into their businesses all year, and Earth Day was a chance to celebrate and support the work that they do.

Julie Gardella is with the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development.

05/05/2022 - 2:47pm