By Maureen Werther
While there may be some disagreement about the exact definitions of “work” and “entrepreneurship.” But one thing seems certain: one can’t be a successful entrepreneur without also putting in the work.
Karen Totino, owner of Green Conscience, 33 Church St., Saratoga Springs, said she always knew she wanted to help people, which is why she chose a career in occupational therapy. But she always felt she had an entrepreneurial streak. She just didn’t know where to go with it.
Until she had her “a-ha” moment.
Having children made her begin to question what she was putting in their young bodies and what kinds of toxins and other harmful things were part of their environment. She identified a problem and developed a business that would address it.
“I live in the town of Milton, and one day I noticed that all the storm drains had signs on them which said, ‘Discharges to Creek.’ I realized that all the chemicals people use to grow green lawns were being washed into our beautiful streams and creeks.”
She contacted the stormwater coordinator for Saratoga County and learned that the problem of pollution due to runoff was huge. By that evening, she made up her mind what she was going to do and told her husband, “Honey, I’m starting an organic lawn care company.”
In her first year, Totino had 11 clients. Within a few years, business grew. But a compression fracture from an automobile accident caused her to take stock once again. As she became comfortable owning a business, she realized that her real talents lay in educating people about their environment She also learned that, while exterior environments are important to health and well-being, internal environments are more polluted.
Toxins from carpet glue, flooring, wall coverings and bedding materials all contribute to creating a toxic stew of which many people are unaware. Or they aren’t sure where to begin to make changes and where to go to find solutions. Totino decided to mover her business indoors. A few months later, Green Conscience opened for business.
That was almost nine years ago, and Totino continues to learn about what makes a successful business and what new challenges are around every corner.
Today, Green Conscience is a showroom for furniture, flooring, and bedding materials that are eco-friendly and non-toxic. As she continues to promote the benefits of “green living,” Totino deals with multiple challenges. One of them is the continued pressures on a “brick and mortar” store to compete with online shopping.
“It means so much when people choose to do business with a small local shop. Those dollars stay in the community and help other businesses to grow,” she said.
She realizes the amount of risk involved with having a storefront, but remains passionate about educating people and helping them improve the quality of their lives.
The other challenge for a business like Green Conscience is that some people may hesitate to enter her store because they feel they might be judged for not doing enough to be “green.”
“I am by no means perfect and my life isn’t perfectly ‘green,’” said Totino, adding that the last thing she wants is for people to feel judged when they enter her store. But for those who do enter, the feeling of relief when they realize that effecting positive change is a “process,” and not something that happens immediately is empowering to many.
“People are so glad when they realize we are all just doing the best we can and making incremental changes in our lives to affect our health and well-being for the better,” she said.