Roots is greener today than ever but its commitment to the environment dates back decades and is one of the core values of the company

By Robert Sarner, The Source, May 2007

On a Wednesday morning in late April, scores of journalists, environmental activists, and representatives of Much Music, Virgin Mobile, Environment Defense, the Ontario government awoke earlier than usual. Bleary-eyed, they struggled out of bed at the crack of dawn to attend a press conference in Toronto called for the unlikely hour of 7 a.m. The purpose: the official announcement of an ambitious new campaign aimed at staving off an environmental disaster.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and Ontario Environment Minister Laurel Broten took part in the press conference to launch Flick Off, a cross-country initiative designed to educate Canadians about global warming and to motivate them to do something about it.

Given the longtime environmental heritage of Roots, it’s not surprising to learn that Co-Founder Michael Budman was one of the main speakers who addressed the media. He told the audience that Roots is supporting the Flick Off project as part of its longtime commitment to promoting sustainability.

Hours after the press conference ended, a team from Roots headed across town to
Exhibition Place to put the finishing touches on the company’s presence at the Green Living Show, opening two days later. Roots will have a booth at the event, which is the city’s first consumer show devoted to eco-friendly products and services, where Roots is also outfitting Environment Ministry representatives taking part in the activities there.

All this while Roots pursues its many other environment-related actions. They include making more eco-friendly merchandise (organic cotton products, vegetable tanned leather bags, bamboo fiber yoga wear and linens); using environmental building materials for its stores; and making and selling Stop Global Warming bracelets to raise funds for environmentalists fighting this modern scourge.

The involvement of Roots in environmental actions dates back way before it became fashionable for businesses to jump on the green bandwagon. True to its name, Roots has always had an earthy consciousness and eco-friendly sensibility. Nature, especially the unspoiled beauty of Ontario’s Algonquin Park, helped inspire Michael Budman and Don Green to start Roots in 1973. Ever since, they’ve been committed to helping in the defense of the environment.

“I vividly remember being introduced to Michael and Don in 1987 by the late environmental writer and broadcaster Warner Troyer,” says Patrick Paddy Carson, a leading Toronto-based consultant specializing in environmental strategic planning and sustainability development. “What impressed me was that as the conversation developed, you could see that their love of nature had already conditioned their mindset and their business decisions were being processed through a ‘green filter’ before being implemented. Their attitude was that business could no longer divorce its balance sheet from nature’s bottom line and to do so would be irresponsible to future generations. This philosophy was the forerunner of a cultural shift that would later be embraced by most business leaders over the next 20 years.”

In Canada in the late 1970s and 80s, Paddy Carson and Warner Troyer along with David Suzuki were pioneers in the environmental field. Early on, long before most people fully understood what was at stake, these individuals were sounding the alarm. It’s thanks to their passion, commitment and leadership that Canadians today are so much more aware of and involved in environmental issues.

“Roots, along with Loblaws and the Body Shop, were the early business leaders to embrace the concept that economic growth and environmental protection were not incompatible and that each business leader and each individual could make a difference,” says Carson. “Not only Roots but Don and Michael personally have funded numerous environmental causes over the past 20 years. I’ve come to them on numerous occasions for various causes and have never been refused.”

Roots supported the work of Carson, Suzuki and Troyer, each of whom was involved in different aspects of the environmental fight. Some of their actions included publishing articles and books to draw attention to the looming environmental crisis.

In 1989, Warren Troyer played a key role in the publishing of The Canadian Consumer Guide: How You Can Help. Interestingly, on page 58, it stated: “The Roots Canada chain is seeking suppliers of organic cotton and is hoping to have an organic clothing line available in the near future.”

A year later, Troyer wrote Preserving Our World, a consumer’s guide to the Brundtland Report, a benchmark international environmental study. Roots helped publish both books for which Paddy Carson served as an advisor.

“We’re proud that over the past 30 years, Roots has been associated with some of the great thinkers and doers in the field of environmentalism,” says Michael. “We have a lot of respect for them and their efforts have always been a great source of inspiration for us. We recognize the role and responsibility of a business like Roots in doing what it can in this area. Protecting the environment is ultimately about ensuring a good future for our children and future generations.”

The Flick Off campaign is but the latest in an ongoing series of initiatives that Roots has been involved in. Roots has joined forces with Virgin Mobile, Much Music, Environmental Defence and the Province of Ontario to create a dynamic coalition to communicate a simple message: ‘It’s no longer enough to worry about global warming. It’s time to take action and encourage everyone to join in.’

To get the message across, a special website has been created along with an ad campaign and a line of organic cotton T-shirts that Roots made and is selling in its stores across Canada (with a portion of proceeds going back into the campaign).

Last month, in a separate effort, Roots surpassed $100,000 in funds it has raised for the Stop Global Warming Fund through the sale of special bracelets. In the winter, Roots generated more than $25,000 for the Waterkeeper Alliance environmental organization when it hosted a hockey tournament as a fundraiser (attended by among others Paddy Carson and David Suzuki).

In recent years, Roots has helped Waterkeeper in other actions; promoted the work of noted US environmental activist Laurie David (producer of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth); and was also an original sponsor of the City of Toronto’s annual Environmental Awards of Excellence (which it again sponsored in 2006). The list goes on.

It all adds up to an on-going commitment to tackle the major issue of our time, namely saving our planet from an environmental cataclysm. Roots has long known it was the right thing to do and that the battle is far from over.

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