Carrie Starner-Keenan, an eco-concierge, showed green cleaning
products...(yes, that's a Laundress Detergent!)...at a client’s home.
They will run your errands by bicycle, recommend a spa that gives vegan manicures or buy organic clothes for you and your dog. They will even book you a dream vacation and buy the appropriate carbon offsets.
Green living is just so much easier when you have your own personal environmental concierge.
“The problem with going green is that people think it takes so much work, so much effort, so much conscious decision-making,” said Letitia Burrell, president of Eco-Concierge NYC, a year-old business in Manhattan that tries to make it easy for people to rid their homes of toxins, hire sustainable-cuisine chefs and find organic dry cleaners.
Memberships range from $175 a month to $3,500 a year, depending on the level of service. Or you can opt for à la carte service at $25 to $50 an hour.
It is a niche business, but a clever one. At least a half-dozen services of this type have sprung up around the country in recent years, both to help time-starved consumers manage their lives and to assuage the guilt of those who worry that they are letting the planet down.
“There are people who come to us gung-ho and they want to make a sweeping lifestyle change,” said P. Richelle White, who left a corporate advertising job four years ago to start Herb’n Maid, a green cleaning and concierge service in St. Louis. “These are busy professionals who don’t have the time to do the research themselves about different products and services.” Ms. White charges $39 for the first hour and $29 an hour subsequently; she was considering introducing monthly subscriptions.
Personal concierge services originated in hotels but made the leap to people’s homes in the last decade or so, said Katharine C. Giovanni, who runs an industry trade group, the International Concierge and Lifestyle Management Association.
“The green idea, that’s really taking off,” Ms. Giovanni said. And in a bad economy, she said, a concierge service is an “excellent home-based business to start up for people who have been liberated from their companies.”
Clients generally come to eco-concierges for a specific reason, say, to help rid their apartment of clutter or set up a pristine nursery for a new baby, and then gradually get excited about other possibilities.
Tracy Stamper, a fitness instructor in St. Louis, hired Herb’n Maid a few years ago for green cleaning after products used by a conventional service aggravated her husband’s asthma. That set her on a slippery green slope. Ms. White referred her to a hairstylist, within walking distance, who would color her hair with natural dyes. Instead of using Drano to unclog bathtubs, Herb’n Maid gave her a less harsh product.
Then Ms. Stamper’s husband bought a solar-powered fan for the attic; the neighbors wanted one, too. Next up for the Stampers may be switching to organic clothing made with no chemical dyes or pesticides.
“My husband and I both look for ways to up the ante,” Ms. Stamper said.
The concierge companies say they vet the vendors they work with, sending out questionnaires, checking on eco-certification status and meeting with them directly. Amy Mayfield, who runs Eco-Modern Concierge in Houston, said she was “pretty hard core” about minimizing her own carbon footprint and was constantly researching the best ways to go about it.
She runs her clients’ light errands on a Vespa scooter, takes cloth grocery bags to do their shopping and takes their leftover food to homeless shelters. When she is hired for pet care, the treats are vegan and homemade and the toys are made from recycled materials.
Do such small steps add up to a larger difference? Some climate experts say not really, explaining that only nations and industries have the collective might to dial back global warming.
Eco-concierges see it their way — that every contribution counts.
“We want to take baby steps with our clients, so it’s not, ‘Oh, I have to change everything in the house,’ ” said Leeann Brzozowski, the owner of QiLiving in Manhattan.
There are no guilt trips. Ms. Brzozowski recommends buying carbon offsets, using low-emission cars, and drinking organic coffee in reusable mugs — but clients are free to do as they please.
One steady customer is Adrienne Smith, who runs a tour bus company, Harlem Hip-Hop Tours, from her home on the Upper West Side. Under Ms. Brzozowski’s tutelage, Ms. Smith redecorated her apartment with nontoxic paint, replaced her vinyl shower curtain with linen and switched to more expensive recycled paper for her printer.
But last December, when she asked Ms. Brzozowski to plan her birthday party, Ms. Smith knew what she wanted: a not-so-green affair with 50 to 80 people at a hot club with an open bar and a hip-hop deejay.
“She doesn’t bombard you with, ‘You have to do something green,’ ” Ms. Smith said of her concierge.
For those who successfully court the wealthy, there is money to be made. Carrie Starner-Keenan, a concierge in San Francisco who used to work in estate management, said her clients tended to be people with huge properties.
“I’m currently on the way to a client with three homes, one of them a 10,000-square-foot beach house,” she said in an interview from her car. “I’m changing all the pesticides and cleaning products, changing all the light bulbs, setting up systems and manuals for the staff.” Her hourly rate starts at $75.
She even put her instruction manuals on computer disks for future household help.
“To be perfectly honest with you, it’s their staff that is working with making the changes and having to transition into different cleaning products,” Ms. Starner-Keenan said. “The top 2 percent of wealth, they’re not going to have to make the sacrifice.”
Because their services are labor-intensive, the concierges say, they do not take on too many customers at a time. Ms. Burrell of Eco-Concierge said she had about 10 clients who were monthly subscribers, four of whom paid for “elite” memberships. “We can’t spread ourselves too thin,” she said.
Pauletta Brooks, a jewelry designer in Chelsea, bought two hours of Ms. Burrell’s time and used it to help set up a storefront on Etsy.com to sell her work.
“I was pleased with the help I got,” she said, “but I don’t quite get the ‘eco’ part of it. You’re not really saving energy, because you’re just paying someone else to use that energy for you.”