By Karen Axelton

The finalists for the first quarterly Green America “People & Planet” award, recognizing America’s best green small businesses, have been chosen, and now it’s time to vote. Go online to to vote for your favorite green business until September 4, 2012. Three winners will each receive $5,000.

The quarterly Green America “People & Planet Awards” recognize innovative entrepreneurial U.S. businesses that deeply integrate environmental and social considerations into their strategies and operations. The first round of the Green America Awards will focus on green businesses that also have a community action component.

Here’s a look at the 10 Green America awards finalists:

  1. Coffee By Design, Portland, ME. Coffee by Design’s goal is to become 100 percent sustainable. It works to protect the environment by purchasing only sustainable coffee, using compostable cold cups, and donating grounds to local farmers for compost. Additionally, its micro-roastery is run by solar energy. Coffee By Design only works with co-ops and growers who share its standards and beliefs in environmental and economic stability. It recently created the Jardin Project, where it funded the construction of a kitchen and dining facility at a school for underprivileged children in Jardin, Colombia. Additionally, the company served on the Downtown Portland Corporation Board to co-found Portland Buy Local. Coffee By Design has been active in strengthening the local economy. It created “Community Coffees” to help raise funds and awareness for area organizations and provide annual grants to Maine artists and organizations.
  2. Fiberactive Organics, Raleigh, NC. All of the studio workers at Fiberactive Organics are Vietnamese refugee women who have settled in Raleigh, NC. At Fiberactive, they are taught English and basic living and health skills; they receive medical assistance and a host of other services as needed. Employees can choose to work from home or come to the sewing studio. Fiberactive Organics also founded the Montagnard Community Garden located at St Paul’s Christian Church where employees can grow food in the traditional Vietnamese fashion. The gardens are now producing an abundance of food, including plants from around the world. Gardeners from all around the state come to the Montagnard Garden for tours and education on the cultivation and use of food plants that are basic to Montagnard cooking.
  3. GladRags, Portland, OR. GladRags promotes environmental sustainability with its line of organic and reusable feminine products. It is actively working toward a resurgence of American textile manufacturing. Its products are made with organic cotton grown and processed in the US and manufactured by a local woman-owned sewing company. GladRags supports the education of girls in Africa through its partnership with Empower Women In Africa and has worked with multiple charitable organizations around the world. They partner with the National College of Natural Medicine and donate products to its community clinics to help women in need. Additionally, for over 12 years, GladRags has partnered with a local non-profit to provide jobs to adults with developmental disabilities.
  4. Green Kid Crafts, Anchorage, AK. Founded in 2010, Green Kid Crafts is a mom-owned, green company that offers natural, sustainable, and responsible choices for craft projects. Its green craft kits are an inexpensive tool for parents and teachers to use to educate children about recycling, reducing waste, and protecting the environment. Green Kid Crafts partners with its local Boys and Girls Club to bring fun, art and learning to children in an impoverished community by hosting free monthly art classes and donating art materials. It also works to empower women through mentorship by working with Hope Community Resources and participating in the Alaska Women’s Environmental Network Mentorship Program.  As a 1% For The Planet member, Green Kid Crafts has committed to donate a minimum of one percent of its revenue to environmental non-profit organizations.
  5. Livability Project, Kensington, MD. The Livability Project brings people together to build livable communities based on the understanding that the environment, economy and community are all interconnected. Livability Project programs include Bethesda Green, a 501(c)(3) which promotes a community-wide ethic of energy efficiency, recycling, sustainable food, agriculture, smart growth and sustainable transportation. It has launched an education center, a Green Business Incubator, and initiated programs for procuring recycling bins for public spaces, installing new bicycle racks, administering green internship fairs, energy efficiency seminars and more.  The Share Exchange, another Livability Project, houses a Made Local Marketplace where local entrepreneurs share a retail space and an event and meeting venue for community, business and art gatherings.
  6. MiaDonna & Co., Portland, OR. MiaDonna & Co. was founded by consumers who wanted an alternative to the cost and conflict associated with providing diamond jewelry to the consumer. MiaDonna & Co. is an advocate for diamond and gem consumers, global societies and the earth by offering the latest in man-made diamond and gem alternatives while using only the finest recycled gold and platinum for its settings. Via MiaDonna’s charity organization, The Greener Diamond, a portion of the proceeds from each diamond sale goes towards rebuilding communities struggling from the unethical harvesting of mined diamonds. MiaDonna & Co.’s biggest project to date has been a 100 acre agricultural farm in Sierra Leone. The farm is run by over 500 reformed child soldiers and local youth.  Additionally, the company has worked with local radio stations to raise awareness for a variety of charity organizations such as March of Dimes and the Children’s Cancer Association
  7. Old City Green, Washington, DC. Old City Green’s mission is to invite nature back into the city by supporting local landscapers with market value product and by providing the Shaw community and D.C. at-large with plants, garden supplies, training and opportunities to increase awareness of and appreciation for their urban garden. It holds fundraisers for local non-profits that service community gardens, the homeless population, and at-risk youth. Additionally, it hosts free events for children, as well as free public workshops for the community taught by garden experts. Old City Green supports its neighborhood by planting thousands of flower bulbs, assisting the elderly with their gardens, and hosting field trips for local schools to teach about the importance of growing food and connecting with nature.
  8. Raleigh City Farm, Raleigh, NC. Raleigh City Farm’s goal is to transform unexpected downtown spaces into beautiful and nourishing farmland. It engages the local community in the process of growing food and sparking imaginations about agriculture in the city. These highly-visible spaces are an educational tool to demonstrate responsible, intensive growing techniques and encourage movement toward a restorative, community-based food system. Its weekly farm stand offers fresh and organically grown food for local residents. Raleigh City Farm serves as a field trip destination for neighboring elementary and middle schools as well as universities and assisted living centers.
  9. Root-n-Roost Farm, Livingston Manor, NY. Root-n-Roost Farm is a highly diversified, permaculture-based, human and animal powered sustainable farm. All its farm-fresh products are grown by hand, using only hand tools. Ducks, chickens, and pigs help work the land, bringing the community fresh vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit, mushrooms, poultry, eggs, and baked goods. Root-n-Roost Farm is involved in various community organizations and teaches classes on permaculture-based methods, recycling, and more. It hosts interns to learn best farming practices and connect and shares with members of its local community, including local businesses, summer camps, schools, government, and civic groups.
  10. Sonoma Compost Company, Sonoma, CA. Sonoma Compost Company (SCC) partners with local schools, non-profits and local government to provide education and resources that further the goals of sustainable agriculture. In 2011, SCC donated over 830 cubic yards of compost to about 150 school and community gardens. In addition, SCC conducts facility tours for school and provides on-and off-site public education to over 1500 individuals. Furthermore, it attends community fairs and festivals promoting sustainable agriculture and green living. Partnerships with non-profits are another way that SCC demonstrates its commitment to community action. Understanding the connection between fresh, organic and locally produced healthy food and the health of the community, SCC is a supporter/donor to the Ceres Community Project. Ceres is a network of student and adult volunteer gardeners and chefs that grow and produce healthy nutrient-rich meals for individuals and families dealing with serious illnesses.

The small business awards from Green America will be held every quarter, with future rounds focusing on clean energy, workplace innovations and other sustainability practices. Vote by September 4, 2012!