I first heard about Ideal Bite , an online eco-minded website, while apartment hunting last summer. When Heather Stephenson , the company's co-founder and tenant of one of the apartments on my list, handed me her card and explained the environmentally-conscious business behind the green apple logo, I'm sure I stiffened. I recall wondering if I was carrying plastic or if "carnivore" was written across my forehead. But Ideal Bite, as I soon found out — just like its co-founders, Stephenson and Jennifer Boulden — is not about judgment or granola stereotypes.
"In a nutshell," said Stephenson by phone from San Francisco, Ideal Bite "is a daily email that goes to currently about 65,000 readers, that gives a short, simple tip on how to live a more green lifestyle everyday." The company, which generates money via advertising and the provision of market research, lives by the maxim "small changes add up," and works to prove that maxim true by sending daily email tips to subscribers — "irreverent" little insights into living a bit more green, complete with "cocktail facts ," links to a personalized blog , and access to "biter Mascot" Cricket the dog . More realistic than idealistic, Ideal Bite strives to make change by providing inspiration to the "light green" consumer — those of us drowning in the plastic water bottles, disposable Starbucks cups, and SUVs of our frenetic modern day lives.
The earth-friendly advice provided in the tips is unabashedly consumer-targeted. "Everything that we do is focused on consumers and how personal choice can make a difference," explained Stephenson. She recalled a testimonial from a woman who, after signing countless petitions, finally realized that the most effective way she could make a difference was by voting with her dollars. "That is incredibly important and it's a big piece of it," said Stephenson.
But the company's vision is about more than the dollar sign. "It's a recognition that every choice that you make matters," clarified Stephenson. "So the kind of water you choose to drink, the way that you choose to go about cleaning your bathroom, how you drive to the store to pick up your organic lettuce — those things all matter. We're not telling anyone to go take themselves to the forest and live in a yurt and take themselves off the electronic grid. We're saying, have the rich, full, wonderful lifestyle that you have right now, but do it in a way that's better, and these are some of the tools and some of the places that you can go to be able to do it in a better way."
It's all part of an approach Stephenson and Ideal Bite call "incremental environmentalism" — which, she described, is "both that when tens of thousands of people all undertake the same small change, huge results can happen, and it's also that when one individual takes on a small change, it snowballs into more and more and more and deeper ways that they approach this part of their life."
Despite the ethical slant, the site, the tips and blog beg comparisons to Daily Candy in that they all drip with a sense of style and, dare I say, fun? If you think going green means less delicious food and less attractive footwear, Ideal Bite will prove you wrong. In the company's recent blog entries, Stephenson confessed to loving wine "like Johnny Appleseed loves trees," and having a penchant for "cute yoga gear," while other staff biters revealed their eco-friendly underwear picks. Some of the more unexpected tips include information about humanely raised veal — Ideal Bite recognizes that there are carnivores out there (Stephenson is one of them) – and where to find organic and all-natural personal lubricants. Cheekiness aside, the tips are useful for even the green-wary — popular tips provide information on how to kick the plastic water bottle habit and reduce the avalanche of paper-wasting junk mail.
Boulden and Stephenson — both with over a decade of marketing experience under their belts — set out to tint our inboxes green with one email sent to about 300 friends and family in June 2005. Since launching, the company has gained 65,000 subscribers, and nine months after its inception, Vanity Fair contacted the green ladies about featuring them in its "Green Issue." That moment, said Stephenson, was "the turning point when we knew it was going to work." Since that that issue appeared in May, the green goddesses have been featured in an increasing number of media outlets — including the Martha Stewart Show and InStyle Magazine.
Not that the head "Biters" are shocked that their enterprise is working — they saw that "there was a market opportunity here, in a big way," recalled Stephenson — and a need for the earth-loving advice the company started doling out on a daily basis. But what they are surprised by is "how much it has exploded in the public consciousness," and the "love letters" they receive. "Everyday we get emails from people who subscribe to the service," Stephenson says, "and the consistent thread, the ongoing theme, is you guys are changing my life. So we know that people are doing this — they're adopting it, they're undertaking it."
People are also passing it on. Word-of-mouth expansion, Stephenson told me, has been "huge" for the company. "The more people that hear about it," she said, "certainly the better we're going to do as a business, but also it's going to have a much bigger impact on what we can do in terms of getting people to change the way they approach certain things."
For Ideal Bite, doing well as a business and doing good are two objectives that happily coexist. "I don't think that very many people who are actually following these trends think that they're antithetical anymore," expressed Stephenson. Instead, it's all about the concept of "the triple bottom line" — the idea that "what's good for your financial bottom line, and what's good for the environment and what's good for the community in which you live are usually all the same things, if you look at it with an eye towards longevity and creating a sustainable world." She continues, "it all shores up to the same net net, which is that everyone's going to live a much better life and companies are going to be much more financially profitable if they look at the big picture instead of just short-term profitability."
Ideal Bite's success also helps fuels the success of other eco-focused businesses — by connecting them with the target light-green consumer. "On a very basic level, there are wonderful green companies out there," said Stephenson, "that until recently didn't have any place that they could go to find the target consumer they wanted to talk to — I mean short of standing outside of Whole Foods with carts." This is particularly true for small and up-and-coming green companies. "If we tip them," she says, it "makes a huge difference."
Despite its impact, Ideal Bite is not without its critics. "There's a huge group of people who believe that what we are doing is called 'green washing'," acknowledged Stephenson — fostering a sense of complacency in people simply because they've purchased organic lettuce. "Our constant argument to that is that everyone has to start somewhere," hence the name 'Ideal Bite,' "you just take a bite everyday, and if everyone takes a bite everyday it's not going to fix everything in the world, but it's going to get a long way toward it."