April 2010

By Michael Jon Khandelwal

When Cheryl Hahn moved to Hampton Roads more than 20 years ago, she was drawn to the region’s natural beauty and soon realized she had a strong desire to do something to help sustain it.

She and her husband, Richard, started Tomorrow’s World, a retailer that offered green products. And after her husband decided to pursue other opportunities, the business became the Organic Comfort Zone in Norfolk’s Ocean View neighborhood. Here, Hahn, 46, oversees the manufacture and sale of dozens of green products from pillows to mattresses.

Hahn spoke with Hampton Roads Magazine about all things green from her office next door to where she and her husband are getting ready to open another green venture—Sunrise Solar and Wind, specializing in solar panels, instant hot water heaters and wind turbines.

What gave you the passion to open a green business?
When we moved here, we did a lot of research and there were not a lot of green products available. We wanted to change that. We opened the first store and offered a lot that was green like light bulbs, body care and recycling tools. As products started to become more available in general, we stopped selling them because we want to want to be a pioneer of what should be. I had a background in textiles, so when my husband left the business, it was only natural for me to want to get to that end of it as well as manufacturing. I have a real passion for this. The bedroom is the place you spend more time than anywhere else—you shut down, you’re vulnerable—it should be a healthy sanctuary. Our products have to be high quality and beautiful, good for the environment and good for you.

How does having your own manufacturing contribute to being a green business?
Number one is reducing our carbon footprint, and that’s especially true when we sell to our customers in Hampton Roads. We’re also a green manufacturer; and I like that we can choose everything we use. All our components are green—organic and natural wool, cotton, natural latex—everything is sustainable and renewable. Our La’Noodle pillow was invented after noticing foam manufacturers were throwing away all the little scraps and leftovers. We committed to purchasing it to make the pillow filling—that keeps it out of the landfills.

We use fluorescent lighting; we have geothermal heat and our wind turbines are going up soon. Soon, our sewing machines will be powered by green power. I think we’ll be the only bedding manufacturer in the country that produces green bedding with our own green power—not buying green power, which is great, but producing our own green power.

What’s one thing you’d like everyone to know when they are considering an organic or green purchase?
Most green things have a really good return on investment. Products like compact fluorescent light bulbs cost a little more, but you’re saving on power and they last you for 10 years. If you look at the big picture, the whole life cycle of the product, going is actually cheaper. Also, consumers should be aware that “green washing” is very big right now. A label could say the product is green, but you have to be cautious as to what you are getting. Just because it says “green” doesn’t mean it’s green. Research the company, the manufacturer, the retailer.

What advancement would you like to see take place in the next 20 years?
Green energy, especially here in Hampton Roads with the wind and solar energy—we have so much potential. I’m a big advocate of the beauty of wind turbines. I’d rather see a wind turbine any day than a power line.

What do you like most about Hampton Roads?
We enjoy the water that’s everywhere. Hampton Roads has a very nice natural environment; it’s beautiful here. People are friendly and laid back, especially when compared to where I’m from. I’m used to people hanging up on you when you call them. Here people take the time to talk.

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