Making a big difference by doing small things

We close this first part of Environment 2000 with the story of two Vermonters who have operated their family-owned business in a manner that respects the environment and helps build community. Elaine Manghi began baking bread in her home and offering it for sale in 1978. Together, she and her husband Paul decided to make baking their sole source of income and opened Manghis’ Bread in Montpelier in 1981. Valuing health, community, and the environment, the Manghis decided to bake and sell wholesome and healthy bread that is simply and plainly packaged, to remain small, and to satisfy local markets for their product. Their decision to focus on local markets meant that they could avoid the business and environmental costs of owning a fleet of delivery trucks, but still left them with bread to be delivered.

To resolve this distribution dilemma, Paul and Elaine made arrangements with friends and neighbors who, in the course of their daily commutes to work, were willing to deliver a bag or a box of bread to a distant customer. In exchange, commuters were given a loaf of bread for each delivery they made. Once a week, a delivery truck comes to Manghis’ Bread in Montpelier to deliver baking supplies, but never does a large delivery truck leave the bakery on a delivery route.

Sustainable business practices must, almost by definition, provide an accounting of the environmental consequences of production and distribution. Pollution prevention or source reduction of effluents, emissions, and waste needs to be the cornerstone of any business effort to become environmentally sustainable.

The Manghis work with 39 local commuters making 43 deliveries per week to 16 different customers. The customers are all generally within a 25-mile radius of the bakery and include primarily food cooperatives, small locally-owned stores, and restaurants. What this means is that nearly 500 miles are avoided each week because the bread is delivered in a vehicle already traveling to the customer. This also means that approximately 33 gallons of gasoline are saved each week. Translated into air emissions, that means 4.3 pounds of hydrocarbons (an air toxic responsible for urban ozone/smog), 33.6 pounds of carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas), 2.1 pounds of nitrogen oxides (responsible for urban ozone/smog and acid rain), and 571 pounds of carbon dioxide (a global climate change gas)—or a total of 611 pounds of harmful air pollutants—are avoided weekly.

The Manghis take for granted what they do on behalf of the environment. What they do and how they do it is now just too much a part of normal operations for them to recognize any of it as environmentally significant. Their bakery, like their baked goods, is basic and simple, rooted in the community, and sustainable over the long term—business goals that can help us redefine the marketplace and achieve prosperity without pollution.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself,” wrote Robert F. Kennedy. “But, each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

In the stories of Elaine and Paul Manghi, the students at Lake Region Union High School, and Alyssa Borowske and Brittany Moffatt we find Vermonters changing the histories of their generations—and giving us reason to enter this new millennium with a sense of hope and environmental optimism.