Laroe “Leeds” Lake County

Laroe “Leeds” Lake County

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You don’t have to look far for a model of a green business. In fact, there are two shining examples in Mount Dora.

In 2009, First Green Bank became the first bank in the Eastern United States with an environmental and social mission. And Mellow Mushroom recently became the only LEED certified restaurant in Central Florida.

Both businesses are headed by Ken LaRoe, who lives by the philosophy, “Do the right thing.” Especially when it comes to the environment. It’s a concept LaRoe hopes will catch on.

“It doesn’t play real well in Lake County,” said LaRoe, who is president and CEO of First Green Bank. “The bank was founded in Lake County, but we have an office in Winter Park that people just flood into because they see the solar panels on our roof. They tell us, ‘You’re doing the right thing and we want to bank here.’”

Customers don’t know the half of it. Solar power is a small part of First Green Bank’s mission, “To do the right thing for: the environment; our people; our community; our shareholders.” Employees are awarded $1,000 annual raises for attaining LEED Green Associate and/or Accredited Professional certification. The bank also offers cash incentives and 0 percent financing to employees who buy hybrid vehicles, in addition to providing on-site charging stations for electric vehicles.

There also are some pretty cool things happening at Mellow Mushroom. LaRoe, who is the primary owner, recently instituted composting food waste, which is donated as feed for hogs in the 4-H program.

“We’re also serving organic rolls with no additives and we switch to organic whenever possible,” he said.

LaRoe takes great pride in running green businesses, but he’d be happier if you joined him… and not just Monday through Friday, 8 to 5.

“At home, where it’s me and Cindy, and we can do what we want to do, we’re probably on the radical end of the spectrum. We throw maybe a small bag of garbage away a month. We compost everything, recycle everything. Even to the point where if it won’t fit in the curbside recycling I’ll take it somewhere,” LaRoe said. “We have solar power, and we produce more power than we use. We dramatically conserve water to the point of craziness, probably. Our landscaping is all Florida native species. We don’t irrigate, fumigate, pesticides, fertilize, we don’t do anything like that. So our yard is always full of wildlife.”

Not ready to go that far? Few people are. But imagine what a difference we could make in our community if we all adopted even a few of the practices Ken adheres to.

Unfortunately, green companies aren’t made overnight. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

“I don’t think there’s a simple way to start. First, you have to have a comprehensive mindset that you want to do the right thing,” LaRoe said. “Start small – stop at Lowe’s on the way home from church and spend $150 on energy-saving bulbs. Recycle. Change the way you drive. Little things add up.”

Learn more about LaRoe’s environmentally friendly bank at: www.firstgreenbank.com

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