Bradley Blaeser, The Green Team: Creative Entrepreneur Considers People and the Planet
Mar 03, 2014 04:49PM
● By Sheila Julson
Lemonade stands, paper routes, car washes and yard work have always been viable means for kids to earn money, and as a youth, Bradley Blaeser, who now owns The Green Team of Wisconsin, Inc., was no exception. He and his brother regularly mowed lawns for the neighbors. He would later combine the work ethic and skills learned during childhood with his social service experience as an adult to help communities and the planet.
During Blaeser’s college years, he developed an appreciation for native landscapes by hiking and canoeing. He attended the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, where he was active in student social work organizations and business clubs. His entrepreneurial spirit developed into a side business creating and selling natural jewelry, and he was awarded Student Entrepreneur of the Year in 1994 for creative business concepts.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in social work and psychology in 1995, he was employed as a group social worker for Neighborhood House of Milwaukee, a nonprofit serving individuals and families. For urban youth, he orchestrated educational outings to Growing Power, a community organization that transforms communities through the development of food systems that provide safe, healthy and affordable food for all residents. They also visited the Urban Ecology Center, an educational community center that fosters ecology and conservation.
Blaeser realized it would benefit Neighborhood House to implement its own program modeled after the principles of Growing Power and Urban Ecology Center. “We tried to marry those two concepts and develop a program within our own center so that we were serving ourselves,” he recalls. The board at Neighborhood House let Blaeser run loose with the idea. He was in charge of working with staff to promote environmental programs and urban agriculture, and led a group of teens to apply the skills they learned at Growing Power to build their own aquaponics system. Under his programs, kids of all ages participated in urban gardening projects, landscaping and outdoor adventures.
The hands-on work was rewarding, but Blaeser was then moved to the position of director, which involved staff management and grant writing. He felt limited by the bureaucracy and budgetary constraints of the nonprofit sector and arrived at a crossroad. “I thought, this isn’t where I’ll be best served,” Blaeser reflects. He took the principles of what he learned about ecology from his work with the Neighborhood House and developed a business plan for a sustainable landscape company, The Green Team, which opened in 2007.
After operating the business from his home during the first year, Blaeser slowly generated revenue and reinvested profits back into the business, purchasing eco-friendly equipment. After moving to the Menomonee Valley and later to the Riverwest neighborhood, Blaeser found the current space on State Street, in the Wick Field neighborhood, in 2010. He shared the building with like-minded contractors Greener Roofs & Gardens, owned by John LaPointe, and Earthcare Natural Lawns, which Blaeser acquired last year from its founder, Darrell Smith.
Blaeser worked with machinist Chris Skelton at Suburban Tool and Machine, in New Berlin, to fabricate a biodiesel system that enables the company’s diesel mower to run on vegetable oil waste. SPiN Milwaukee, the table tennis and social club, contributes its waste oil. Blaeser also drives a Mercedes that can run on biodiesel.
In addition to bio-fueled mowing, The Green Team’s landscaping services comprise eco-friendly weed and pest control, tree and shrub care, the installation and maintenance of landscape features that include vegetable gardens and edible landscapes, and water management services such as rain garden installation. “We’re unique in that we’re pushing natives and edibles; organic, chemical-free fertilization and weed control; and clean-energy use,” explains Blaeser, who helped start the Sustainable Landscape Consortium, an organization of environmentally conscious businesses that network and share community-based, green ideas.
Although social work is no longer his primary job, Blaeser remains committed to socially just principles by working with nonprofits each year. The Next Door Foundation, which helps children and families develop life skills, was his most recent project. “We worked with them to do an outdoor classroom that was very agriculturally based,” Blaeser enthuses. “It contains multiple raised beds, as well as sunflower gardens, arbors, perennial berry gardens, an infant sensory garden, benches made from locally harvested trees and tile work from local artist Muneer Bahauddeen, which was completed with the participation of local youth.” Blaeser coordinated fellow Consortium members to also provide services at deeply discounted rates or as a donation.
This year, Blaeser says he will begin collaborating with Operation Dream to recruit urban teen males for job training internships and employment. “If I’m going to be providing a service, why can’t it benefit the client, the environment and also the community, indirectly and directly?” he reasons. “I don’t understand why every business doesn’t at least attempt to go outside just their bottom line. Everything you do should be working toward environmentally sound goals. It just feels right.”
The Green Team of Wisconsin, Inc., is located at 5402 W. State St., in Milwaukee. For more information, call 414-721-1431 or visit GreenTeamWi.com.
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer in the Milwaukee area. Connect with her at [email protected].