Entrepreneur focuses on the eco-friendly

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Carol Sorgen

The late Steve Jobs changed not only the way we think about technology (admit it, how many of us are addicted to our Macs, iPhones, and/or iPads), but how we shop for it as well (think big box warehouse versus stylish Apple boutique).

BethAnn Lederer hopes to do the same thing for what she calls “tools for daily living.”

 Whether it’s clothes, home decor, or even homes themselves, Lederer is on a crusade to shift our thinking, shopping and living to a greener, more environmentally friendly and healthier experience.

 Lederer, a resident of Towson, became interested in environmentally responsible products when she was doing an eco-friendly remodel of her own home about five years ago.

“There wasn’t much available and there was no single destination — either online or in a bricks-and-mortar destination — where you could buy greener, safer, healthier products,” said Lederer, who prefers not to give her age.

With an entrepreneurial background as the former owner of a successful card and gift shop, Lederer decided there was an empty niche in the marketplace that she could fill.

In 2006, she founded Working Wonders, first out of her home, and now an e-commerce site that will eventually have more than 8,000 products from more than 100 designers and manufacturers available for sale online.

From umbrellas to bedding

These range from clean burning palm wax candles to organic cotton bedding and clothing, flooring, window treatments, accessories, even biodegradable umbrellas, all the way to pre-fab housing manufactured in environmentally controlled facilities to reduce toxins.

“The clothes we wear and the objects we live with are often laced with very toxic materials,” said Lederer, suggesting that viewers watch a video produced by eco-activist Annie Leonard called The Story of Stuff, available on the Working Wonders website, www.workingwondersus.com.

All of the products Lederer sells meet her eight goals for greening our homes and lifestyles: reducing waste, conserving natural resources, improving air quality, saving energy and/or water, improving production practices, creating better shipping practices, providing better community relations, and supporting manufacturing in communities and countries that need to build their own economy.

Small showroom

Lederer has also opened a deliberately compact (just under 1,000 square feet) temporary showroom at 1416 Clarkview Rd. in Mt. Washington. It is open by appointment to both the public and the design-and-build trade. The showroom will also be open for regularly scheduled open houses (the next one will probably be held close to Valentine’s Day).

Her goal is to find a destination location in Maryland for customers who want the same shopping experience they encounter at, say, an Apple store — efficient, elegant, fun and sexy, said Lederer. And you don’t need a large amount of space to do that, she said, noting that Apple, with its comparatively small shops, tops U.S. retail chains in sales per square foot.

People often are reluctant to embrace the concept of “green,” fearing that they will have to spend more money or give up their creature comforts, Lederer acknowledges. But she is quick to assure prospective customers that that is not the case.

“Substitute ‘better’ for ‘green,” she suggested, saying the products she is selling are better for the earth, better for the workers who are manufacturing them in safer environments, and better for our own health as we lessen the amount of toxins and allergens we take in.

Starting the business, especially in an economic downturn, has not been without its challenges, said Lederer. She is seeking investors to help her grow the company, which she has personally financed so far.

“Let’s say I have a lot of skin in the game,” she said of the money she’s put into the business. But it’s all for a cause she deeply believes in.

“To provide a more engaging shopping experience with vetted products to optimize our well-being…that is my passion,” said Lederer.

Learn more about Working Wonders at www.workingwondersUS.com.