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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Paul Keegan, owner of One World Trading Company on Main Street shows his refill station for biokleen household chemicals Tuesday, April 20, 2010, in Nashua.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    One of Keegan's newer products is a line of children's toys made out of recycled plastic.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Paul Keegan sells a line of household cleaning products called biokleen, which can be brought back to his stores and refilled.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Businessman, fundraiser has green outlook

The 1,600-mile Bike for Peace ride was more than two decades ago, but when Paul Keegan remembers the camaraderie among the cyclists, he still gets choked up.

In 1986, Keegan and 31 other cyclists rode 800 miles from Russia to Czechoslovakia and another 800 from Montreal to Boston, all to raise funds and awareness for peace and environmental issues.

As they crossed the border into Czechoslovakia, they hit the Carpathian Mountains.

“It was uphill every day, all day,” said Keegan. “But since some riders were from the region and familiar with the terrain, they offered assistance to the others.”

“I’d be on a hill, and I’ve just got nothing left, and a rider would come along and put his hand on the small of my back,” said Keegan. “These are people we considered our enemies in the ’70s and ’80s. A rider would put his hand on your back until you could ride on your own. If you still couldn’t go, he’d signal somebody else. Two people would be riding up the hill together.”

“That changes you. I just fell in the love with the experience I had on bicycles, with the idea that raising awareness is simple. It’s just finding out and telling people that something needs attention and I’ve done that the rest of my life.”

It’s the desire to raise awareness about sustainable living that has earned Keegan the nickname of the Green Guru, a fitting description for the soon-to-be 49-year-old who rides a fixed-gear racing bike, wears wire-rimmed glasses and bracelets on each wrist, and whose graying ponytail hangs halfway down his back.

Keegan channeled his activism into his professional life by opening 1 World Trading Co., a store selling locally made, fair-trade and environmentally conscious products and gifts, in March 2008 on Main Street in Nashua.

It was just more tha a year later, on Earth Day 2009, that Keegan saw the potential for a second shop in Portsmouth.

“It was a rainy, cold April Saturday, but the streets were full and people had bags in their hands,” he said.

Keegan purchased the 76 Congress St. location, which opened in November 2009, and has managed to grow a solid customer base, despite starting in the middle of a recession.

“Portsmouth very quickly got that we’re a green store,” he said. “Most small businesses fail in the first two years, so we’ve made it so far, and we’ve actually expanded in the first two years.”

His wife, Karen Keegan, who has for 20 years owned Mother & Child Clothing and Gifts, a retail and consignment clothing store in Nashua, does double duty running the flagship store while her husband heads daily to Portsmouth.

There, he has set up a maintenance shop for bicycles – Re-cycles, as he calls them – that he salvages from yard sales, Craigslist ads and friends’ garages, making them road-ready once more to sell as a mode of alternative transportation. In the dark basement, there’s a veritable bicycle holding cell, with dozens of bikes piled into two sections: tune-ups to the right and the good-for-parts-only to the left.

Upstairs, paintings from local artists line the mint-green walls. The products, displayed on tables and wooden shelves, are broken down into three categories: fair trade products, such as Cambodian baskets and Haitian wall decor; locally made ware like T-shirts, rock lamps and sneakers; and environmentally friendly goods, such as stainless steel containers, foldable laundry drying racks and unbleached coffee filters.

Keegan’s environmentalism can be traced back to his childhood, when he took monthly camping trips as a Boy Scout in Nashua.

“I’ve always been outdoors and a conservationist and making sure we protected what we used.”

His first grab at activism came when he joined members of the Clamshell Alliance to protest the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in the ’80s. Driving up on weekends from Northeastern University, where he was completing a bachelor’s degree in business, Keegan and fellow demonstrators picketed while construction workers built.

“That kind of set the mark for me of standing up for what I believe in.” After that came the Ride for Peace, which “brought in the cycling side to things.”

In addition to some 50- and 100-mile charity rides he’s done over the past decade, Keegan rode 300 miles from New York to Washington D.C. last fall to raise awareness for climate legislation and is signed up for a San Francisco ride this year.

“The biking and yoga is what keeps me in shape,” said Keegan, who has more than once laid out his yoga mat in the store for mid-day sun salutations.

The Green Guru’s resume is quite diverse. After completing his master’s in business administration from Rivier College, he worked at a family vending business, as a chef, a contract administrator for the defense and commercial industries, a bike shop manager and a carpenter.

His varied business experience, years spent fixing and riding bikes, and a love for the environment pushed him to open the store, which he hopes to eventually expand into Massachusetts. He said he’s glad to have finally figured out what he wants to be when he grows up. “This is about as grown up as I get,” he said.

Recently, he launched the monthly Green Gatherings seminars in Portsmouth to educate the local community about environmental issues. The seminar series kicked off with a screening of Food Inc., and future seminars will address topics like climate change and how to reduce food waste.

When talking about “going green,” people immediately think of recycling, said Keegan.

But, he said, “reducing and reusing has a bigger impact than recycling. Recycling is the third part of the cycle. What can people do? They can reduce and reuse, cut back on it, look for things with less packaging.”

Just a few examples Keegan cites are donating unneeded stuff or selling it at yard sales, buying secondhand clothing and cars, and purchasing items with less packaging, like fresh produce from farmers’ markets.

This is also a concept Keegan implemented in his stores with Biokleen products, which customers can refill from the four, 55-gallon jugs of dishwashing liquid and laundry detergent in the back room.

No other Biokleen distributor sells refills like this, but since it’s been successful in his store, Keegan said Biokleen may implement it elsewhere since it reduces the number of bottles used.

Evident by the popularity of his stores, Keegan sees a refreshing resurgence toward green living – something he’s happy to share his knowledge about.

“We’ve come around again. We’re thinking about hybrids again, diesels, smaller cars, rideshares and biking – like okay, come talk to me, because I’ve been doing it my whole life.”