eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Are Small Businesses Thriving?

Posted by Luke on September 20, 2010

Eco-Products was named to the Inc. magazine’s list of Top 500 Fastest Growing Companies in America again this year.  Our 3-year growth registered at 1,012% which is up from our growth in the 2009 list of 844%.  However, our ranking dropped from #270 to #297.

That seems odd to me.  Our 2007-2009 growth was 168% more than our 2006-2008 growth yet our ranking dropped.  I’m not complaining because it’s an accomplishment to be on the list at all.  But that either means small businesses and entrepreneurs are thriving in the recession, or ????  I can’t figure it out.

Either way, congrats to all of our employees and a big THANK YOU to our customers, suppliers, and other partners.  This means a lot to us.  Here are some other green businesses on the list as reported by Earth911.com.

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Keep It Simple with Signs

Posted by Luke on September 11, 2010

How do people tell the difference between compostable and non-compostable products when they are trying to figure out which bin to throw something in?  They look and feel virtually the same.  If the products aren’t embossed or printed with the word “compostable”  on them, people can’t tell.  And even if “compostable” is embossed, there’s no guarantee that the products meet compostability certification.

For some time now, I’ve been involved in this seemingly never-ending debate about establishing labeling guidelines for compostable products.  Some people have suggested that products should have a green stripe or band.  I haven’t come around on that idea.  Until someone can convince me otherwise, it’s not cost-effective, can’t be done on all product shapes and materials, and will ultimately drive up product costs while simultaneously lowering composting rates (composting programs are more successful when packaging/products are included).  Also, it doesn’t solve the problem of companies falsely claiming that their products are compostable.  That’s where laws help…

The State of California is trying to pass a bill to make it illegal for companies to claim compostability if their products don’t meet ASTM standards.  HALLELUIAH!  We’re finally starting to make some  progress.  Companies will be held accountable for their claims.  No one wants to answer to Arnold.  Actually, I take that back,

Getting back to figuring out what is compostable and what isn’t, I came across a great idea about using 3-D signs to help out consumers.  In his post, Dinesh Thirupuvanam talks about the effectiveness of using simple, visual displays to help improve waste diversion.  One route is to have a poster with pictures of the products that should be composted, but a much more effective route is to create a 3-dimensional sign in which customers see the products in real life and know what bin to put them it.  I’m a visual person, so this is a great solution for me, much better than a normal, flat poster.  What a simple, yet effective solution.

If only these could be produced on a larger scale… Shoot me an email (lvernon at ecoproducts.com) if you think you can produce these signs on a large scale for Eco-Products.  I’d love to be able to give them to our customers.

Posted in compostable, compostable products, composting, greenwashing, logistics, recycling | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Boulder Fire

Posted by Luke on September 8, 2010

There has been a terrible wildfire in Boulder the past couple days.  It started in the foothills just west of town on Monday and has burned over 7,000 acres and nearly 100 buildings since then.  Approximately 3,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.  It’s the largest fire in the county’s history, and there’s a huge cloud of smoke over the town and surrounding areas.  Fortunately, the fire hasn’t come into the city of Boulder, but there are other small communities in the hills that have been demolished.  It’s a sad state.

Times like this make me appreciate my life and realize how fortunate I am.  People have lost their homes, lost their photographs, and lost their pets.  It’s sad that it takes a tragedy or natural disaster to make me realize that no business success or closed sale or customer win can compensate for the truly important things in life.  It puts into perspective just how small and insignificant my daily activities are even though when I’m doing them I feel like I can change the environment, the industry, or at least my life.  Despite that, it is still important that I do those things.  I guess the key is to maintain balance and do those things knowing what’s truly most important.

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” -Gandhi

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Australian Composting Programs – Information Request

Posted by Luke on September 6, 2010

Do you have any info on residential curbside composting programs in Australia?

I met with a gentleman from Australia a couple months ago and he said that curbside composting programs  are available in all of the major cities.  According to him, 85% of the country’s population has access to curbside pickup programs.  I haven’t been able to successfully verify that number, so I’m curious if anyone has additional insight.  Shoot me an email if you do:  lvernon at ecoproducts.com

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Rethink Your Impact Contest

Posted by Luke on August 31, 2010

In a previous post, I announced a contest – “ReTHINK Your Impact” –  in which any business can win an eco makeover.  We’re choosing one lucky company (a coffee shop or restaurant or other foodservice establishment) who will win free products from Eco-Products for an entire year.  That’s a lot of cups!  We’ll also assess all of their operations and suggest eco improvements, essentially giving them free sustainability consulting.  Not bad!

The other part of the contest involves us giving away three different $4,000 sustainability grants for a total of $12,000.  The grants will be applied to a cause or initiative in the selected company’s community to educate people about composting, environmental conservation, recycling, or another sustainability-related activity.

Click here to nominate your favorite coffee shop or restaurant or check it out on Facebook.  And watch this clever video…

Posted in awards, compostable products, cups, Eco-Products, event, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Eco Entreprenuerial Idea of the Week

Posted by Luke on August 27, 2010

I love reading about entrepreneurs who creatively solve problems with sustainable business ideas.  The latest example I read about is a Minneapolis company called Eureka Recycling.  This non-profit company partnered with their city government to pilot a 1,100 residential curbside composting pickup program… using their bikes.

Eureka employees ride around with custom-built trailers attached to their bikes and pick up compostables.  Impressive!  Talk about zero emission waste hauling.  What I’m wondering, though, is how long it takes to pickup the waste from all 1,100 households.  They must make a lot of trips.  Sounds like a great job to ride your bike all day.  But what happens in winter?

Posted in composting, green jobs, innovation, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Clorox Dubunked; Vote Daisy

Posted by Luke on August 24, 2010

A few months ago, Clorox’s lawyers sent a friendly note to Method telling them that they were infringing on Clorox’s trademark of a daisy that they use in the graphics design of their Green Works cleaning products line.  Essentially, Clorox argues that they own the rights to using a daisy when it’s used to promote green cleaners.  Method has also used the daisy for quite a while, and wasn’t intentionally trying to leverage Green Works’ brand equity… because apparently Clorox has so much of it considering they just entered the category.

This is a classic example of a major corporation being threatened by a new entrant and then throwing money at lawyers to try to drive the smaller guy out, or at least make them spend some money.  And I take that back about Method being the new entrant.  They’ve been selling green cleaning products longer than Clorox.  They created the category alongside of Seventh Generation, Biokleen, and ECOS.  They are the reason why Clorox launched their Green Works line.  Method was stealing their market share from Clorox’s conventional, toxic products.

What is silly about Clorox’s approach to me is that they are trying to promote themselves as a green company, even greener than Method.  What they fail to state in their “friendly note” or in their marketing materials is that 99% of the products they sell are made from toxic chemicals and have nothing natural about them.  So, it’s really up for consumers to decide.  Do you fall for Clorox’s marketing tricks?  Do you support a company who does nothing but green (Method), or a company who does nothing but 1% green (Clorox)?

Method took this battle to the street to encourage consumers to speak up about who owns the daisy.  They launched a viral campaign (see www.votedaisy.com) in which people can vote for who should own the daisy… and they aren’t saying that Method should own it.  They think Mother Nature should own the daisy.  Now that’s brilliant marketing.  Checkout the video…

Posted in brand loyalty, greenwashing, imitators, marketing | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

PLA Recycling in Taiwan

Posted by Luke on August 21, 2010

I spent last week in Taiwan which explains my lack of posting any eco ramblings recently.  It was a very quick trip for a long flight, but it was an important one to talk with some suppliers and learn more about the Taiwan PLA market.  Taiwan produces a huge amount of PLA products and was one of the first countries to begin working with NatureWork’s resin.  Taiwan has very flexible manufacturing processes which are prime for testing small runs of products to build market demand.  Manufacturing processes in the U.S. typically require 10x the investment and typically don’t allow for small production runs.  I’m not saying that one is better than the other, it’s just the state of the situation.

One thing I couldn’t get a good answer on during my trip was regarding their progressive movement to recycle PLA.  That’s right, I said recycle, not compost.  The Taiwan government is going as far as mandating the recycling of PLA containers.  The main reason for this is that they don’t have a very well built out composting structure so they need to find other alternatives to divert their waste from landfills.  They mandated the use of PLA containers, to a large degree in take-out restaurants, and now they have to figure out how to help consumers properly dispose of them.  Recycling is their answer.  Apparently they are going to invest in the recycling infrastructure so PLA can be optically sorted from PET.  But I still am wondering under what timeline they are operating, and if they are going to invest enough to outfit every single material recover facility (MRF).

I definitely wish the U.S. government had the funds to upgrade the hundreds, maybe thousands, of MRFs across America to optical sorting technology.  I just don’t see that happening in my lifetime which means we’ll be fighting the recycling and composting battle for decades to come.  The best things we can do are to educate consumers about how to properly recycle, continue investing in the composting infrastructure, and demand manufacturers to use products with recycled content (this will build the market demand for recycled materials and make them more cost competitive).

On a different note, if you’ve never visited Taiwan, it’s a beautiful country with great people.  Here are a couple pictures…

A view of Taipei 101, the largest building in the world, from my hotel room

This is a restaurant / art gallery we ate lunch at that was built by a famous artist. It sort of looked like a Taiwan version of a Rainforest Cafe, but with expensive art for sale.

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A Leading Example of Transparency in Sustainability

Posted by Luke on August 9, 2010

In my previous post, I talked about the role of transparency in sustainability.  One of the best examples of a company who does this is Patagonia.  Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles allows people track the environmental impact of their products (good or bad) from product design all the way to delivery.  It’s a pretty slick interface and I encourage you to check it out.  You can see exactly where your clothes are made and what the conditions are at each of the factories.

Have you asked other clothing companies what the footprints of their items are?  I bet they don’t know the answer like Patagonia.  Being transparent helps Patagonia continue to strive for improved environmental performance while also setting a standard in the industry.

My down jacket was designed in Ventura, CA of which I can watch a video of.  The down fibers come from Hungary and I can see pictures of the origin location and conditions.  The fibers are then cleaned and processed in California before being sent to China in combination with recycled polyester for the shell.  Pictures of the factory can be viewed to witness the working conditions.  The finished product is shipped to Patagonia’s distribution center in Reno, NV.  The total process emits 7 lbs of CO2, creates 5 oz of waste, and uses 9.4 kwh of energy.

Posted in brand loyalty, China, logistics, manufacturing, shipping, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Role of “Radical Transparency” in Sustainability

Posted by Luke on August 4, 2010

I’ve written a lot about how everyone defines sustainability differently.  Jeffrey Hollender, the Chief Inspired Protagonist of Seventh Generation, addressed this topic at the World Innovation Forum in June.  “You can’t judge your own level of sustainability or responsibility, you can only be judged by others,” Hollender said.  To demonstrate this, Seventh Generation published a list on their website of everything that was bad about their products.  They felt that being completely transparent was the best way to make improvements over the long run.  They saw this transparency pay off because it caused their customers to ask Seventh Generation’s competitors for their respective lists, of which they didn’t have.

Although at Eco-Products we haven’t yet published a list of what is bad about our products, it’s probably in our near future.  We have attempted to take a similar approach to Seventh Generation in being transparent, and we are investing more than we ever have in understanding the entire environmental impact of our products from cradle to grave.  We acknowledge that we aren’t perfect.  After all, “perfect” sustainability is subjective and is a never-ending journey.  However, we are diligent about lessening our impact and being transparent with our customers along the way.  In fact, we created a new position at our company called a Sustainability Maven to continuously assess how our decisions impact the environment.  And we are investing in many other ways to better communicate our impact to our customers.  The key question that every business person has to ask, “Do customers care and will they put their money behind it?”  Based on my experience in the natural products industry, my response is an absolute “Yes.”

Posted in brand loyalty, Eco-Products, environmental products, footprint, greenwashing, marketing, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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