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Green Business Member Profiles 2006
Working alongside migrant farm workers in California as a young man, Thomas Fricke developed an appreciation for organic agriculture firsthand, dodging the pesticides raining from the overhead crop dusters.
As the daughter of a State Department diplomat and social investment professional, Sylvia Blanchet grew up with an interest in international affairs and a tendency toward economic activism.
Together, Thomas and Sylvia married their interests in organics and international development, and in 1996 as husband and wife, they launched ForestTrade, a wholesale supplier of organic and sustainably produced tropical spices, vanilla, essential oils, and Fair Trade Certified™ coffee. The idea for the company was developed as a way to promote rainforest conservation in fragile tropical ecosystems. And, by working closely with indigenous farmers in supplier countries, Thomas and Sylvia maintain supervision over every link of their supply chain, ensuring environmental sustainability, organic integrity, and social justice every step of the way.
Today, ForesTrade sources directly from more than 5,000 small-scale, indigenous farmers in Indonesia and Guatemala, who are sustainably managing 92,000 hectares of land. Customers for ForesTrade’s wholesale spices and coffee include many other sustainably managed members of Green America’s Green Business Network™, such Stonyfield Farms, Ben & Jerry’s, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.
What’s more, ForesTrade’s presence in Indonesia provided a ready-made infrastructure for assisting with disaster relief after the devastating tsunami at the end of 2004.
“Being engaged in Aceh and Sumatra for the past ten years … we’re very well rehearsed in disaster relief, because many, many times our warehousing has sheltered victims of ethnic cleansing due to conflict in the area,” Thomas says. “We were primed for immediate response.”
In addition to using the ForesTrade warehouse to store relief supplies (later loaded onto coffee trucks and driven to displaced persons in the Indonesian highlands), ForesTrade partnered with the nonprofit Coffee Kids on a tsunami relief fund for the Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association, raising more than $300,000. The fundraising effort began by supporting the immediate needs of the population, then moved to rebuilding damaged infrastructure, and finally, in February 2005, began awarding tuition and living expenses to Acehnese students who lost family members in the tsunami and were faced with the prospect of having to halt their studies.
Thomas says next steps for the ten-year-old company include an expansion of the brand into the retailing of consumer goods.
Living Tree Paper
When lifelong environmental advocate Carolyn Moran started her own magazine, (a “journal of spiritual ecology and activism” called Talking Leaves) in 1989, she resolved to print on the most environmentally friendly paper she could find.
Having seen massive clear-cutting of land she had loved in Oregon, Moran was dedicated to slowing deforestation caused by the paper industry, which consumes more than 40 percent of the world’s wood harvest. A five-year search for the perfect non wood paper for Talking Leaves led Moran to explore imported tree-free products from China to Eastern Europe before she met a US-based supplier of non-wood fibers and pulps who encouraged her to start her own paper company.
Today, Moran’s Living Tree Paper Company produces eco-friendly paper by combining post-consumer recycled fibers or certified sustainably harvested wood pulp with non wood pulps (such as sustainably grown hemp and agricultural residue from the flax seed oil industry).
“[By using] some of the billions of tons of agricultural residues available, [we’re preventing them from being] burned in the field, causing severe air pollution, or being landfilled,” Moran says.
The consumer benefits from this arrangement as well as the environment, because in addition to being rapidly renewable, hemp and flax produce long fibers that add strength to paper made from post-consumer recycled material. Furthermore, unlike conventional paper companies, Living Tree does not use toxic chemicals like chlorine to whiten its paper. And because non-wood and recycled fibers are more easily pulped than virgin wood, its papers require less energy to produce.
While Living Tree Paper originally focused on retail sales, Moran has recently found a reliable wholesale customer base in the entertainment industry. Musicians from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Madonna have turned to Living Tree Paper for their CD booklets, posters, and promotional materials to lessen the environmental impact of their work. In addition, Living Tree works with corporate clients, supplying Patagonia, Nike, and Mitsubishi, among others, with paper for their corporate letterheads, hang-tags, and other high-visibility uses.
While Living Tree helps other companies grow sustainably, they are also working to “walk the walk.” Living Tree recently acquired a biodiesel car, and 25 percent of Moran’s home and office energy needs are generated by wind power, a percentage Moran promises will only increase over time.
Goodkind Pen Company
Have you ever cleaned out your room or office and been shocked by the collection of pens that you’ve amassed? In 1993, Ian LeBauer had just that experience, but he reacted to his discovery a bit differently from most. Fresh out of college with degrees in environmental science and economics, LeBauer found himself thinking quite a bit about his pen collection. Specifically, he was unable to make sense of why plastic—a nonrenewable, non-compostable material made from petroleum byproducts—is used to create disposable pens.
He and a few friends began experimenting with more eco-friendly methods of pen production and ultimately determined that wood can be used to make a biodegradable pen that feels similar to conventional plastic versions. They developed a contract with a local producer of wood furniture and began crafting pens out of the producer’s wood scraps. After nine months of operation, Goodkind Pen Company had sold pens in all 50 states and to 12 different countries.
Goodkind Pen Company’s environmental consciousness permeates all aspects of its work. It imprints its products through environmentally safe laser technology, a practice that emits less smoke than a cigarette and uses less electricity than a radio. Reinforcing the idea that pens can and should be reusable, all Goodkind pens come with one refill cartridge, and additional refills can be ordered as needed. And unlike conventional pens with plastic cartridges intended to last one year, Goodkind pen cartridges are made of brass, which is significantly less porous than plastic and allows the cartridges to last three times as long.
Additionally, LeBauer and his colleagues developed an innovative approach to packaging and shipping. They ship Goodkind Pens in recycled plastic reusable packaging; the recipient need only attach a stamp and mail the plastic, clamshell shaped package back to the factory where it is refilled and shipped out again. “This shows what plastic should be used for,” says LeBauer.
Goodkind offers eight styles of pens, which have proven popular for both aesthetic and environmental appeal. LeBauer is excited by the success of his product in mainstream markets.
“People are often more excited by how cool the pens look than by their environmental friendliness,” says LeBauer. “And that works perfectly, because we believe that convincing people to buy a product because it’s environmentally safe isn’t the right philosophy. Our job is to make it so the environmental choice is the obvious choice. That way, people are acting in a way that is environmentally friendly whether they like it or not, and it’s win-win for everybody.”
North Country Fair Trade
In the fall of 2004, two worker-owners from Maquiladora Mujeres, a Nicaraguan women’s sewing cooperative, embarked on an anti-sweatshop speaking tour of the United States, starting in Washington, DC, at Green America’s Green Festival. Their next stop was Minneapolis, where their visit was sponsored by North Country Fair Trade, which had recently launched as a distributor of sweatshop-free clothing and accessories.
The two women told audiences about how they had escaped the unhealthy and abusive working conditions of bigger local factories by forming their cooperative and forging alliances with companies like North Country that are dedicated to keeping sweatshops out of supply chains.
“We heard about how one worker spent two days in a typical maquila, but quit even though she needed the money, because she couldn’t stand how workers were treated at the plant,” says John Flory, North Country’s founder. “She works at the cooperative now and makes about 40 percent higher wages. Plus, production standards at the cooperative result in an eight-hour workday and five-day week, instead of workers being stuck at the factory until quotas are met.”
As a distributor for Maquiladora Mujeres and one other sustainably run clothing cooperative, North Country Fair Trade counts schools, churches, businesses, and nonprofit organizations among its client base, providing blank T-shirts and bags for these clients to print with their logos.
Fair Trade involves guaranteeing a level of financial support for each link of the supply chain sufficient for workers and farmers to not only meet their basic needs, but also to improve their communities, develop their businesses, and lift themselves economically. Certain food commodities, such as chocolate, coffee, tea, and bananas are certified as fairly traded and bear a special Fair Trade Certified™ logo.
“Many people think of Fair Trade as mainly coffee or crafts,” says Flory. “That’s true, but there’s a very big commercial market for other Fair Trade items like clothing. North Country’s role is to help develop producers of Fair Trade goods and then help them find a market for their products.”
To that end, Flory helped provide start-up capital for another of his sweatshop-free suppliers, the Mexican cooperative Maquiladora Dignidad y Justicia, which began production after the Levi’s plant in Piedras Negras closed, sending its sewing jobs to China, where labor is cheaper. The cooperative has the future goal of adding blue jeans to its product line, to capitalize on the workers’ experience from the Levi’s plant.
Eric Hudson’s dentist always told him he needed to hold his toothbrush at a 45-degree angle when cleaning his teeth, but Hudson hadn’t found a brush shaped to encourage that positioning. By using boiling water to soften conventional toothbrushes, he was able to bend them into a shape he found more comfortable—and that dental professionals praised. In 1996, Hudson combined his dental-hygiene interest with his environmental dedication and business expertise when he founded Recycline, which manufactures toothbrushes made from recycled plastic.
“I saw that around 45 percent of the population was interested in recycling, but there wasn’t a lot of action turning recycled materials into new products,” Hudson explains. “I wanted to show that you can make high-quality products from recycled materials.” And he wanted to ensure that the products he made were, in turn, recyclable.
His interest in brushing technique wasn’t the only thing that made toothbrushes a good choice for his company’s first product, either; toothbrushes are something that people need to keep buying and discarding (the American Dental Association recommends replacing them every three months).
In collaboration with his industrial-designer father and a panel of dentists, Hudson designed the Preserve® toothbrush, with nylon bristles and a 100-percent- recycled plastic handle.
“The Preserve® curve of the handle helps you brush at the 45-degree angle most comfortably throughout your mouth,” Hudson explains of its patented design. The brushes come with (or you can request) postage-paid mailers, and the company recycles returned toothbrushes into plastic lumber for park benches and other outdoor furniture.
Over the past decade, Recycline has launched a partnership with Stonyfield Farms, whose yogurt containers are recycled into plastics for Recycline products—a line that has grown to include a razor, tongue cleaner, children’s toothbrush, and, most recently, plates and cutlery. These products are all made of 100-percent recycled plastic, and everything except the toothbrushes can go directly into #5 recycling bins (though Hudson prefers that razor users simply replace their blades). Recycline also introduced a toothbrush subscription program, in which subscribers receive new toothbrushes in the mail four times a year and send their old ones to be recycled once again.