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Do you ever find yourself wondering what to do with your scrap paper? Green business owner Sheryl Woodhouse-Keese lists dozens of creative re-uses for scraps, organized for different professions, on the Web site of her own business, Twisted Limb. For librarians, she suggests bookmarks and recommendation slips. For caterers, place cards and labels for dishes on the buffet. For retailers, hang tags for merchandise.
As for Sheryl herself, she built an entire business out of collecting the scrap paper of others and using it as the raw material for her creative and beautiful recycled paper products: invitations, notepaper, baby announcements, guest books, and more. We asked Sheryl to tell us more about how her business came about.
Green America: Where are you located, and what does your business do?
Sheryl Woodhouse-Keese: Twisted Limb Paperworks is located on ten lovely acres of woods and fields in the rolling hills of South Central Indiana. We’ve been creating colorful, handmade, 100-percent recycled paper and invitations for almost ten years, and have been a member of Green America's Green Business Network for most of that time.
Color me impressed!
Artists at Twisted Limb sort
paper to avoid extra dyes.
What makes your company green?
Sheryl: Our handmade paper is 100-percent recycled, using a combination of recycled colored office paper (so we don’t add additional dye), junk mail, grocery bags, and grass cuttings from our field. All of the envelopes and reply cards we pair with our handmade papers are also 100-percent post-consumer-waste (PCW) recycled and processed chlorine-free. Even the see-through vellum is 30-percent PCW recycled and processed without chlorine.
Of course, all office paper and envelopes, file folders, toilet paper, and facial tissue used at Twisted Limb is 100-percent recycled. We try to do whatever we can—we print on both sides of a piece of paper in the office, drink Fair Trade organic coffee, don’t overcool or overheat the studio—basic stuff. We offset 100 percent of the carbon dioxide created by running our facility (and by employee commuting and business travel) with EnviroWatts’ green electricity credits and by investing in wind farms through NativeEnergy. My favorite thing is that we recycle the water from our air conditioner and dehumidifiers into the paper making process. We also give 10 percent of our profits in the form of cash donations to environmental conservation efforts each year, and an additional 12 percent as in-kind contributions.
What was your worst job before you became a green business owner, and what motivated you to start your own business?
Sheryl: My worst job ever was cleaning hotel rooms! The good news is that only lasted four days. I was a park ranger-naturalist for national and state parks before starting Twisted Limb. I was working at Grand Teton National Park when a friend suggested that I get a hobby—specifically papermaking because of my calligraphy skills. Two years later, when I moved to Bloomington, Indiana and found myself unemployed, I turned this hobby into the business. I actually came up with the name Twisted Limb for my husband, Brian, who had been thinking of selling his rustic furniture. When he decided not to go into business, it took me about 2 minutes to ask for the name back. Not only did I get the name, but he designed that awesome twisted logo that we are still using today.
What have been some of the biggest challenges of maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?
Sheryl: Honestly, the choices I make to create a green product and an ever deeper sustainable business have never been the challenging parts of being in business to me. They are the only way I would do business, and maintaining our high environmental standards have only been an asset to Twisted Limb. When we first moved the business out of my basement and into our current studio, we came out to the country so that we could afford ownership, and not have to rent space in town. I did feel bad about my employees’ having to commute, but now everyone coming from town carpools, and we participate in offsetting their carbon. And, a couple of employees live very close by.
What’s been your proudest moment as a green business owner?
More ways than one:
Sheryl's green invitations.
Sheryl: We recently sent out a survey to our customers to get feedback on our catalog and website, and received some other amazing responses: 98 percent of our customers rated our customer service as consistently cheerful and knowledgeable, 99 percent received their order either early or on time, and 100 percent rated the quality of our craftsmanship as high or extremely high. I was overjoyed—giddy, really—at these numbers, and the faith our customers have in us. Everyone at Twisted Limb is very proud.
How has your vision for your business changed since you began?
Sheryl: My vision for Twisted Limb hasn’t changed all that much in the past ten years—it’s just gotten larger. When I started the business, I was only thinking of self-employment; now there are 8 of us, and the continued growth isn’t as scary to me. I’m inspired by my co-workers. I really love all the people I’ve met because of the business, and want to continue bringing in more.
What advice would you give to other green entrepreneurs just starting out?
Sheryl: If you get it out of your head that there’s any other way to conduct business besides being sustainable, then your choices are easy. Also--test, measure, record, and write your manual from day one.
What’s the next green step you’re working on right now?
Sheryl: We just started a school- and organizational-fundraising project, so that kids (and adults) can participate in building the green economy while raising funds. We are offering a stationery bundle, a set of inspirational quote bookmarks, and a bits-and-pieces bag of our handmade paper for sale, and will supply all catalogs, order forms, and spreadsheets. Organizations keep 40 percent of all sales.
What green product can you not live without?