Sustainable Business Spotlight: Ecovative Design


Company: Ecovative Design | Product: EcoCradle™ packaging

The sustainability of packaging is one of the oldest issues in environmental circles. Cities like Berkeley, California banned the use of polystyrene foam as a post-consumer food container back in January of 1990 because of the many adverse environmental impacts they imposed.

EcoCradle packaging piece.

Back then, few options existed to replace the fossil fuel based packaging products. They contained styrene and benzene, two known carcinogens, yet their use was ubiquitous in the industry – until now.

Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre founded Ecovative Design in 2007 after seeing how mushrooms grew on wood chips, and observing how the fungal mycelium strongly bonded the wood chips together. This observation sparked an idea to emulate nature’s elegant manufacturing process with their own.

Ecovative Design's wine packaging.

Three years later, they launched EcoCradle™, a truly sustainable packaging material.

The key to EcoCradle’s sustainability lay in it’s sourcing of agricultural byproducts that come from renewable sources.

By not funneling raw materials into their design process, the products themselves reduce the impact on the environment.

Unlike EcoCradle’s direct competitors that manufacture polystyrene foam peanuts (PFP), theirs is compostable and biodegradable.

Ecovative Design customers can rely upon EcoCradle’s easy to use and price-competitive packaging products, knowing they’re an excellent replacement for custom molded polystyrene foams.

The energy used to create EcoCradle packaging is a fraction of it’s competitors due to Ecovative Design’s manufacturing processes based upon biomimicry. They use mushrooms to create the resin used to bond particles together (bioutilization).  This process is biomimetic in that it mimics nature’s cyclic material flows.

EcoCradle packaging can be substituted for polystyrene foam.

Rather than just decreasing the environmental impact of conventional polystyrene foams, this invention creates a whole new paradigm where composite materials are literally grown, harnessing the incredible efficiency of nature.” (From Ecovative Design’s website)

Sustainable Business Spotlight: Keeper Sacks


Company: Keeper Sacks | Products: Reusable food bags and covers

Keeper Sacks is the creation of Kristine Lebow, the mother of two children, who found a fashionable and sustainable solution to an everyday problem.

Keeper Sacks is the creation of Kristine Lebow.

The idea is elegant as it is simple – design attractive replacements to green our habit of using plastic to cover food. The result is a colorful snack bag that’s processed and shipped with recycled materials.

Kristine has a love of the environment and runs her company looking for ways to make it more sustainable. Keeper Sacks reuses boxes from neighboring businesses, keeps paperless records, and is constantly looking for new ways to reduce waste and consumption.

A large aspect of her company’s sustainability is that all of her products are made in the U.S. She also insists on using U.S. made materials because, as she puts it –

“Being a sustainable business is only possible if the materials used and the people making them come from close to where you live.”

After forming in October 2009, her company has developed four operating guidelines that are integral to her core sustainable business practices:

  • Design layouts must use 95 – 98 % of fabric to optimize material usage
  • Use 100% domestic materials and labor
  • Reuse existing shipping cartons whenever possible
  • Ship products efficiently to reduce materials and cost

Focusing on the problem of plastics in the environment is a big concern. Globally we generate 300 million tons of plastic waste each year. American used an estimated 380 billion sandwich bags in 2008 alone.

According to Lisa Kaas Boyle, co-founder and Director of Legal Policy for the Plastic Pollution Coalition, disposable plastics compose the largest percentage of all ocean pollution.

Keeper Sacks bowl cover.

After being laid off, Ms. Lebow, a former swimsuit designer at Jantzen Inc. and Reebok Swimwear took her daughter’s advice to start her own business. Having seen a similar product on the shelves, she thought her mommy could do better. And she did.

Keeper Sacks’ line of reusable bowl and plate covers are made of ripstop nylon and are machine and dishwasher safe.  One sustainable aspect of all Keeper Sacks products is that they are well made and use a minimum of resources and energy to produce. When the consumer gets hundreds or thousands of uses out of it, as opposed to just one, their environmental impact is greatly minimized.

Ms. Lebow cleverly pursued New Seasons Market, a local health food store in her hometown of Portland, Oregon to carry her Keeper Sacks. They had similar products as hers, but were open to carrying another brand and were impressed by her designs and commitment to sustainability. Sales took off and they have been a huge supporter ever since.

By building her brand locally, she has cultivated strong sales from people living in her community and from neighboring cities.

Her current efforts are focused on expanding distribution to stores beyond the Pacific Northwest. If you would like to see Keeper Sacks sold where you live, make your suggestion to a supermarket or kitchen supply store near you today.

Suggested Reading:

Plastic Waste: More Dangerous than Global Warming
Plastic Bags – Whole Foods Pledges to Stop Using Plastic Bags

Reusable Bags – Why do you choose to carry, or not carry, reusable shopping…

What’s in a Shopping Bag? – The Environment for Kids

Sustainability 2.0


Not so long ago, all corporations needed do to be considered sustainable, was to recycle, print documents double-sided and replace some old lights with energy efficient bulbs. This is simply not true anymore. Many of the large corporations have realized the potential for streamlining their operations by implementing best sustainable practices. Systems of production are being viewed not only as what can be done to conserve resources but, also how that equates to a more profitable business model.

This shift in thinking marks a new era in sustainability or what some are calling, Sustainability 2.0. Just as we saw the Internet evolve in the the beginning of the last decade toward e-commerce, social networking and exponential growth in mobile devices like the iPhone and the iPad, we are seeing sustainability evolve in the business world – the second generation of sustainability.

What’s driving this new interpretation is a better understanding in the business community of how sustainability can give them a competitive advantage. Corporations are concerned with how their businesses will function in a future where energy prices will undoubtedly rise, resources will be scarce and climate change will favor those who prepare in advance. They must compete effectively in this new business environment or risk being outdone by their competitors.

Ecomagination initiative by General Electric.

How is this new concept of sustainability different from the previous one? First, there is a deeper understanding of what sustainability means. Whereas the first iteration was quickly deemed, “green-washing” by the media (and for good reason), this iteration is about conceptualizing the larger picture. Corporations are now using sustainability strategies to strengthen their business’s future prospects while also having a positive impact on society.

The initial efforts by corporations were meager and the goal was to publicize their actions in the hope of being seen as a “green” company. DuPont (DU), Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Exxon are among those that jumped on the opportunity to cloak themselves in an eco-disguise. In May of 2005 General Electric announced its $90 million “Ecomagination” advertising campaign, only to be deemed by many as a green-washing campaign.

But, by 2009 GE had embraced authentic sustainable practices with their signature programs, healthymagination, Developing Health Globally™ and Developing Futures™. They each represent a $130-million commitment to making a lasting impact in the communities where employees work and live.

A key component of Sustainability 2.0 is viewing employees as a “secret weapon”. Giving employees a way to be part of these strategies and goals gets them involved with a vision of the future. Employees know their jobs and their products better than anyone else, so they’re ideally suited to recognizing ways to make them more sustainable. Good examples of companies that are harnessing the hidden power of their employees are eBay’s green team and 3M’s Pollution Prevention Pays Program.

Companies today are also reaching out to their customers in a brand new way. They are creating two-way conversations between the company and its stakeholders by leveraging the power of the Internet and social networking platforms like Yelp, Twitter and FaceBook, not possible even 10 years ago. This conversation opens up the decision making process to include the consumer in how their products are created, and even the process by which they are created.

By involving customers in their sustainability strategies the consumer becomes empowered. They feel that they are being heard and can affect change at the corporate level. It also gives the executives better information on what is important to the people who buy their products – a win-win-win.

For some American corporations, sustainability has even become “business as usual”. With no hint of greenwahsing, L’Oréal has set ambitious goals for 2015: a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emission, waste and water consumption per finished product. Their fair trade policy and commitment to local communities has been fully integrated into their business decision making process. L’Oréal exemplifies what it means for a company to embrace sustainability throughout it’s business model.

Take a look at the major corporations today and you’ll see that they have a new breed of executive in their ranks – the Corporate Sustainability Officer or CSO. The core function of this individual is to see that sustainability is fully integrated with every aspect of how a business operates. They implement cost cutting strategies on operations that can include the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for offices and production facilities.

Gone are the days where only the vanguards of corporate environmentalism such as Patagonia, REI and the like are embracing

Patagonia top made with 80% merino wool from farmers in Australia who practice sustainable land management and 20% chlorine-free, recycled polyester.

sustainable business practices. Even the mega corporations are getting  involved, because they have more to loose and even more to gain.

Wal-Mart, the undisputed king of all mega corporations, has tipped the playing field by introducing the “sustainability index“. According to Wal-Mart’s own website, this initiative hopes to “create a more transparent supply chain, accelerate the adoption of best practices and drive product innovation and ultimately provide their customers with information they need to assess products’ sustainability.”

This, from a company that buys nearly all of its products from China and has single-handedly wiped out mom and pop shops since its inception? In fact, a closer look reveals that Wal-Mart compels their suppliers to jump on the sustainability bandwagon long before they do. Wal-Mart has also helped establish the Sustainability Consortium to drive metrics for measuring the environmental impacts of consumer products across their life-cycle. Kudos, right?

That’s the question; now that the very corporations environmentalists have loved to hate for so many years, have begun greening themselves, are they all bad?

The answer remains to be seen, but the future is certain. Corporations will need to compete with one another in an uncertain future of diminishing resources, rising energy prices and increasing environmental regulation. The truly sustainable organizations will undoubtedly have the upper hand.

Stand by as Sustainability 2.0 takes hold and corporations either embrace it and thrive or greenwash and perish.

%d bloggers like this: