Part of Their Nature

These small business owners prove that it's easy being green—and profitable, too.

Tom Szaky
Tom Szaky has often been told that he is crazy. At age 19, he dropped out of Princeton to start TerraCycle, a business revolving around selling an all-organic liquid plant food made from worm feces—and no, that's not a typo. When he first started out, he had a hard time raising capital and people often laughed him right out of the office. But things soon changed when he won a business-plan contest and the company took off. In 2006, TerraCycle was named "The Coolest Little Start-up in America" by Inc. magazine.

Located in Trenton, New Jersey, TerraCycle is a very unique company in that it manufactures affordable, potent, organic products that are not only made from waste, but are also packaged entirely in waste. All of the products are packaged in used soda bottles or other recyclable materials. Another unique aspect of TerraCycle is its strong connection to its customers. Because TerraCycle is always looking for new, environmentally-friendly products, Szaky takes suggestions for new product ideas from customers, receiving about two or three submissions every day.

Szaky is so passionate about running a green business because, he said, he is trying to prove that ecocapitalism can be successful. "This basically means that the more money you make, the more you help the environment," Szaky said. He added that now is an ideal time to think outside the box with green businesses. "There's a whole lot of opportunity out there right now, and it's a good chance to create something." Regardless of how big TerraCycle becomes, the company is dedicated to being a zero-waste operation.

Mike Green
As a member of the Boy Scouts, Mike Green learned at a young age that you should always leave the area you are occupying in better condition than it was when you got there. Because of this, recycling became a large part of his life, prompting him to start Project KOPEG (Keeping Our Planet Earth Green), an e-waste recycling and fund-raising business in Boise, Idaho.

Back when Green and a friend worked at a cell phone retailer, the customers would commonly ask what they should do with their old phones when they purchased a new one. Green and the friend initially had a running joke that "they could use it as a paperweight," but when Green did some research on e-waste recycling, he found that the statistics were astounding. "When you consider that 426,000 cell phones are discarded every day in the United States, it becomes a monumental task to take care of the e-waste," he said.

In the three years since its inception, Project KOPEG has expanded to five internal employees and 10 to 15 outside fund-raising consultants. In addition, its recycling program has grown to include cell phones and chargers, computers, ink cartridges, PDAs, digital cameras, MP3 players and virtually all electronic waste. "I think our business is very unique," Green said. "We really did reinvent the wheel when we did this."

Sheryl Woodhouse-Keese
From an early age, Sheryl Woodhouse-Keese was inspired by grandiose landscapes and fell in love with nature. That's why the owner of Twisted Limb Paperworks, LLC, in Bloomington, Ind., is so passionate about running a green business.

When she couldn't find a job in her field after moving to the Bloomington area 10 years ago, Woodhouse-Keese decided to turn her hobby of making handmade recycled paper into a career. She started out as an individual artist displaying her work at shows and making the paper in a blender. In the 10 years since its inception, Twisted Limb has added six employees and has expanded its product line to include handmade wedding, bar/bat mitzvah and business invitations, baby announcements, bookmarks, stationery and envelopes.

No matter how successful she becomes, Woodhouse-Keese plans to stick to her values and become more sustainable and more environmentally conscious. "The world is such a beautiful place, so I want my actions to be helpful and not harmful," she said. "I don't think that I could have a business if it wasn't an environmentally-oriented business."

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