Greener by Design: Big Ideas from Small Companies

Greener by Design: Big Ideas from Small Companies

What do you get when you cross a used bicycle innertube, agricultural waste, discarded tires, and waste plastic hangars?

If you're at Greener by Design, you've got the Innovators' Showcase, an hour-long, rapid-fire series of presentations from small companies, startups, and the student winners of the Greener by Design Steelcase Scholarship competition.

The session brought together eight very different companies and ideas to the state for short pitches for all sorts of green ideas.

Leading off the hour was Davidson Lewis, the president of Ecologic Designs. Launched in 2005, the company makes a host of products, from wallets to messenger bags to beer cozies, under the Green Guru Gear and Green Goddess Gear brands.

The key innovation behind the products? Lewis calls it the "supplustomer" -- the supply of materials to make the products comes from customers. Each of the products are upcycled from products that would otherwise be landfilled.
One of Ecologic Designs' products. INSERT ALT TEXT HERE
Whether turning a damaged Patagonia wetsuit into beer cozies or discarded bicycle tubes into wallets, Ecologic Designs is following a path charted by Terracycle to take trash and turn it into treasure.

Next up is Trula, a sustainable alternative to concrete and wood. Developed by Trulagreen, the product is made from farmers' waste and can be put to use in anything from countertops to tarmacs. Trula, which for some reason was always referred to as "she" by the presenters, uses no water to produce, requires very little maintenance, and a 2" by 2" block can apparently hold 17,000 pounds, which opens up a world of potential uses for Trula.

The third presenter was Tom Hansen from Re-Tread Products, based in upstate New York. Hansen has developed a way to turn the negatives of discarded auto tires into benefits. Re-Tread Products' Tire Log is flexible, nearly indestructible, very long lasting, and made from an incredibly abundant material: the United States generates nearly 300 million discarded tires per year.

The Tire Log has been tested in a handful of applications: from building retaining walls to constructing potentially earthquake-proof houses, replacing sandbags in flood control and levee design, landscaping contours, and visual and noise barriers.
The Rapoli. INSERT ALT TEXT HERE
Following Re-Tread was Ken Eskenazi, the CEO of Innovation2Industry, maker of the Rapioli, an innovative reusable shipping container that can reduce significant amounts of waste in companies with closed-loop supply chains. The invention is a modular container made of recycled PET and a pillow to cushion the products inside. The Rapoli can save 50 percent of shipping costs and reduce waste at the same time.

An example Eskenazi offered was of a dental supply company that ships 5,000 or more brand new cardboard boxes every single day. Rather than wasting all that cardboard -- as much as a ton per year, by Eskenazi's estimate -- putting a Rapoli in place would pay for itself after the 7th return trip, while the system generally lasts for 100 such trips.
Ditto Hangars INSERT ALT TEXT HERE
The final entrepreneurial presentation at the Innovators' Showcase came from Gary Barker, the President and CEO of Greenheart Global, an Oakland, Calif., based company that works with companies of all sizes to streamline their operations and figure out what kinds of products can be made from the waste of those operations.

Greenheart Global is also the company behind the Ditto Hangar, which my colleague Jonathan Bardelline wrote about at the end of last year. Ditto hangars are recycled, upcycled hangars that both reduce waste and help improve companies' branding opportunities in retail environments.

The final three presentations came from our four winners of the Steelcase Sustainable Design Scholarship competitions. The four students, in three teams -- Dave Berger from New York City's The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Jon Dreher and Mike Norelli from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Edgar Rudberg, from the University of Minnesota -- were all profiled yesterday on GreenBiz.com.

We'll have more photos and updates on all of these exciting innovations as Greener by Design 2009 continues.