As the industry icons of the old economic order crumble, TriplePundit offers you an inspiring example of a new, highly-promising business model. Through a conversation with the founder of Rentagreenbox.com, we look at how one young company is winning green awards and turning a profit.
Rentagreenbox bills itself as “the first, zero-waste pack and move solution in America.” The California based company converts post-consumer trash to an array of moving products and offers a sustainable solution for both residential and commercial moves. In brief, the company offers a moving assessment, delivers the rented moving supplies in trucks powered by biodiesel or vegetable oil, and then returns to pick up the boxes. The material comes from local landfills, a key supply source for their sustainable operation. The recopack [recycled ecological packing solution], a stackable plastic bin, is the cornerstone of their business.
A successful product designer before launching Rentagreenbox (formerly Earth Friendly Moving), founder Spencer Brown’s environmental awareness extended to beach cleanups and frequent trips to the farmers market. Today, he says simply, “I’ve evolved.”
At a point of career transition, Brown had to vacate his office space and in the process became frustrated at the expense and inconvenience – from purchase to disposal – of using cardboard boxes. When he ended up at the landfill to dispose of material he couldn’t give away, he was shocked at the conditions and saw an opportunity to mine the waste and fill a business niche.
The story of his success is one of fortune, perseverance, and timing. Brown became singularly focused on an idea. He says, “I didn’t try to make fifty things, just one- a box.” He started out thinking he could help save trees.
Landfills are crowded with hard-to recycle cardboard and plastics, materials that demand a labor-intensive recycling process that often yields inconsistent results. For years, “developed countries” have exported these materials to Asia to be reconstituted into products like carpet backing with dubious social and environmental consequences.
Once inspiration struck, Brown dove into research and began pitching his ideas to an uninterested audience. He had the design chops but not the necessary background in nano-technology and for months he worked the phones. Brown was in a position to self-finance the project and allows that if he’d had to ask for money, “it never would have worked.”
Relationships with small waste management firms with city contracts garnered plenty of material to experiment with. He was, by his own admission, “the laughing stock of the industry.” Now however, the taunts about sending used diapers his way have all but disappeared as his product line expands. Rentagreenbox makes recycled and recyclable equivalents to zipties, packing peanuts, bubble wrap, packing paper, and pallets. The next product is always in development.
The economic downturn is, in many ways, fueling the growth at Rentagreenbox. The market for recycled materials has plummeted. Prices are so low that Brown is now spending three or four cents for plastic he was buying for a dollar only months ago. Most of Brown’s clients are not environmentalists, but people looking to save time and money. This reality underscores Brown’s belief that ultimately, “people are fundamentally aligned with environmental business because it’s cheaper.”
Rentagreenbox now has a staff of seventeen, and operates four manufacturing facilities. Their first franchise is opening with eight more scheduled over the next month. Recent coverage in the New York Times led to 200 queries on franchising which Brown hopes, will translate into forty or fifty solid opportunities. As unemployment increases, so does the number of people willing to take a risk on a business model that does well by doing good.
Brown believes in learning as you go. He says now that green is popular, he reads all the bestsellers on sustainability. In some ways, he thinks Rentagreenbox is ahead of the curve. Still, he reads the books and occasionally finds something they’re not yet doing, and adds it to the list.
See a contradiction in green moving? Have an idea for Brown? Share your thoughts…
(image from oc green guide)