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February 27, 2008

The Business of Green Part 1: Doug Farquhar of Renovos & BuyGreen.com

 

Have you heard the complaint that living in a sustainable way simply costs too much money? Well, there are a few people out there who would beg to differ. Since I began my own journey into the world of environmental responsibility, I’ve met some great people who not only think we can save money and the earth at the same time, they actually make their living helping others to do just that.

In my next couple of posts, I’d like to introduce a few of these people. Part 1 is about Doug Farquhar, who began the company Renovos, a consulting firm that helps companies find ways to reduce their waste. I met Doug several months ago, when he contacted me about his project, Rejavanate, reusable tote bags made from recycled coffee sacks, which I wrote about back in September. If you haven’t seen that post, check it out. It’s a great story.

I ran into Doug again at the SF Green Festival where he was exhibiting for his second company, BuyGreen.com, which is currently running a paid ad at the top of my web site. When I decided to allow advertising on Fake Plastic Fish, I contacted him directly to invite him to place an ad because I really appreciate the way he does business. This post, however, is not not paid advertising and was unsolicited by Doug.

Here’s how Doug got into this business, in his own words:

I always have had an interest in the green and eco-friendly space. A friend of mine had started working with his father doing consulting for companies in respect to reducing their waste. This was really the genesis for Renovos. I was tired of working in the corporate world and thought that there was an opportunity to do good and make money too. I firmly believe that if the green movement is to be successful, those two things can not be mutually exclusive. So I thought I would put my money where my mouth is and launched both companies – at different times.

As I was spending more time looking at different things around waste and eco strategies, I noticed that there were a lot of really great green products. However, they were located all over the place…. Also, I was struggling with exactly why products were green. I would read the descriptions and in many instances they were not very different from the product descriptions you would get on Target.com, Macy.com or Amazon.com. Yes when I looked at the products, they felt green and there was some intuitive understanding, but no objective measure.

So BuyGreen.com developed its Green Standards system in order to rate products based on the environmental impact throughout their life cycle. The green standards consider four key areas: 1). Source Material, 2). Manufacturing, 3). Usage, and 4). Disposal. Each product considered for sale on BuyGreen.com is given a numeric score in each of these four areas, and these scores are posted on the product’s info page. But also, in addition to a simple scoring system, each product comes with a downloadable Green Standards PDF-format detail sheet which gives much more information about the product’s impact from cradle to grave.

I asked Doug about the packaging that BuyGreen uses to ship its products out, and he kindly forwarded me the logo they stamp on all their boxes, saying “…we have never bought a new box or any packing material.” Right on!

So I also asked him about the plastic content of particular products on the site. There are, for example, natural cleaning and body products in plastic bottles, just as there are on all the other green products sites. But there are also quite a few products that are plastic-free.

I was particularly interested in the Twist loofah kitchen sponges, which I haven’t seen in any stores around here. Doug says the loofah sponge and the naked sponge are wrapped only in paper with zero plastic. But there are quite a few other plastic-free products on the site if you look. He says that their biggest seller overall are the BioBags because there are so many “people who want to use something other than plastic bags.”

So that’s Doug’s story. Tomorrow, I’ll write about a woman who is greening events and businesses in San Francisco, and who joined me at the muddy Jepson Prairie compost facility a few weeks ago and wrote all about the tour. These are the people who are making a living by making a difference.

And as a postscript, I’d just like to offer some compassion for the 20,000 Chinese employees who lost their jobs this past month when China’s largest plastic bag manufacturer went out of business as a result of the bag ban. It’s easy to feel smug about “the bad guys” going out of business. But in this world, there really are no bad guys. There are just people doing the best they can. Let’s hope that these particular people will be able to find healthy jobs in businesses that are good for the environment. Let’s hope that green businesses and green jobs will increase as awareness grows worldwide.
 



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23 comments
Tanya
Tanya

Hi Beth-I was going to tell you about those sponges! I bought them at Whole Foods in SF. Good old-fashioned dish rags work well too! :)

Mars
Mars

Beth-Thank you. You are not only doing your part to make this world better in whatever way you can, you're also compassionate about your fellow-woman/man. Not often people with such strong beliefs see past that and acknowledge that we're all just here tryoing to do what we can. Kudos to ou!!

Anna
Anna

osuannuals, it depends on the area you live in if you can recycle them. In NJ where there is a lot of farmers, the county near the farmers instituted a take back and the plastic is picked up by a plastic dealer. I think in St Louis the arboretum takes them back for a plastic lumber person too. The key is to find a plastic person who wants your pots.Here are your choices if no one will take them for recycling. Reuse them or perhaps consider for smaller plants to use Ecoforms which are biodegradable in a couple of years. Made out of grain husk. No plastic. If I recall they only go up to 12 inch but I wrote about them almost year ago so things may have changed. By the way, they are really pretty too.I happen to reuse my pots over and over again like Peter advised. I hope this helps. By the way, Beth, Doug is a great guy. I am glad you posted a picture of him because I had no idea what he looked like. Anna www.green-talk.com

axelle
axelle

This is just a comment of thanks for all you do. Thanks!

Peter H
Peter H

as for plastic plant pots.....reuse them! There is a thriving business in used plastic pots at our local landfill. A quick wash, a dry in the sun and even a bit of bleach to kill any disease is a good option. At around 20c a pot it is CHEAP.Also see http://abovecapricorn.blogspot.com about using jatropha oil.And as for the loofahs...they are more easily grown in the tropics.

Kirsten
Kirsten

Hi Beth --What a great idea for a blog! I agree that there's much work to be done. As part of my daily job, I patrol beaches in Florida monitoring nesting shorebirds and sea turtles (I'm a sea turtle biologist, but it's a little early in the year for amny of them yet...). I could spend all day picking up plastic on 'my' beaches and still not make a dent in them. I do make an effort though, especially to get things like grocery bag and balloons that sea turtles often mistake for jellyfish, which is a favored food of some species. After you've seen ust one turtle lose a flipper because of platic entanglement, or starve because they've been eating balloons instead of food, it will really change your perspective.Reducing plastic use in every avenue, not just grocery bags and helium balloons really will help. Keep up the great work!Kirsten

arduous
arduous

This is totally off topic but I just noticed you're one of Blogger's Blogs of Note this week! w00t! that is so awesome!! Your Technorati rating is going to blow up. :)

Nature Nut /JJ Loch
Nature Nut /JJ Loch

Super blog. I'm glad Blog Catalog posted it so I could find it. :DJJ

Rosa
Rosa

osuannuals, i've tried 3 years in a row to grow loofahs. They make pretty flowers, but no fruit - I'm in Minnesota, with a shady lot (though last year I gave them my sunniest spot!) and I think our growing season may just not be long enough. So easy to grow may depend on where you are. Thank you for the spotlight, Beth! You may not see immediate results, a lot of us don't buy things often, but having the background information definitely makes a difference for me when I do buy things.

C. Marie Byars
C. Marie Byars

Your blog was a blog of note. So I took a look!!! Well, I'm farily conservative as a Christian but kinda middle-of-the-road on politics and slightly left-of-center on both environmentalism & gun control (because I believe that my faith actually informs me to move in thoe directions).

chimerastone
chimerastone

I find that general plastics are a problem now a days. If it's not plastic bags more like bottles used for mineral water. There's a company which sells high quality bags made from plastic bottles. They are proper rucksacks. It's better to reuse and recycle. I take old stuff and turn it into something new. There's another reason plastic bags were banned because they are bad for the turtles as it stuck inside their stomachs.

NOTHING TO SEE HERE :O
NOTHING TO SEE HERE :O

Hi there, I find it hard to understand how and why people feel like they need or want to live in non sustainable ways. I try and do my best at helping and find that its at no extra costs to me and actually living this way benefits us!I saw someone mention about the dish brushes too- I bought one from Kutchenprofi, you keep the handle forever and as little as once per year and sometimes more, you buy a small naturally made brush to attach to the end of the handle.

xrd1
xrd1

Non-degradable plastics are doomed by the current petroleum/economic cycle(s) observed worldwide today. Plastics and petroleum-based products play a major role in consumer mass-market/s and consumer and other forms of packaging. When the global economy finally experiences the predicted phenomena of "peak oil", oil and petroleum prices will be too high to support the current consumer product and packaging markets. The new macroeconomics will push down the microeconomics of large-scale small product-package consumer products. Therefore, markets beginning at the consumer level will drive out newly scarce and high-priced products to be replaced with more abundant (and lower cost) alternative resources; e.g., silica, glass, sand and so on. Consumers will find themselves returning to "old-fashioned" glass packaging and perhaps some biodegradable and other degradable packaging and other products.

OSUannuals
OSUannuals

Fantastic Blog. I am a horticulturist and I have a comment and a question. As far as Luffa go, they are very easy plants to grow in the garden with culture similar to other cucurbits (vine crops like cucumbers, pumpkins and melon) and is technically a type of gourd. Each plant will produce 5-10 fruit which can be dried and skinned easily to provide luffa sponges. I hate to advertise, but the seeds are available commercially on the web from companies like territorial seed and burpee.My question has to do with plastic collecting and recycling. Many nurseries and greenhouses in my area use plastic pots, and while biodegradable options are increasing, I am looking for some short term options that do not include a landfill. If anyone has done this kind of work or knows anything about initiating a recylcing program for #5 and 6 plastics let me know.Thanks

Clif
Clif

Thanks for the tip on the ORV Alguita site a while back. Very interesting voyage.On today's post you said "But in this world, there really are no bad guys. There are just people doing the best they can."If only that were the case.

Oberon
Oberon

....did you know there is ten pounds of plastic for every pound of food in the pacific ocean whirlpool?.....where ocean currents collect plastic trash from around the world....and that's the point...all plastic ends up as trash.

wasteweardaily
wasteweardaily

Great post. Thanks for the lowdown on the buygreen site. I will check it out. I can't believe 20,000 Chinese people lost their jobs because there is less need for plastic bags. It is insane. I too hope they are able to find other jobs.Cindy in FL

organicneedle
organicneedle

Fantastic post. I totally agree with Doug that the key is to make financial gain and environmental gain work together. It is the only way to get the big players, the biggest contributers to waste and pollution, to clean up. I love the 4 point standard. I have been struggling with these exact issues. Trying to choose suppliers and products responsibly is so overwhelming. I wish everything was rated that way with the Green Standards. He makes it sound so possible! The naked packaging and the reused packaging are so encouraging. It really makes me want to bring everything to the next eco-level in terms of product and packaging.

Tracey
Tracey

Ditto to Burbanmom's comments.Dish sponges are a struggle in my house. I decided to stop buying new ones 5 years ago, and to use only natural loofahs cut into sponge sized sections. So just as I was on the last danged yellow and green plastic sponge, I had knee surgery and the good folks taking care of me bought two new bags of sponges. Then, this summer, I was again on to using the last of the plastic sponges. My housemate's boyfriend then picked up a new package, alas!Now, woe is me, I can't find my natural loofahs from which to make my loofah soaps, or do the dishes with! If you have a Chinatown in your city, you may be able to see these long naked sponges for sale for $1-$5. These are from a squash plant called marrow, that are dried, peeled and the seeds are shaken out. What you are left with is a long tubular sponge thing that if you cut cross sectioned, makes and awesome scrubber that's washable and compostable. The longer you use it, the softer it gets.You can also use them long in the bath tub or shower instead of plastic scrubbers and those hellish plastic puffs.Thank you, Beth, for this blog! I look forward to reading it every morning!Love & RRRevolution, Tracey TieF

Burbanmom
Burbanmom

Oh. My. Gourd. I just checked out those sponges on BuyGreen.com and I have to say. WOWZIE! That link? On the bottom? Where you get to check out the green standards for the product? THAT ROCKS!!!! This is going to be as addictive as the Skin Deep Database!Thanks for introducing us to such a cool company!

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