An environmental science major in college, Poss, 34, founded Seahorse in Needham, Massachusetts, after stints at a solar energy equipment maker and a start-up that developed battery-operated motors for electric vehicles. Taking apart his mom's trash compactor as a kid provided inspiration, too. Still, Poss faced his share of skeptical garbage guys who thought solar was expensive and weak. Then they saw it work--even in the rain. Today the bins, which cost about $4,000 each, are on the streets of Boston, the New York City borough of Queens, and Cincinnati. Cincinnati parks superintendent Gerald Checco hopes to go from 10 cans to 200 within the next couple of years. That will let his department retire one of its two garbage trucks and reduce collections at the city's 100 parks to every other day. "With budget cuts, we have to be more inventive with our dollars," Checco says. "BigBelly is a great idea based on very sound and very simple precepts." Revenue is expected to exceed $1 million this year, but that's only the beginning, Poss says. He has commercial plans for BigBelly, as well. Next up: custom-designed BigBellys. His dream is to create a coffee-cup-shaped bin for Starbucks, with a recycling container.
It's a nice phrase: "residential small wind." It refers to wind turbines that can provide most or even all of the electricity for a house. The leader in the field is a Flagstaff, Arizona, company called Southwest Windpower.
Southwest's latest model, the Skystream 3.7, shipped in September. It runs $10,000 to $12,000, installed. It has three six-foot blades, which spin almost silently. The company now sells as many as 2,200 wind turbines a month and will sell its 100,000th unit sometime this year. "Our growth is coming not so much because of environmental issues," says Andy Kruse, who co-founded the company 20 years ago with David Calley, "but because it makes financial sense. We're seeing a merge between renewables and electricity."
In April, Southwest secured $8 million in capital from venture capitalists. The VCs installed Frank Greco, a veteran of the manufacturing industry, as the company's CEO, and he has hopes for Southwest that are both immediate and far-reaching. Greco wants to improve Southwest's 35 percent market share in small wind by placing Southwest's turbines in places like Home Depot (NYSE:HD) within the next year or so. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that up to 13 million homes in North America are potential users of wind turbines.
In the category of solutions being no less important for being mundane: Teko Socks works hard to ensure that just about every aspect of the socks it makes, and its business itself, is low in environmental impact. "Maybe I'm a little compulsive, but we really try to look at everything we do," says Jim Heiden, the company's founder and CEO. Depending on the style, Tekos are made from organic cotton, wool from a family farm in Tasmania that uses sustainable practices, or recycled polyester made from old soda bottles and industrial waste. All Teko dyes are certified environmentally safe, all the electricity used in the company's headquarters and factory in Boulder, Colorado, is offset through the purchase of wind credits, and all the company's minimal packaging is done on recycled chipboard. When the company goes to trade shows, its display is made of recycled sawdust. There's more, but you get the point.
Good karma, good socks. An endurance runner named Sean Burch recently wore Tekos to set a record (five hours, 28 minutes) for a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Furniture making is another one of those sausage businesses: You don't really want to know what goes into the product. But perhaps you should. Manufacturing furniture is typically wasteful and toxic, involving the use of virgin wood and harsh stains and adhesives. Josh Dorfman, founder of Vivavi, a retailer of environmentally responsible furniture based in Brooklyn, New York, is helping to clean up the industry.
Vivavi showcases a network of designers from across the country, all of whom create stylish furniture from sustainable resources. The pieces range from sharp and modern to warm and earthy, but there does seem to be a certain shared consciousness among Vivavi's designers. "A designer's job is to solve challenges," says Todd Laby, whose Rhubarb Décor designs are sold at Vivavi. Those challenges range from finding manufacturers willing to work with new materials like bamboo to calculating the ultimate impact of their creations. "It's important to me to use green materials because I am putting stuff into the world and wherever it ends up, I'm sort of responsible," Laby says.
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