When computers first appeared in the corporate world, industry pundits and computer salesmen predicted that the increasingly popular computers would eventually herald the "paperless office". What they did not foresee — or intentionally ignored — was that those computers were not the only devices being sold by hardware vendors. Specifically, no computer network was considered complete without one or more printers. Likewise, the average consumer purchasing a PC for home business or personal use, would usually accompany it with a printer. In fact, printers were oftentimes bundled with PCs. Consequently, the dream of everyone storing all information online exclusively, in a paperless office, quickly proved hollow, as computer users became accustomed to the ease of printing documents and Web pages that they otherwise would have left online, if not for the availability of high-speed laser printers, to say nothing of ubiquitous copiers.
So what to do with all of the unread memos, useless documents, and other forms of environmentally unfriendly paper waste? While sitting in corporate cubicles — and occasionally toilet stalls — engineers have had plenty of time to ponder this problem. Most companies and other print-happy organizations have elected to contract recycling firms to periodically cart away truckloads of used paper. However, Japanese engineers have come up with an alternative: Nakabayashi, a Tokyo-based manufacturer of paper-related products, will be introducing in August 2009 a machine that converts used copier paper into rolls of toilet paper. Specifically, it will recycle roughly 1800 sheets of A4-sized paper (which weighs about 7.2 kilograms) into two toilet rolls, within one hour. There is no word on whether it can handle the presence of staples, which would be of great concern to users of the toilet paper. Also, what happens to the paper's ink, in the end. Does it end up... on one's end?
The company may not see a huge flow of orders, given that the planned price tag is $95,000 per unit. Other factors that may discourage customers, are the machine's size and weight (600 kilograms), which may limit sales to large sites that produce reams of unwanted paper, and are willing to pay a high price to convert that waste paper into "waste paper". Furthermore, at current prices, $95,000 can buy over 172,000 rolls of toilet paper. On the other hand, corporate inmates may enjoy pointing to this recycling machine as proof of what they have been claiming all along — that the memos they receive from management are only good for tearing into strips for use in the restrooms.
This ingenious device may prove impractical, financially and logistically, but what about environmentally? Converting 7.2 kilograms of paper into only two toilet rolls, suggests that about 90 percent of the fiber is wasted. How much electricity does that consume, and what is the ecological impact of building those machines, shipping them to customers' sites, and later repairing them? This may be an example of good intentions getting wiped out by economic reality.
In the comedy Office Space, the protagonist is admonished by his boss for failing to put the new cover sheet on his "TPS Report" — a term now part of corporate lexicon, to indicate any sort of mindless paperwork. In the movie, it referred to "Test Program Set". But with the Nakabayashi recycling machine, the "TP" may have a whole new meaning in offices of the future.
Among the many factors that affect an individual's decision as to which profession to pursue, certainly one of the underlying influences is that individual's childhood environment — his or her homeland, proximity to nature, and appreciation of it. An excellent example of this principle is the team of Kelly Adham and Teri Jaymes, two sisters who grew up in several naturally beautiful locations within the United States, including horse ranches in the Southwest and in Hawaii. With this ecologically positive background, these two ladies gained a strong emotional connection to nature, and an abiding appreciation for its simple beauty. This background also prompted them to develop a new business, American Family Naturally, launched in June 2008 in Columbus, Ohio. AFN makes available on the Internet a wide variety of products for women, men, babies, and pets. There are automotive and household items, as well as cards and gift wrap. All of the products are chosen so as to promote sustainability, such as the use of silky bamboo for much of the clothing choices. Customers have expressed their delight with the quality of the merchandise, the willingness of customer service to locate desired products, and the number of items made in the United States. Both Kelly and Teri hope that each purchase from their online store will increase the environmental awareness of their customers, and their connection to Mother Nature.
Entrepreneurs who create environmentally- and socially-responsible businesses, do so for a variety of reasons. Some such businesses are exclusively online, while others hew to the traditional brick-and-mortar model. Ellen Gavin and Marti Markus — of Minneapolis, Minnesota — opened a clothing store in their area in May 2005, and later launched an online version of their store in November 2008. Ellen and Marti were motivated to create Birch Clothing because they wanted to make it easy for community members to purchase clothing that is attractive, functional, affordable, gentle on the planet, and manufactured under fair labor conditions. In fact, this enterprising duo requires that all of their clothing vendors complete questionnaires ascertaining the labor conditions experienced by their workers, as well as the environmental sustainability of the materials used in the manufacturing of their clothes. Visitors to the Birch Clothing stores — both online and off — will find a large selection of apparel and accessories for women, men, infants, and babies. The items are made from recycled and sustainable materials, such as hemp, organic cotton, bamboo, soy, merino, and lyocell (a well-regarded new natural/synthetic clothing material manufactured using regenerated cellulose from wood pulp). Birch Clothing also offers a number of accessories, including bags, belts, hats, jewelry, and wallets. In addition, Ellen and Marti offer all sorts of household items, such as towels, sheets, candles, lotions, and soaps. Visit their site today, and see how easy it is to find stylish clothing made of high-quality and sustainable materials.
Apparel made of eco-friendly natural fibers — such as hemp and organic cotton — experienced a surge in popularity during the 1960s, but soon acquired a reputation for being rather baggy, colorless, and unflattering. Unfortunately, many uninformed shoppers still have those old misconceptions, and continue to patronize big box stores that offer only conventional materials made with crops and chemicals harmful to the planet. Yet the tide may be turning, partly due to the efforts of people like Andrew and Nichole Warner, a couple living in Lake Leelanau, Michigan. It all started many years ago, when Nichole had a vision of retailing beautiful socially-conscious handmade goods from artisans around the globe. At the same time, she was selling apparel at Grateful Dead concerts, as well as traveling to Panama and Ecuador. In the spring of 2006, in Traverse City, Michigan, she and Andrew opened a brick-and-mortar store, to embody their passion for selling attractive and fair-trade clothing. They soon after began developing an online equivalent, Unity-Fair Trade Marketplace, and shifted to Web-based retailing full-time in the fall of 2008, at which time they sold the physical store to some good friends. Their notably colorful website offers all sorts of terrific fare-trade products, in ten categories: housewares (baskets, coasters, kitchen goods, table linens, and tea accessories), home furnishings (candles, bookends, pottery, statues, and other art), jewelry, bags (purses, totes, slings, and wallets), children's items (including games and toys), world music, musical instruments, coffee, gifts, and cards. In the future they will be adding some clothing products. Not only is Unity-Fair Trade Marketplace a proud member of several fair-trade and green organizations, but Andrew and Nichole are establishing a similar fund for their local community, to support worthy causes.
Letters and guest articles posted in the Newsletter section of the Forum or sent to the publisher become the property of PristinePlanet.com, and may be edited for brevity or clarity prior to publication.