Companies that cut pollution for profit

Look past climate treaties, clean-water laws, and environmental
regulators. The real way to clean up the planet is through nimble

By Laurent Belsie | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

(Thanks to A. Volkerts (Happy Anniversary Honey…) for sending this along- Russ)

At least that’s the driving ideology behind a new breed of small
businesses. They’re hot-growth companies using technology to
reduce pollution. They even have a name: "green gazelles."

For the most part, these firms run on the
fringes of the manufacturing world. But as
environmental regulation tightens worldwide,
their methods and products are starting to
move into the mainstream. If their ideas
catch on, industry could become "green"
much faster than anyone anticipates.

"The gazelles generate most of the new
technology, most of the new jobs, most of
the new wealth in the United States," says
Mark Clevey, a green-gazelle consultant and
vice president of the Small Business
Association of Michigan in Lansing. "A green
gazelle is using its green advantage to grow rapidly."

For example: Consider your average truck stop, with row upon row of
trucks idling in a lot while their drivers sleep.

By law, truckers have to rest eight hours for every 10 hours on the
road. They keep their engines running to say warm in the winter and
cool in the summer even though it means guzzling fuel, wearing down
the engine, and spewing loads of pollutants into the air.

Enter IdleAire Technologies, a Knoxville, Tenn., firm that’s giving
truckers an alternative. For $1.25 an hour – a little less than what
they’d spend on fuel to idle for an hour – drivers can pull into a
special parking station, turn off their engines, and pull down a unit
that offers heat and cold air plus electric power, digital television, and
high-speed Internet service.

The program not only saves truckers money and engine wear, it also
offers truck stops and state-owned rest areas a new source of
revenue. More important, the system could eliminate up to 34 million
of tons of emissions a year if it catches on.

"It’s kind of a large win for everybody," says Tom Badgett, chief
operating officer for IdleAire. Conceived during a camping expedition
less than two years ago, the company is building its first facility at
Hunts Point Market, a huge food-distribution facility in the Bronx.

Sites will soon pop up on the New York Thruway. By year end, Mr.
Badgett hopes to have 2,000 to 4,000 parking spaces operating
around the country.

"We have to grow very fast to maintain the network," says Mr.
Badgett. The company currently employs 25 people. By year end, it
could have 10 times that many.

Maybe trucking isn’t the most dynamic industry. But it’s often that
way for green gazelles. To make the biggest splash, they wade into
the least glamorous industries. Like car bumpers.

"We do recover some oddball materials," says Mark Lieberman, chief
executive of American Commodities, a plastic compound and
recycling company. Using its proprietary technology, the Flint, Mich.,
firm recovers plastic from bumpers and car instrument panels,
refrigerator liners and shelves, even computer keyboards and monitor

Then it turns the plastic into pellets of the original material, which
manufacturers can mold into the same part again. "We recover parts
that otherwise would end up in landfills," Mr. Lieberman says.

Although new European rules that force auto companies to recycle
their cars have pushed a lot of business toward American
Commodities, most of its products end up in the hands of American

Why? Because companies find the process normally saves them up
to 40 percent off the cost of manufacturing the same part using virgin
materials, Lieberman says. That’s the secret of green gazelles. Their
products aren’t only greener, they’re less expensive than the
traditional way of doing things.

"For the most part, they see green technologies as an emerging
market and a place they can develop a comparative advantage," says
Mr. Clevey, who also works as a consultant identifying green
gazelles for the Center for Small Business and the Environment
(CSBE). And "they’re not a one-horse trick. If this doesn’t work,
they’ll try something else."

T/J Technologies started out researching ultra-hard coatings for the
military a decade ago. Then its researchers discovered that some of
their materials had energy applications, so the company moved into
batteries and, from there, fuel cells. "We need to find ways to create
more power and energy, and we need to do it more cleanly," says
Maria Thompson, president of the energy-conversion and
storage-development company in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The firm was named one of the state’s fastest-growing research
companies a few years back. But investor interest in fuel cells waxes
and wanes.

The CSBE hopes to help green gazelles by creating business
associations that can represent them in state legislatures and in
Washington. "It’s not a level playing field," says CSBE executive
director Byron Kennard. "Look at the ability of the big oil, the big
automobile companies to control the politics."

Finding political supporters for this new breed has proved a rocky
road so far. "I think the environmental movement is still mesmerized
by the Fortune 500 and centralized institutions in Washington, D.C.,"
Mr. Kennard says. And "nobody sees this small-business
entrepreneur saving the world – as we do."

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