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The Color of Tomorrow’s Money

The road to green business practices becomes a path to profits

By Dean Patton
Port of Seattle
A group of employees of Pacific Market International decided it was time for their Seattle-based company to become as “green” a company as it
could be. They went to their CEO and put it to him straight: “We think this
is important,” they said.

And so did their CEO, Rob Harris, who charged them with figuring out how
do to it and coming up with a plan.

So Carol Schreitmueller, Valerie Bone, Sarah George and Tami Fujii spent
the next two months analyzing PMI’s product line, which includes an array
of plastic food and drink containers (as well as that lunchbox icon, the
Stanley thermos bottle). They studied consumer trends, researched supply chain questions, catalogued sustainability case studies, laid out what steps to take and listed potential benefits to the company.

“We wrote up a report and translated it into a PowerPoint presentation,” Schreitmueller says. “We took our detailed ‘Sustainability at PMI’ three-year plan into the management team, made our case, and they said, ‘OK. Let’s get started.’ That was it.”

Three years later PMI, a privately held company with 135 employees, annual sales creeping toward $100 million, and offices in Shanghai, the U.K., Minneapolis, Chicago and the Philippines, seems not only a poster child for green business evolution, but also proof that going green is not that mysterious difficult or financially fatal.

Today, many of the new products it sells to its impressive customer list ? Target, Kohls, Wal-Mart, REI, Kmart, Fred Meyer, Kroger, Rite Aid and Starbucks among them ? are made from recycled material and in some cases may also be recyclable. Its launch of the new Aladdin Sustain product assortment features 100-percent recycled materials and a new alternative-material plastic water bottle that doesn’t contain the controversial chemical bisphenol A (which recently doomed the ubiquitous Nalgene bottle).

Every chair in PMI’s new headquarters on Elliott Avenue is made from recycled materials; the carpet is 20 percent postindustrial waste and 80 percent post consumer waste; the flooring, a material called Marmoleum, is made from all organic, sustainable materials; the paints are low in volatile organic compounds.

“We all got our heads around it, and it’s been tremendous,” says Harris, who admits he was a “latecomer” to this idea called sustainability. “All of our product line ? they’re all reusable products now. And you know, I feel better about it. It’s worth a lot.”

It’s also good for business. “Because consumers are really getting on the green bandwagon, it supports a lot of what we’re doing,” he says. “And we can make money at it.”

As recently as last autumn, Harris notes retailers told him they were “interested” in green products, but warned that new green products would have to be priced the same as similar items that were not manufactured in sustainable ways.

“We finally got a few retailers to take the Aladdin Sustain line on, and the product has performed exceptionally well,” Harris says with a satisfied smile. “It’s outselling the forecast, and we’re really excited that consumers are embracing what we’re doing.”

First published in Washington CEO
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