The New York Times just released a story about Spencer Brown and his three-year old company, Rentagreenbox.com (formerly Earth Friendly Moving). Chelsea Green author Richard Seireeni profiled Spencer’s company in his book, The Gort Cloud: The Invisible Force Powering Today’s Most Visible Green Brands.
In honor of Spencer’s ecopreneurism, we profile him here.
Here’s an excerpt from The Gort Cloud:
It is helpful to examine the industry—or more correctly, the industries—that Spencer was intending to disrupt. What kind of competitive landscape was he planning to enter?
Everyone moves at some point in their lives, generating tons of waste in the form of cardboard boxes and packing materials. It’s one reason why the average US citizen uses up to twenty tons of basic raw materials annually, and why the total yearly waste for all Americans would fill a convoy of garbage trucks long enough to wrap around the earth six times, or reaching halfway to the moon.
In fact, 40 percent of all that waste is made up of paper and cardboard. This is despite the facts that most cardboard contains a substantial amount of recycled paper and that approximately 70 percent of cardboard is recycled—unless, of course, the price of gas continues to go up. Then recycling actually declines because of the cost of moving all that cardboard around. Nevertheless, trees are still cut down to be made into paper boxes with a very short life span that often end up in the ground where they cannot be used again. Spencer adds, “Cardboard has a huge impact in landfills as the glues that bind the paper are not water-based and this chemistry leaches into and contaminates the water table.”
It also takes enormous resources to recycle cardboard boxes—sorting, transporting, washing, agitating back down to pulp, and then remanufacturing into new boxes. When McDonough and Braungart speak of “cradle to cradle,” this is not what they have in mind. Spencer notes, “Each time a box is recycled, only 40 percent is usable, and 60 percent is waste. Also, each time we reuse material, the end product is of lesser quality at a higher price, forcing industry to look at virgin materials, like old-growth trees.”
In the average move, boxes are furnished by the movers, providing an opportunity for extra revenue in a highly competitive and low-margin industry. Spencer estimates that upward of 40 percent of profit comes from the sale of these moving products. Storage facilities, now ubiquitous on the American landscape, sell boxes as well as bubble wrap and tape. The same thing goes for U-Haul or Penske Trucks, as well as UPS, Staples, Kinko’s, the box-and-ship outlets, or anyone selling packing materials.
This is the industry Spencer began to chase in 2005, and he called his alternative Earth Friendly Moving. But despite the name, he had no intention of becoming the green Atlas Movers or the green Starving Students of Orange County. He didn’t want to be a mover at all. Nevertheless, the nature of his idea—to rent out reusable moving boxes made of recycled plastics—would put him in direct competition with the entire moving industry.
Here are two videos about Rentagreenbox.com. The first is a promotional video that explains the business model and the recycling process. The second is a profile of the business from EcoBiz on the Sundance Channel with none-other-than our very own Simran Sethi.
Unfortunately, Rentagreenbox.com is currently only available in Orange County, California and Los Angeles. But, Spencer is selling franchises and hopefully more will begin popping up across the country. Visit their web site for more information. And to read the story behind Rentagreenbox.com, and a dozen other growing green businesses, check out The Gort Cloud by Richard Seireeni.