November 2, 2012

Entrepreneurship thrives in carpet industry

I had the chance late last month to spend a few days in Atlanta with members of one of my favorite organizations: the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE).

CARE is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to increasing landfill diversion through the reuse and recycling of carpet.

CARE provides market-based solutions to better the environment while creating economic incentives for recycling. Its members include independent carpet recyclers, carpet manufacturers, dealers, retailers, suppliers and non-governmental organizations.

The first day was all business for members of the board of CARE, an organization which has been responsible for diverting about two billion pounds of carpet from landfills since its inception in 2002.

But on day two, we had the chance to see entrepreneurship at its best when enterprising business folk from all over this great nation came together with CARE members for the CARE Entrepreneur Annual Meeting.

This day-long event provided an opportunity for those who are already associated with CARE, and those who are hoping to establish their own carpet recovery businesses, to come together, to share ideas, and to network.

One of these entrepreneurs shared a very creative win-win solution with the group. As the director of a Goodwill Industries organization in New Jersey, Scott comes into contact every day with men and women who are down on their luck, but who find work collecting and sorting the items that are donated and then later sold at Goodwill stores.

Because the carpet recovery business relies heavily on the labor intensive skills of collection, sortation and processing, Scott was investigating whether using this “manpower” for collecting and sorting post-consumer carpet is a win-win for his employees, for business and for the environment.

Enter Ron Greitzer of California. Ron was someone who, a number of years ago, was willing to risk his family fortune, to risk everything, to create a business aimed at diverting carpet from landfills and salvaging some of its valuable resources.

He knew, as do other entrepreneurs associated with CARE, that carpet is an extremely valuable resource, partly because of the plastic it contains. This plastic, derived from oil, can be recovered from used carpet and reused for many purposes, including the manufacture of carpet pads or cushions and even new carpet fiber.

Ron wanted to be among those who turned “one man’s junk” into “another man’s treasure.” So he pursued this dream. As a consequence, he went through some very, very hard times, but he stuck with it and persevered. Now he’s on sound footing, successful in ways he’d only dreamed of before. He is likely one of the longest operating carpet recyclers in the world.

There was no lack of enthusiasm in the room that day. During the discussion period, business leaders could be overheard making deals with other attendees. For example, when one gentleman announced, “I have recycled nylon-6 to sell,” another was heard to reply, “I’ll buy it. I turn nylon-6 into automotive parts.” That partnership between these two entrepreneurs will cover both the front end of the process and the back end of the process, providing both businesses with what they need to be successful.

What’s unique about CARE is that it combines meeting our collective goal (reducing waste) and encouraging private enterprise (creating businesses) in a win-win partnership that benefits both the environment and the economy.

CARE is recognized as one of the first true industry/government voluntary partnerships. This is a perfect example of what the country should be striving toward: encouraging free enterprise while making great strides toward a “greener” tomorrow.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.

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