Tom Kemper, founder of Dolphin Blue, is a man with a heartfelt
mission to help people find and buy eco-friendly paper and office
products. He also wants them to understand how important this is.
He says, "I used to be a happy, uninformed consumer. I'd buy every
new toy that came along. It took me awhile to see that the Earth
can't keep giving the same bounty, or stand up to environmental
abuses, with the strain from overpopulation. We're mortgaging away
our children's future."
As a child growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Tom remembers seeing
trucks coming through in the summer spraying waste oil to control
dust on unpaved roads. He and his neighbors didn't know the oil
contained dioxin (Agent Orange), and this was Monsanto's way of
"disposing" of it.
After moving to Dallas in 1980, Tom made a visit back home. All
the streams he had enjoyed as a child were devoid of vegetation
and the trout were gone. About the same time, EPA closed down the
entire town of Times Beach, Missouri - once a thriving coastal resort
getaway. Like Love Canal, the town was made uninhabitable by industrial
dumping of dioxin, now known to be a highly toxic chemical. This
got Tom thinking.
At the Dallas Shakespeare Festival, his interest in recycling was
sparked when he noticed all the cans, glass and plastic bottles
being trashed. He organized a volunteer team and set up collection
stations with a person at each drop-off to guide festival-goers
on which items to put into color-coded bins.
Working with the Coalition for Environmental Education in Dallas
(CEED), Tom also helped start a curbside pickup service. Around
this time, Newsweek and Time magazine cover photos showed the infamous
Mobro barge searching the Atlantic coast for a port to accept its
load of garbage. Greenpeace's "Not In My Back Yard" banner and the
new term NIMBY triggered a wave of recycling start-ups across the
The connection beyond collection was clear to Tom. "Why collect
all this stuff if it's not going to be recycled? For it all to work,
people need to buy the new products made from recycled materials."
Hence the birth in 1993 of Dolphin Blue, Tom's environmental paper
and office supply company in Dallas, TX. The slogan, "Investing
in nature's capital, a carton of paper at a time," reflects his
commitment to raising individual awareness of the ecological impacts
Says Tom, "If people just knew that that cheap $22 carton of copy
paper they buy at the superstore is actually rainforest trees from
a factory ship coming in from Indonesia, maybe they'd understand
there's a greater environmental cost than what shows up on the invoice.
We have to awaken people to participating in this whole process
of being human beings, in the full sense of the term."
The company's e-commerce site features easy online shopping. Products
include high postconsumer/processed chlorine free printing, writing
and copy papers; custom-sized and standard PC envelopes; tree-free
papers; remanufactured toner cartridges; and a large range of other
recycled content office supplies.
The Why Buy These Products section has excellent information on
chlorine bleach impacts, recycled paper prices, trees saved through
buying recycled, and ecological benefits of remanufactured toner
cartridges. Tom says the key to his business success is getting
across to individuals. "We're dealing with people - they'll find
ways, if they like what they hear, to support their belief systems,"
Finding receptive allies helped win several major accounts. Dolphin
Blue supplies United Parcel Service (UPS) with remanufactured toner
cartridges and 80% recycled PCF copy paper because the employees
and managers wanted to make environmentally responsible decisions.
Same with the USPS, but only after more explanations. Says Tom,
"With the U.S. Postal Service, we found our specialty in converting
and supplying high postconsumer envelopes helped them meet their
Saving Our American Resources (SOAR) program goals."
Customers range from small home-based businesses, CPAs, law offices
and architectural firms to medium and large 'mainstream' Fortune
500 companies. Dolphin Blue also has a General Services Administration
(GSA) contract to supply federal agencies, and recently sold 56
million envelopes to the Social Security Administration.
For buyers wanting product certification, Tom provides chain of
custody letters tracing environmental attributes back to the paper
mills. He offers bulk pricing on large orders, but also serves small
buyers by repackaging to minimum 100 sheet orders. "Our success
is that we're creating change at all levels," Tom confirms. "It's
been hard work, but we're about to hit the $1 million mark."
With unstoppable energy and great faith in networking, Tom wears
many hats. In 1997, he started Sustainable Dallas (sustainabledallas.org),
a non-profit organization showcasing leading green businesses and
sustainability innovators in annual conferences for Dallas businesses,
government, institutions, and citizens. Past speakers include Ray
Anderson of Interface Corporation (Tom's personal hero), Ben of
Ben and Jerry's, and Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry.
Keynote conference speakers for the 2003 energy focus are Amory
Lovins, co-author of Natural Capital, and Dr. Joseph Romm, author
of Cool Companies.
Tom's other hat keeps him going, no matter the ups and downs of
the environmental paper business. Through yet another organization
he founded, East Dallas House Concerts (EastDallasHouseConcerts.com),
Tom joins an extended family of local and visiting musicians in
weekly concerts and jam sessions around Dallas. "Music is my therapy,"
he confides, "and my musician friends are family."
Our thanks to music, then, for keeping the rhythm of Dolphin Blue
resounding for environmental papers.
Visit Dolphin Blue's website.
- Gretchen Brewer