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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 country.

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 of consumption.

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," he notes.

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 (, 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 (, 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
May 2003

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