Rick Meis founded Treecycle in 1990 to bring the best recycled
paper available to Montana and the Intermountain west. After 5 years
selling mainly in Bozeman, Missoula, and Helena, MT, Treecycle launched
its website and began mail order sales. This move rapidly doubled
sales, bringing accounts in all 50 states.
The company slogan - "Recycled paperÉthe other half of recycling"
- captures Treecycle's vision of connectedness - as a cog in the
recycling loop, and as an actor in larger environmental causes.
Besides getting recycled paper finished products out to the public,
thus supporting paper recycling collection programs, Treecycle staff
are mindful of virgin resource extraction, energy consumption, water
pollution, solid waste, and other aspects of products they choose
Erich Degner, Treecycle's new owner since 2002, has preserved this
connectedness philosophy. He, his wife Holly, and two other staff
balance conservation goals with sustainable business practices.
They converted to biodiesel fuel for the truck that delivers paper
both locally and throughout Montana, and they offer a wealth of
environmental education resources at their website.
Erich says, "We keep product prices as competitive as possible
by reducing overhead and offering few frills and no fancy catalogs."
The company used to offer printing services through a tie-in with
another local firm, but dropped this as not cost-effective. "We
were spending too much time sending drafts back and forth to get
them right," says Erich. "Now we just ship paper directly to customers'
Treecycle offers "the whole gamut" of recycled and environmental
paper products. Erich explains, "For stationery, office papers,
napkins and tissue products, our main emphasis is selling the highest
post-consumer fiber content available. We believe there is an unlimited
supply of paper going to landfills now, and we should tap this resource
first. We recently added a whole stationery line of Living Tree's
paper that's 10% hemp and 90% postconsumer, but we mainly push the
100% postconsumer content."
Their postconsumer paper products include: printing and writing
papers, commodity papers such as copy paper, computer paper, envelopes,
labels, announcements, bags and packaging, stationery, pads, notebooks
and covers, hanging folders, and more. Treecycle also sells food
service and deli products made from unbleached virgin paper, including
paper plates, cups, bowls, and cup holders.
Erich says the company has grown "almost too fast" since they went
to online selling. "Our site gets lots of hits and turns up in the
top 10 listings on most search engines. We believe it's the Treecycle
Recycled Paper name."
Business is lively also because they sell to an important, under-served
niche market, small quantity buyers. Sales generally range from
a $25 minimum up to a pallet-load. They do not sell rail car or
truck loads. Through efficient warehousing and drop-ship sales,
they provide just-in-time deliveries to most locations.
Treecycle's customers include a wide array of conservation and
environmental groups, many individuals and buying clubs, natural
food stores, restaurants, bakeries, law firms, consulting firms,
and a whole host of other businesses.
Erich joined Treecycle as a sales rep in 1999. It was the perfect
opportunity for him, as well as for the company. Growing up in the
San Francisco Bay Area, he had seen firsthand the environmental
problems caused by over-population and over-development. He went
to school in Oregon, got an environmental planner degree, and tried
working in government. He soon decided environmental business was
the more direct connection to "making a difference," and went back
to school for a business degree.
"It was my lucky chance when I saw Rick's ad for another employee,"
Erich proclaims. "I had the business know-how, and spent two years
learning the environmental paper side. When Rick decided to move
on to other things, it was perfect timing for me to buy the company."
Balancing the connectedness vision and sound business is a delicate
art. In summer, 1998, Rick spent 46 days hiking the Corridor of
Life linking the Yellowstone Ecosystem with the Glacier-Bob Marshall
Ecosystem. Corridors of Life are thin biological threads of unprotected
land in between protected areas such as national parks. The Corridors
have been identified by American Wildlands, a Bozeman, MT conservation
group, as critical connecting habitats for wildlife, but they are
under threat from ranching, tourism, and logging. Rick's 46-day
"groundtruth" journal describes the wonders of mountain vistas and
wildlife in collision with human growth and development activities,
and asks if a sustainable balance can be preserved for all.
Rick's development of Treecycle was an exploration into balancing
business with environment. Erich Degner is well suited to carry
Visit Treecycle's website.
- Gretchen Brewer