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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 for sale.

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' printers."

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 that on.

Visit Treecycle's website.

- Gretchen Brewer
May 2003

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