Revolution in a Bottle: How TerraCycle Redefines Green Business

Revolution in a bottle photo

My book, Revolution in a Bottle, hit the streets this week. It follows the story of TerraCycle from our beginnings in my dorm room, shoveling maggot filled organic waste, to creating products we sold to Wal-Mart and other major big box retailers, getting sued by Scotts and creating "sponsored waste" programs to upcycle branded waste. It also offers insights on how we approach media and pursue new opportunities. Read on to catch an excerpt from the book.
In many ways, what follows are lessons I learned on the job as an untrained and highly instinctual entrepreneur. TerraCycle taught me extreme forms of bootstrapping, and many of the innovations for which we are known were responses to failures of initial attempts in packaging, marketing, product development and even investor pitches.

For me, the key to our success was having one big idea—making the greenest, most affordable and effective products from waste—and holding firmly to it. As you will see, there were numerous times when, for example, to attract investment, we might have compromised our environmental commitments, but if we did, TerraCycle would have ended up like one of many companies, rather than in a league of its own. We let the idea of our company—producing a range of green products made from and packaged in waste without charging a premium for them—live and grow within us.

Not only did that commitment distinguish us with our immediate customers (large retail companies), and with end consumers, local and national press and with our sponsored waste brand partners, it also gave us cost advantages over other companies producing green products.

TerraCycle's story is one of getting people interested and involved. One of the lessons I have learned over the years, is people have to care about your business to support your efforts. This has helped differentiate TerraCycle from many other companies over the years. After all, how many other companies pay 15,000 schools to recycle? You can believe every one of the those students, teachers and parents is a TerraCycle supporter.

Getting Readers to Interact with the Book
To help make my book more than a passive activity, and make each reader a participant in my Revolution, I worked with a favorite partner of mine, Bear Naked, who makes incredible organic granola, to create a unique consumer involvement program. We decided to print prepaid postage on the inside cover of my book and instruct people to remove the cover, fill it with used granola bags and return to TerraCycle, free of charge! For every cover returned, Bear Naked is donating 1 dollar to the Arbor Day Foundation to a plant a tree. Since my book is printed on 100% post-consumer paper, our hope is with enough returns we can confidently say that my book helped plant more trees than it helped cut down!

Pulling a Business Up by the Bootstraps
I'm curious. Have you ever bootstrapped a business? Maybe that's how you approach life generally (like me, wink). I like the idea of being under-resourced at the beginning, because it requires you to find value where others do not and it deepens your commitment. I'd be interested in any arguments to the contrary.

Also, have you formed your work around a single big idea? I'm interested in others' stories that follow this theme. I believe there are broader lessons here which may have implications beyond business. If you do read my book, I hope you enjoy it; I'll be interested in your reactions, which you can post here.

More on Terracycle Over Time
Send Your Yogurt Cups, Energy-Bar Wrappers, Bottles to TerraCycle
Terracycle and Sponsored Waste
TerraCycle Announces Initiative to Collect Non-Recyclable Waste at Big Box Stores Nationwide
TerraCycle Turns Computer Parts into Flower Pots (Video)
Terracycle's Waste to Profit Story Creates Media Buzz