Most environmental issues pit environmentalists against business interests. But now, people on both sides say working together might be the only way to help the nation’s economy, and preserve natural resources. So they’re teaming up to promote a group of fast-growing, environmentally-friendly small businesses called “Green Gazelles.” The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Most environmental issues pit environmentalists against business interests. But now,
people on both sides say working together might be the only way to help the nation’s
economy, and preserve natural resources. So they’re teaming up to promote a group of fast-
growing, environmentally-friendly small businesses called “Green Gazelles.” The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
People who love video games are scrambling to get their hands on the latest gadget in the
gaming world. It’s a new hard drive for Sony’s PlayStation2. The drive comes loaded with
a new version of the game Final Fantasy. And it comes packaged in a new kind of
environmentally-friendly foam, called GreenCel.
(sound of manufacturing facility)
“It’s gonna be a little loud out here.”
“What’s the smell?”
“It’s cornstarch, that’s exactly what you’re smelling.
We’re taking cornstarch and we’re doing something that nobody else in the world does.
We’re melting it, and then we’re foaming it into huge sheets.”
A company called KTM Industries makes “GreenCel.” It’s an organic packing material –
made from cornstarch, vegetable oil and water. Companies like Sony are using it instead of
products made with petroleum, like Styrofoam. Those products don’t break down naturally.
KTM also makes an arts and crafts product for kids called “Magic Nuudles.” The Nuudles
are made out of cornstarch, too. They look like those candy circus peanuts, but they’re in all
different colors. Kids can glue Nuudles to paper to make pictures. Or they can build things
Both GreenCel and Magic Nuudles dissolve in water.
Tim Colonnese is KTM’s president. He says business is so good right now
because people are getting smarter about how they spend their money.
“You’ve got a better educated population out there that recognizes that we can’t
continue to do business as usual. Our landfills are getting fuller, our air is getting
dirtier, our water is getting dirtier. And we’ve got to take those steps right now, as
our population increases and business increases, to start cleaning up our act.”
KTM is one of a new group of small businesses throughout the country, called “green
gazelles.” Green — meaning they make environmentally-friendly products using newer,
cleaner methods. And “Gazelles” — because they’re fast-moving companies able to quickly
apply new technology.
Colonnese started his company seven years ago. He says it was awhile before
KTM’s products became profitable. But now, Colonnese says his company and other green
gazelles could be the future of the American economy.
“So as big business takes its job elsewhere, where are those new jobs going to be
created? And it’s going to be created with small business, with innovators that come up
with new products and new processes that are completely different from what the big boys
are doing. And hopefully, if a few of us are successful, we will become the next large
And the numbers show that’s already happening. Mark Clevey is with the Small Business
Association of Michigan. He says green gazelles are creating new jobs in the
US. But Clevey says they’re doing so without a lot of financial help.
“These companies, although they’re fast-growing companies, one of the reasons they
grow fast is because their competitive advantage is based on some technological
advantage and, in order to get that technological advantage, they have to invest
several million dollars, at a minimum, in research and development. Banks don’t fund
that, venture capitalists don’t fund that, universities don’t fund it, nobody funds that
kind of technology.”
Except, Clevey says, the government to some extent. He says the US Department of Energy
offers grants to small businesses for research.
Clevey says most state governments offer tax credits and incentives for basic small
business development. But he argues it would be better in the long run if states would start
investing more in research and technology – even if it’s risky.
That’s something people in Rust Belt states are already talking about.
Steve Chester is director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
“I think there are some things that we can do environmentally, for instance, we do
have a lot of grants and loans that we provide. And to the extent that we might be
able to prioritize green technologies, I think that’s something we should try to do.”
Supporters of green gazelles are hoping to persuade Congress that helping green companies
is the best way to help the environment. During upcoming Congressional hearings, they’ll
ask lawmakers for more financial support and tax incentives for green gazelles.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.