San Diego Business Journal

That next bottle of soda or beer you drink may end up in a lavish Rancho Santa Fe or Beverly Hills home in the form of glass tile.

And, did you know that post-consumer plastic could have been used to make your TV set? Or that organic cotton and hemp are used for not only clothing but for paper as well?

In the name of eco-manufacturing, a handful of local companies are saying no to landfills and yes to using environmentally friendly products.

Oceanside GlassTile Co., for example, buys recycled broken glass to make unique glass tile.

"We're not bleeding-heart liberals but we do enjoy the fact that we're able to make a beautiful product using recycled glass," said Sean Gildea, co-owner and president of the 7-year-old company.

When Oceanside GlassTile was first launched, the firm purchased scraps from sheet glass manufacturers. Now the company just uses recycled bottles. The firm sells its products to high-end showrooms across the United States, Canada, London, Germany and France, which work with architects and designers.

The company's glass tile can be seen aboard cruise ships, in casinos like the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and even in celebrity homes.

Gildea said using recycled glass reduces some of the chemicals the company has to keep on site.

To further save the environment and money, Oceanside GlassTile re-uses and sells some of its scrap glass. The company recently supplied some of its leftover mosaic glass to an artist creating a public art project in Washington, D.C.

Oceanside GlassTile's concept must be catching on. The company's sales have jumped 100 percent a year over the last three years, Gildea said. The firm, which now boasts 60 employees, was born in a 2,000-square-foot facility in Oceanside. In 1994, Oceanside GlassTile moved to a 10,000-square-foot plant in Carlsbad. The company now occupies 17,000 square feet and plans to expand next year.

Recycled glass can also be used to make clothing.

& #711; Recycled Bottles

Used In Jacket

Enter Hempy's. Albert Lewis, the company's 29-year-old founder and president, held up a Hempy's denim jacket made of organic cotton. The inside of the jacket is made out of eco-fleece , recycled soda bottles.

The Downtown clothing manufacturer, founded in 1995, mostly uses hemp and organic cotton to make hats, backpacks, bags, clothing, belts, wallets and even hemp-oil soap and sunscreen lip balm sold in surf shops and specialty stores around the world. The company expects sales of more than $1 million for fiscal 2000.

Lewis launched Hempy's with a reusable surf wax bag made of hemp.

"I would see wax wrappers all over the beach," he recalled.

While everybody thought the drawstring bags were cool, they were 10 years ahead of their time, Lewis said. So, he switched his focus to boardshorts and T-shirts.

A passion for surfing and the environment is his motivation for growing his company. But Lewis' passion is not shared by others in the industry. He admitted clothing lines like Hempy's are a tough sell because they are made in the USA and more expensive than other surf clothing, most of which are made outside the country.

& #711; It's A Hassle

Making The Clothing

The only local surf shops that carry Hempy's are Epic Surf Snow Skate in Mira Mesa and South Coast Surf Shop in Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach.

Lewis admitted it's "a hassle" making hemp and organic clothing.

"If we did normal stuff, I could call a warehouse in L.A., choose from 200 different fabrics and have it delivered tomorrow," he said.

Instead, Hempy's imports hemp from Russia and China, usually a monthlong process (it is illegal to grow hemp in the United States).

Once Hempy's receives the hemp, the company then takes two weeks to dye the fabric.

Meanwhile, Hempy's buys organic cotton from American growers.

Lewis said while some in the industry haven't accepted the use of materials like hemp, it is catching on for some. He mentioned chic clothing designers like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein use hemp.

& #711; Externalize

Environmental Costs

"It comes down to internalizing environmental costs vs. externalizing environmental costs," said Lewis, who is working on a political science thesis on industrial hemp policies in the United States for a master's degree in political science from SDSU.

"Most companies externalize their environmental costs by producing products with pesticide-intensive cotton. The pesticides are running into the street, the rivers and our favorite (surf) breaks. We, as a society, pay for that. The profit is privatized; the cost is communized."

Lewis, who holds a bachelor's degree in environmental studies from SDSU, said environmental efficiency should equal economic efficiency.

"If 265 million Americans are recycling their soda bottles and companies are willing to use them, in the long run, you can realize a cost savings."

After all, he said, "Landfill space is expensive."

One way companies can reduce the use of landfills is to recycle their own waste, Lewis said. For example, Hempy's gives its scrap hemp to Green Field Paper Co. in exchange for paper.

Green Field, also located Downtown, manufactures tree-free paper using hemp and organic cotton.

Green Field, which began as a garage hobby for its co-founder and owner Jeff Lindenthal, specializes in hand-crafted stationery, notebooks, journals and greeting cards. The firm, created in 1992, even has a line of greeting cards made from 100 percent junk mail. Green Field's Grow-a-Note card collection, which includes flower seeds, can actually be planted.

Why use hemp and organic cotton?

& #711; 'Environmental

Responsibility'

"I believe it adds value to our products to have that environmental responsibility," said Lindenthal, who got involved in the environmental movement as a teen-ager participating in nuclear protests in New England in the 1970s.

But he admitted people aren't going to buy a product just because it's made of hemp or organic cotton.

"First, we heavily marketed the environmental integrity of the product," said Lindenthal, who runs Green Field in a former tortilla factory with his wife, Melissa Smedley, and sister Jodi. "But the products have to be well designed or well made."

Green Field uses soy-based inks to create eye-appealing tree-free paper products.

The company, which expects $500,000 in 1999 sales, sells its products through gift stores, art stores and college book stores. Green Field also sells bulk paper to printers and corporations like Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia and Aveda. Green Field is making a line of "Flower Power" clothing tags for Pennsylvania-based American Eagle Outfitters. The tags are an offshoot of the Grow-a-Note cards.

"We see a lot of opportunity out there," Lindenthal said about growing its corporate customer base. "There are a lot of companies that have made a public pledge to use non-wood fibers."

& #711; Nonwood Fibers

To Make Paper

Lindenthal, former recycling coordinator for San Diego County, said there is also a movement in the paper industry as of late to use nonwood fibers to make paper.

"The industry has acknowledged there is going to be a paper shortage."

He disputed the notion that we are moving into a paperless society.

"Despite all the technology and E-mail, we're harvesting more trees," he said.

"It's been encouraging to see our ideas have been accepted in the marketplace and that it has been embraced by the bigger players."

Growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly products have also prompted more manufacturers to go green.

So says Lynn Sawyer, an employee at EnvironGentle on Coast Hwy. 101 in Encinitas.

One of the county's only green stores, EnvironGentle, founded in 1991 by Torrey Neel, sells clothing, cleaning products, skin products, insect repellents, stationery, greeting cards, all natural pet foods and all natural pest control products. The store even sells mattresses and bedding made of organic cotton, pure grown wool, 100 percent latex and hemp.

& #711; 'People Can

Become Educated'

"I think Torrey has established a place where people can become educated," Sawyer said. "People are miseducated about hemp. It's not marijuana. It's a natural fiber. It has such versatility."

Sawyer said while such products usually cost more than regular goods, that doesn't prevent people from buying them.

"If you are environmentally conscious you accept the fact that you are going to pay a little bit more for your goods."

Goods sold in stores like EnvironGentle aren't the only products manufactured with the environment in mind. Even some television sets are made with recycled materials.

Take, for example, Sony Electronics, Inc. in Rancho Bernardo. The company was the first TV manufacturer in the world to recycle all its glass. Before 1990, glass from Sony's TV sets went to industrial landfills.

"We looked at the amount of material we were sending out and we didn't like the idea of sending this material out to a landfill if there was an alternative," said Mark Small, Sony's vice president of corporate and environmental affairs, safety and health.

At first, Sony spent $500,000 a year to send its glass to a secondary lead smelter. The electronics giant now works with the glass industry to recycle glass made for TV sets. New Sony TV models, designed and built in Rancho Bernardo, will also feature 100 percent post-consumer plastic.

Small noted that Sony Electronics now recycles 75 percent of its manufacturing waste.

"Our goal is not only environmental stability but the system itself also has to be economically sustainable," he said. "It has to make business sense."

To further look at ways of using recycled material, Sony is working with Waste Management Inc., which is building a recycling plant in Pittsburgh. Sony is also conducting a test collection program with the state of Minnesota to pick up post-consumer electronics such as toasters and TVs from people's homes.

"This is what the future is going to look like as far as recycling goes," Small said.

It will be the future if companies, large and small, continue to set examples by thinking green, said Hempy's founder Lewis.

"I hope people are watching us," he said. "I'm out here to say, 'Look at us. We're doing the right thing.'"

Eco-manufacturing