Editor’s note: sustainablog Approved is an occasional series of posts profiling vendors in our Green Choices product comparison engine, and the stories behind their products and green business practices.
Looking for reasonably-priced shelving and storage for your home? If you make your way to the local big box store, you’re going to find a lot of items made from particle board. Yes, it’s cheap, and relatively durable, but it’s also health hazard: all those wood chips are held together with formaldehyde, a known carcinogen that will be off-gassing into your house for 5-10 years. Furthermore, once that pressboard item passes its useful life, there’s little you can do with it other than send it to the landfill.
Jimmy Chiang, the CEO of Way Basics, reached out to me recently to show how his company has developed a greener alternative to the above scenario: its zBoard material. Developed over ten years, zBoard’s made from recycled paper, contains no toxic materials, and is fully recyclable. The company’s products — storage and shelving units, as well as tables — are priced comparably to particle board items, come in a variety of colors, and require no tools for assembly… perfect for a green geek who’s all thumbs around tools (that’s me…).
I wanted to find out more, so I conducted a short interview with Jimmy via email.
Jeff McIntire-Strasburg: I’m fascinated by zBoard. What’s the rationale behind choosing recycled paper over other potential recycled and recyclable materials? Why not, for instance, plastics?
Jimmy Chiang: Paper is one of the most commonly used and recycled materials so there is ample supply. One of the most amazing attributes about the zBoard is that it doesn’t take anything from our environment. All the paper used in the zBoard is recycled so no new resources are used. Plastics are a byproduct of oil, zBoard on the other hand is an organic material that used to come from a renewable resource, trees, yet we’ve taken it at the next level down when it’s already been converted in to recycled paper.
JM-S: Have you measured the manufacturing footprint of zBoard? If so, can you share some details?
JC: Our process for manufacturing the zBoard is proprietary so details are heavily guarded. I can share that manufacturing of recycled paper requires less energy than virgin paper. Compared to manufacturing of current alternatives like particle board and MDF, zBoard’s foot print is much less.
JM-S: You sell a green product… do you think of yourself as a “green company?” What kind of sustainability practices have you put into place in areas like operations, marketing, and IT (and feel free to go beyond these)?
JC: We definitely consider “green” as one of the many characteristics of our company. We believe in doing the right thing. That means treating our customers like we would treat our family and taking care of our environment as we would our home. Our furniture line made from zBoard is our first product line where we believe in doing the right thing in making storage furniture easy to use and made from sustainable materials.
Our design studio is completely furnished with zBoard desks, bookcases, storage units and even recycling bins. We also use LED desklights, chairs with high recycled contents, drink from stainless steel bottles, and recycle everything we can. Most recently, we’re moving towards digitizing our files and eliminating paper work wherever possible. It’s amazing how efficient, effective, and cost saving a company can realize from rethinking the way we work and saving resources.
JM-S: I noticed you guys do a lot with social media: you’ve clearly connected with many green bloggers, you use Twitter and Facebook, and even have a YouTube channel. What opportunities does social media provide for Way Basics that more traditional marketing and PR channels lack? What social media avenues would you still like to explore?
JC: Way Basics has been really fortunate to have met and worked with so many friends in the media. We really see our network of people we work with as friends we hang out with rather than simply a name on a website that wrote an article on us. When we reach out to the media, we’re looking to be your friend and to share our story about a simple product that simplifies and enhances your life while protecting our earth. Our team looks out into any channel where we can listen, talk, and discuss anything about Way Basics. Friends, customers, fans, or just the curious can contact us through any means, may it be twitter, facebook, email, anything. We have our eyes and ears out there looking to help in any way we can.
I’d like to take social media beyond the net and share the experience our products in person. We would love to have Way Basics ambassadors that share the story at the ground level in person. A team of friends that help new students, apartment renters, home owners, business start ups instantly set up their home or workspace.
JM-S: Green consumer products occasionally take a hit for promoting consumption (ok, maybe more than occasionally). How do you and the company reconcile the seemingly competing demands of sustainability and consumption?
JC: We feel good about what we do because we’re marketing a product that is truly cradle to cradle. Our goal is to promote more consumers to demand our product, and in turn recycling companies will want to recycle more since their customers demand it. The zBoard material is great because after its long life, it can simply go back into the recycling supply chain and one day end back up as a brand new zBoard.
Interested in checking out more of Way Basics’ products? You’ll find them in our product comparison engine in storage and shelving, bookshelves, and tables.
Image credit: Way Basics
Glad we found something you like, Bob… 😉
The idea of recycling waste paper actually makes sense, and it has been done for decades. Kraft paper, which is used to make sacks and cardboard, gets blended into the wood pulp stream at most paper manufacturers. Even though the idea of recycling paper is not really new, I found this application unique.
However (you knew there would be a “however”), I was wondering about the “real” environmental impact of zBoards. I noticed on the company’s website that the manufacturing facility is in Taiwan. The website makes it apparent that Way Basics is targeting the United States with its marketing campaign. If the waste paper originates outside of Taiwan and the majority of the end products are sold in the US, how is the company’s overall environmental footprint impacted by the inherent carbon footprint of overseas freight? Even though the interview mentions that recycling paper is less energy intensive than processing virgin timber, one has to wonder if the process would be more green if the production facility was closer to the majority of the end users.