When Green is Not Enough: Lessons from a Cleantech CEO

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the sustainability and non-polluting nature of the Ecor manufacturing process. With more than 31 tons of cardboard waste produced in the U.S. annually, Torti says the raw material will most likely be recycled paper and cardboard.

The technology uses water, heat, pressure, and environmentally friendly glue to form the panels into an array of shapes—flat, corrugated, elliptical, waffle, wavy, honeycomb, and sandwich.

Jim Torti

The company spent years refining the process, which includes recycling and reusing the water, through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, WI.

It sounds environmentally beneficial, but the construction industry is a treacherous market for green and sustainable products, says Murray McCutcheon, an industry analyst with Lux Research in Boston. “Unless there is a big differentiator in terms of performance or functionality, the main factor comes down to cost,” McCutcheon says. Green and sustainable products offered at or near the same price as existing products are typically limited to a relatively small slice of the market, where consumers make their purchasing decisions for reasons that are more philosophical than economic. That makes for a challenging market. “My sense is that the space is crowded with a number of aspiring players as well as the DuPonts and Dow Corning-type companies,” McCutcheon says.

Noble already is familiar with the hazards. He started a company here in 1992 called Gridcore Systems International that manufactured structural and decorative flat panels from shredded U.S. currency, among other recycled raw materials. But the business faltered, and Noble closed it after seven years.

“The lessons I learned from Gridcore were related to success and failure,” Noble says. “There’s enormous interest in using recycled materials that are non-toxic and environmentally responsible to make building materials with structural integrity, design versatility, and low cost.”

But Noble says there were “a thousand technology hurdles to … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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