By: Jim Johnson
February 5, 2014
It's rare for a business to succeed right out of the gate, and such was the case for Green Innovations LLC.
But the plastics recycler has turned a corner and is looking to continue a success that was born, partially, from being laughed off by a potential customer years ago.
The Solon, Ohio-based firm offers what the firm calls a landfill-free program to manufacturing companies generating plastic scrap.
The company, located near Cleveland, will go into a site and agree to divert all waste and recyclables from landfills. Every single pound.
"Five years ago, we had people laughing at this concept because no one believed it was real. And now it is and we have companies calling us," said David Sweeney, co-founder of the firm.
While Sweeney handles the sales and marketing side of the company, co-founder Donald Resh is in charge of the financial and administrative end of the business.
He was there when laughter came early on. "You feel a little defeated I guess. … Defeated but inspired, too. For us, being rejected makes us want it even more," Resh said.
"We knew we had a vision. It was just how are we going to get there? We didn't have a timeline, and we just knew we wanted this landfill-free concept to work," Sweeney said.
It's called working out the details, and the partners say they've done just that.
Green Innovations has a multi-pronged approach to handle a variety of waste streams at dozens of client locations. That includes categories the company calls plant debris, single-stream recyclables and food waste.
Those three streams are shipped in gaylord containers — those large, heavy duty cardboard boxes — to Green Innovations along with scrap plastic the company receives from the clients.
The company makes its money by reprocessing the recycled plastic, about 97 percent of all of the material the company receives.
Compostables and single-stream recyclables are sent off to partners in the Cleveland area for processing. Any waste that can't be salvaged is sent off to be made into an engineered fuel, Sweeney said. Nothing goes to a landfill.
Green Innovations, which specializes in non-wovens and films, ships plastic down to Somerset, Ky., where it has a processing line located near one of its major customers. The resulting pellets are then sold.
Green Innovations handled about 33 million pounds of materials last year from 32 separate manufacturing locations and returned what Sweeney called "a good profit."
That was welcome news for the 5-year-old company that struggled establishing itself for its first three years in the midst of the economic downturn.
The company needed the time to figure out a successful path. An early attempt at handling post-consumer recyclables was unsuccessful after Green Innovations did not win a contact from a local consortium of municipalities.
And, early on, the company also learned that rejection is part of the business.
"A big company, during a meeting, two guys laughed at us. I don't know if they laughed at us or laughed at the concept because they didn't believe it was a reality," Sweeney remembered. "It was demoralizing, but we knew what we could bring to the table."
Sweeny also has learned to accept the value of the word "no."
"I like to pride ourselves in not taking no for an answer. But sometimes you have to take no for an answer. And I'm not the person who likes to give up or say no. But I've learned that over the course of our five years sometimes you've got to know when to walk away.
"Sometimes a bad deal is a bad deal. Sometimes what you think is a great idea is not a good idea. While we've had some good ideas, we've also had some failures at the same time," he said.
These days, Sweeney is looking up and believes his company, which is expected to do about $15 million in revenue this year, can grow to $20 million to $30 million during the next five years. Resh voiced a similar goal.
"I think we stuck to the game plan and stuck to our philosophy. I think we always knew what the end result was going to be. It was going to be successful. It was just a matter of time. You've got to lay the foundation and get the right pieces and parts in place," Resh said.
"We feel we have a lot offer with our concept," Sweeney said.