Creating a "green" brand can be challenging. Going from product inception to market can take a long time, as the owners of BioLumber, supplier of a woodlike building material made of recycled plastic, have found out. But with the demand for green products – especially building materials – reaching a fevered pitch, this family business, which will enter the market this year, couldn’t have picked a better time.
BioLumber chief executive office Kristin Kaune tells BusinessNewsDaily about her company’s practical approach to solving environmental problems and how going green has evolved from a “movement to a market.”
BusinessNewsDaily: Where did the idea for BioLumber originate?
Kristin Kaune: BioLumber was founded about a decade ago by James “Ed” Kaune, an experienced naval architect and metallurgical engineer. Ed got his start in wartime designing stronger metals for Navy ships. Based upon a successful career in shipbuilding in the public and private sectors, Ed realized he needed to find a practical solution to a new problem: deteriorating piers made of treated lumber. His ships were strong, but his piers were weak and environmentally damaging.
He started using existing plastic lumber brands. At a time when most executives retire, Ed went back to the laboratory. He patented a better, stronger building material he called BioLumber. He immediately saw its potential for use not only in piers but in all kinds of structural projects.
At about the same time, I was working in high-tech for two successful start-ups in Silicon Valley. When Ed, my father-in-law, offered me the opportunity to bring BioLumber to market, I jumped at the opportunity. I realized that BioLumber was something special – one of those once-in-a-lifetime innovations that can transform an industry. I assembled advisers and a team with sales, manufacturing, legal and financial expertise. We’re ready to make the BioLumber idea a reality.
BND: BioLumber was invented in 2002 and is going to market in 2011. Was there a specific reason for the delay?
Kaune: Compared to the biofuel and clean-tech industries, where R&D has a long time frame, the time it took BioLumber to go from concept to market is relatively short.
In December 2002, the company was awarded a patent for “structural” recycled lumber by the United States Patent Office. In 2004, it received a green grant from the state of Ohio, where BioLumber initially started its operations. With the grant plus initial funding by private investors, BioLumber conducted further R&D as part of its ongoing efforts to perfect the product.
In 2007, BioLumber was in the process of producing its product but had to cease production because of a fire involving a company with whom BioLumber was sharing a manufacturing facility. In late 2009, BioLumber began assembling its new leadership, an advisory board and its current strategy. We feel that by not rushing to market, BioLumber has been able to produce a superior product that is ready to meet the demand for structural-strength plastic lumber.
BND: What are BioLumber’s uses?
Kaune: At the simplest level, we like to say that BioLumber is “just like wood” and can complement concrete and steel. To name but a few uses, it can replace treated lumber in piers, ports, waterfronts, marinas, truck beds, railroad ties, solar panel structures, hardscape architecture, ranch fencing, and retaining walls.
BioLumber also has a supporting role in the fast-growing renewable-energy sector. BioLumber can provide support for photovoltaic panels, in the construction of wind turbine facilities, and in the construction of hydro power plants. BioLumber can also create custom-fit solutions to other green-minded industries in search of a specific application for structural-strength recycled plastic lumber.
BND: What specific industries are your target markets?
Kaune: The overall U.S. market alone for green building materials is expected to grow to $80 billion by 2013. BioLumber intends to become the leading provider of structural-strength recycled plastic lumber in a variety of industries and markets. For the present, we are focused on four initial market segments where we have developed sales contacts and potential partners. These are marine (ports, waterfronts, marinas, etc.); transportation (trucking and railroad industries); outdoor use (the commercial and residential construction, structural engineering and architecture industries); and infrastructure (parks, public buildings and government-funded infrastructure).
BND: Do you use traditional marketing, social media or both to advertise BioLumber?
Kaune: Currently, we are relying on traditional marketing to build a foundation for BioLumber. But our fundamental corporate vision is to bring a high-tech perspective to the tradition-based construction industry. We have plans to creatively tap into key networks of customers, partners and influencers through social media , product placement and other strategies. Our goal is nothing short of making BioLumber the household name for recycled building materials.
BND: How has the green movement changed in the last 10 years?
Kaune: The biggest change is that it has gone from a movement to a market. It has evolved from a set of ideals about saving our environment into a multibillion-dollar industry. In the last 10 years especially, greater awareness of environmental challenges – overcrowded landfills , deforestation, pollution, just to name a few – has helped create the demand to go green. We feel that this growth has reached a new level of sophistication because of companies focused on offering real-life, practical solutions to environmental problems. Ultimately, consumers buy solutions, not products.
We take an eco-pragmatic approach. We realize that being green for the sake of being green, while admirable, will not necessarily change people's attitude about using green products. It won’t make a profit and it won’t save the planet. You have to offer a viable green alternative solution that solves particular problems and makes economic sense.