Saving Trees and Shunning Landfills with Rent a Green Box’s Spencer Brown
May 25, 2011
Spencer Brown is the founder and Chief Treehugger in Charge at Rent a Green Box. After a moving experience left him at a loss at what to do with his leftover cardboard boxes, he resolved to “make a better box” using plastics typically destined for landfills, and zero-waste moving was born. Rent a Green Box’s proprietary boxes last 400 uses and are delivered and picked up using the company’s biofueled fleet.
The user experience is simple: Rent the reusable boxes and Rent a Green Box delivers them to you. Use them for a move and then Rent a Green Box picks them up, sanitizes them and makes them available for rental again. It’s genius green business — saving trees, shunning landfills and creating green jobs.
“We’re experts at making it cheaper, faster and easier for America to pack and move their stuff,” Brown says. “What’s amazing is that America has accepted our offer, because it is cheaper, it is more convenient and it’s also good for the environment.”
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored today to have our very special guest, Spencer Brown, who is the founder and Chief Treehugger in Charge of Rent a Green Box. Rent a Green Box is the first comprehensive zero waste pack and move solution in the United States. Welcome to Green is Good, Spencer Brown.
SPENCER BROWN: Hey, I’m honored to be on the show. I’m actually a fan of this show, too. I’ve listened to some episodes, and I actually follow you on my Twitter, so I love the idea and I appreciate what you do.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Spencer, you’re doing amazing things. If Mike and I took the time to read your bio to our wonderful audience, literally, we would take up the whole 23 minutes, so we don’t want to do that. But we’re going to touch on some of the highlights of all the great things that make you one of California’s great eco-preneurs. We’re going to hit on those along the way here in the journey, but walk us through this. You’re in your sixth year or so of this amazing, wonderful, successful journey. Talk a little bit about the founding of your great company, Rent a Green Box.
SPENCER BROWN: It actually started, like a lot of American stories, with my personal experience. I had to pack and move my home office, and ended up spending $800 on single-use cardboard, thinking I can reuse it and I’ll figure out another application. But after two days, you couldn’t even use this stuff. I tried to give it away for free on Craig’s List and Freecycle, and ended up basically piling it up, and my waste hauler said, “Hey, I’m going to charge you some extra money to haul it off of your property.” I thought no, I’ll take it to a recycling center. They’ll give me some money. One recycling center said, “You put too much tape on your boxes and they’re not good enough.” I ended up going to a landfill and witnessing 40-foot towers of compressed cardboard destined for China next to these piles of plastic bleach bottles, empty detergent bottles, bleach bottles, everything under your kitchen sink and laundry room. I picked a bottle up, and I thought, “Why don’t we make a better box out of this plastic trash?” Literally, my aha moment was then. I thought if I make a box, it might end up in the landfill. So, why don’t I make a box that will last 400 uses? We’ll rent it, we’ll guarantee it comes back. We’ll drop it off at people’s homes on our trucks running on biofuel, and when we pick them up, we clean them, sanitize them, and rent them again. We basically burst a new industry in America. It’s called zero waste moving. We built it, we’ve mastered it, and we are really revolutionizing the way America packs and moves their property without trashing the planet.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: I want to talk a little bit about how you’ve revolutionized this industry because you truly have. First of all, for our listeners out there, if you have your iPad or your laptop or desktop in front of you, go on Spencer’s amazing website. It is not only gorgeous, it’s truly functional and beautiful, rentagreenbox.com. I love your tagline, “It’s cheaper than using cardboard.” Talk a little bit, Spencer, about your nanotechnology, which is patented and the products that you have.
SPENCER BROWN: Sure. We started off with a box, and if you look at how plastic is made, it’s petroleum-based and natural gas-based. The plastic in detergent bottles will never break down in a landfill. It’s actually a miracle plastic. What we do is we clean it, process it, chop it up, sort it by colors, and then we apply a nanotechnology, which we won the 2008 California Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for new market technologies and recycling. Basically, we take this amazing plastic, we use blue, clear, yellow, and white, and then we make a box called the Recopack, which stands for recycled ecological packing solutions, replacement for cardboard moving boxes. We make them in three sizes, and we rent them out in two-week increments delivered direct to your door. You pack and move, and when they’re empty, we pick them up, clean them, sanitize them, and then rent them again. What we’ve done is revolutionize the way people pack and move their property. We’re also benefitting the ecology by saving a tree. We’re also helping the environment by detoxing our landfills and we’re helping the economy by creating a lot of green jobs. Because of that, we won the Small Business Award of the State of California last year.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Who’s your competition? Are there 10 or 20 Rent a Green Boxes across America?
SPENCER BROWN: We birthed the industry, we created the business model, we built it, and we lead it on all metrics, on TV shows, on web, on products. We’re the largest zero waste product house in America, and some people say the world. I haven’t done the research, but we produce just over 20 unique zero waste packing products. We’re franchising the business. The reason why we’re franchising, I’m a product designer, so I’m designing these interesting, quirky, fun, zero waste products all from scratch, and then we thought what a better way to get America back to work but to open up many locations? So, really we can franchise in any state. We were approved in January from the state of California, and we actually have a number of deals ready to close. As far as competition, there are a lot of people who captured a lot of our content and decided they want to rent boxes too. We believe there’s plenty of sunshine for everybody. There’s all types of different brands and choice, but we are the leaders. Because of that, we provide the most comprehensive, simplest, most efficient methodology of renting a box. We’re experts at making it cheaper, faster, and easier for America to pack and move their stuff. What’s amazing is America has accepted our offer because it is cheaper, it’s faster, it’s more convenient, and it’s also good for the environment.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s a great segue for our next question. Sometimes, when Mike and I are so honored to have great business leaders from huge brands on, everything gets basically synthesized down to a simple proposition — why blank? Explain to our listeners out there who go way beyond just the United States and literally, we have listeners in South America, U.K., after it airs on Clear Channel, it gets uploaded through the iTunes network, and we track our listeners to Shanghai and South Korea. Talk a little bit about why Rent a Green Box, and why now?
SPENCER BROWN: Rent a Green Box is the cheaper, faster, easier way to pack and move your property. It’s cheaper by 50%, and everyone loves to save money, especially in an economy that’s struggling. Why is it cheaper? Because you’re renting the green boxes in three sizes; you’re not buying it. You’re actually renting on a 400-use life cycle, so you aren’t renting it like a DVD, like a tuxedo, like a bouncy house for your kids. You’re not paying the full retail value of the box; you’re just renting it. The second thing is it’s faster. You don’t have to assemble anything. Most people, when they build a cardboard box, they’re in such a rush to pack and move, they’re so aggravated from either dumpster diving and borrowing boxes and trying to dust them off or get rid of the gross parts of dumpster diving. What they realize is they just rush tape the boxes, and they don’t build them properly, so then their stuff breaks. Rent a Green Box delivers to you prebuilt stacking and nesting boxes with really strong handles. It allows you to load in your products. We have three different sizes, a medium, large, and extra large, you close the lid, then you stack them in groups of four, you label them with a label that is embedded with snapdragon seeds, so it actually grows a flower garden for you, and then it’s easier because you’re not actually breaking any boxes down when you unpack. All you have to do is unpack your items, stack up the boxes, call us, we stop by, pick them up, clean them, and sanitize them. When you look at propositions, most people want to save money, they want something that’s efficient, and they want something that works. When you look at why is this working now, it’s because we have twice as many people living on this planet twice as long using massive amounts of resources, and at the end of the day, people are realizing we only have one planet, but we consume seven planets’ worth of stuff. Why is green working today? I do believe the internet is connecting so many people that are really dialoguing about this industry and what we’re doing. They’re able to really compare offers. You can shop for your boxes online, and ultimately, people will go onto a Yelp blog or a Yahoo blog or there will be something saying, “Rent a Green Box is the nation’s first zero waste pack and move solution. I went to use this system, and it’s cheaper, it’s faster, it’s more convenient, and at the end of the day, it’s not generating a lot of trash.” In some ways it’s guilt-free moving. The business itself is cheaper, faster, and easier, and that’s why we’re so successful.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is tremendous and it makes sense. Who doesn’t want to save money? Also, everyone wants to feel, as you said earlier, Spencer, part of the solution by doing the right thing and doing the green thing by using your boxes. Why not? Especially if they’re going to save money.
SPENCER BROWN: Absolutely. It’s a win-win-win. Our ecology wins. As I said before, you save a tree. Our environment wins because we’re cleaning up landfills, and everyone knows how toxic they are. The big thing is our economy. We really have to get back to work, and we have to have a cleaner, greener America to be more competitive. Part of that is the ability. If you work at the word sustainability or disposability, ability is the root, is the choice that we make. As long as there’s a product that’s cheaper, faster, and easier, which is the Recopack and Rent a Green Box, people will do it. The other benefit is that America has really never had a box when they packed and moved. For the better part of two centuries, we’ve had 20% of the population moving every year, generating all this trash. People say, “My boxes are recyclable.” If they’re recyclable, why are the national average of landfills 41% of landfills are filled with cardboard? If they were recycled, we wouldn’t have that. Most cardboard is either exported to China or burned. What we’re saying is let’s get America back to work by using our problem, which is the trash, as a solution and to provide a packing and moving alternative that works. We’ve done it for six years, so we’ve proven a model, and we’ve proven it to a point where we were listed as Green Entrepreneur of America of the U.S. GEA by this revolutionary idea. It’s been in front of everyone’s face for 200 years, which is moving. We all have to do it, and we want to do it cheap, fast, and easy. So, we provide that amazing combination, that triangle of service. At the end of the day, people also love us because we’re a five-star service provider on Yelp. It’s not only having a great idea, but a great business model and execution, but maintaining the highest rated service profile in Orange County by any service provider is also a recognizable attribute of your business. That’s why we’re successful because people say, “Rent a Green Box gets the job done.”
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Spencer, what I love also here is the wow numbers. For every 100 Recopacks rented, can you explain to our listeners, what does that do?
SPENCER BROWN: This is an amazing fact. Every time we rent 100 Recopacks, we’re removing up to 500 pounds of hard-to-recycle plastic trash from the landfills to make the product. As soon as we make the boxes, we’re removing it. We prevent 350 pounds of hard-to-recycle tape, bubble wrap, Styrofoam, packing peanuts, and all the inside the box, plus cardboard, from entering the landfill, which is huge. We save up to 300 gallons of water that would normally be used to make cardboard boxes, but we’re not using that because we’re recycling plastic trash to make the Recopack. We save 50 gallons of fuel, which would be used to build cardboard, transport it, distribute it, and store it, and we save and eliminate 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere, which would be used for making cardboard that ultimately would end up either being landfilled or burned or exported. What the benefit here is that you have these metrics that happen the same day you rent the box, and that’s the low hanging fruit. When you rent a box, you’re saving trees, you’re saving resources, and you’re providing a stronger economy in your local economy because we’re franchising. What’s nice is a local businessperson can go on our website, click on the Now Franchising tab, read all about us, and contact us, and we’ll see if they’re a good fit. The benefit of Rent a Green Box is everything is made in America and we’re changing the way America packs and moves without trashing the planet, so everyone wins in this business model.
MIKE BRADY: You know it’s amazing, too, Spencer, I know for our listeners in southern California and the southwestern United States, the water nexus is so important. One more time, those wow numbers are really, truly staggering, but again, how many gallons you said?
SPENCER BROWN: With 100 Recopacks, we’re saving 50 gallons of water that would ultimately be used to make and recycle cardboard, so you eliminate that, you save it. When people realize when you recycle cardboard or any paper products, you need water and energy. What happens with that water? You have to put it somewhere. Why would you waste water on recycling a cardboard box that’s going to be expensive and it’s not going to be as good? The concept of recycling works well when you have plenty of resources and energy is inexpensive. Energy, for many people in the nation, is running $3.50 a gallon and upwards of $5.00 a gallon for diesel, so everything is more expensive to recycle. Why not make a box one time that lasts 400 uses, saves a ton of resources, uses trash, detoxes our landfills and puts Americans back to work? We’re really just a newer, cleaner, greener way of thinking about how business runs, and it’s a more sustainable business belief.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: I think what we’ve got to have happen here, Spencer, is we’ve got to have an investment banker meet with you, take over your company with you, give you some dollars, blow the company up, and then bring you over to the White House. I think you’ve got to work with President Obama and help him. We need people like you to get the green economy, the green revolution, fueled in this company.
SPENCER BROWN: We’ve had a lot of DC and a lot of some of the biggest players look at us and say, “You’ve got a cash cow. You’ve got a wonderful concept.” I always ask them, “How do you know it’s a wonderful concept?” It means a lot of people have copied you, and anytime you have a lot of people copying the different dimensions and different names, that means there’s something happening that’s going to happen. Since we’ve created a concept, built it, and led it, as leaders, we’re really focused in on growing a franchise model and giving local businesspeople the opportunity to get back to work to provide a really good income and sustainable business for their local community. Again, we’re a green company. Our DNA is green, so we’re not looking at building a huge corporation where we have a couple hundred corporate stores and we make all the money. We’re saying is we’ve built everything for other people to be successful, to save more trees, to provide a cleaner, greener America for the future of our children, and I think that’s a really interesting way of looking at it. I do think at some point, Rent a Green Box will be one of the top business stories in America by just the metrics that we’ve created in the last six years. We’re an award-winning company, we have a very simple idea, we’ve executed it brilliantly, we have a really nice website, we’ve got a lot of TV shows, a lot of publicity about the business, and it’s really simple. We’re changing the way America packs and moves, and we’re doing it without trashing the planet.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: We want to talk a little bit about the Recopacks. First of all, a lot of our listeners out there are going to want to become franchisees. A lot of listeners are also going to want to get your Recopacks. How do we get them to them? Do you have distribution channels? What’s the simplest way?
SPENCER BROWN: The simplest way is if you love the business idea, you go on our website, rentagreenbox.com, or you can search for it through Google and find literally hundreds of thousands of links, 75 TV shows, and eventually you’ll find us on the website. Click on the Now Franchising button, and then read through the information, contact us. You’ll be speaking with Brian Casaleri, Brian Sternberg, Todd Charleson, and myself, and we’ll walk you through the paces. That’s if you want to open a franchise. If you’re in Orange County or Los Angeles and you want to rent a green box, you go on our website and instead of franchising, now place an order. That’s it. If you want to relisten to this broadcast, you’re going to click In the News, and this program will be there and you can relisten to all the information we’re sharing. That’s what most people do. You can either franchise the company Rent a Green Box or you can place an order. When we open up our locations nationwide, then you’ll be able to go to your local market provider, your local franchisee, and then they’ll provide the service for you.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Mike and I have been on your website for a long time, and also we’ve read a lot of information in preparation for this interview, Spencer. I want you to share with our listeners, a lot of people just have one idea and they do it really well, and good for them. They’re massive successes. You seem to be able to really keep creating and inventing, as you said, you’re really great this stuff. Talk a little bit with our listeners about recocubes, expandos, and the poopy pallet.
SPENCER BROWN: OK. What’s interesting is when you go to a landfill, you don’t have one category of trash; you have all kinds of trash. We started off with the plastic bleach bottles, and I thought that looks like a better box. We called it the Recopack, which means recycled ecological packing solution, because it really solves the problem. As a joke, one of the landfill operators said, “We’ll send you some used, clean, sanitized baby diapers, which never break down in a landfill.” It was a joke. So, I figured, well, I need something to transport boxes. We’ll make a pallet from baby diapers, and we’ll call it the poopy pallet. Over the course of six years, we’ve developed so many interesting products. One that’s actually a replacement for Styrofoam packing peanuts is called the expando. Expandos are made from the six-pack beer containers and any kind of food-based packaged product. People pack and move with it. It’s a fantastic material. We also make Geami, which in Latin means friends of the Earth, and this is a replacement for bubble wrap or Styrofoam sheeting. And then, in addition to that, we grind up shoes and we make this accordion liner we can slide your plates in, the speed loader, so you don’t have to wrap your plates or dishes or small picture frames in any paper-based products. Recently, we have this new product that’s like a Recocube; it’s a tray of recycled newsprint. It looks like a tray of ice cubes. You can strip it, you can wrap it around things, you can tape it down on corners of your furniture, you can even use it as dividers. When you’re unpacking, all you do is you take off all our biodegradable labels that have seeds attached to them, you put the seed label on the Recocubes, put some dirt in, and it will grow snapdragons within three or four weeks. It’s really an interactive postconsumer packing product. You’re going to pack and move, and then some of the stuff you’ll give back to us, and some of the stuff you’ll create a garden. People tend to like that. But we’ve also produced endless amounts of products made from trash, and I always encourage people to go on our website. Everything is made from trash, even our social media links are recycled rusted bottle caps. If you go on our website and scroll down and look at the Recycle banner art, that’s made from a salvaged door that we pulled from a dumpster in addition to some records that one of our staff members brought in. They didn’t know what to do with them, so I thought we’ll make a cool poster out of it. Here you have the Recycle poster, which is really popular. What we do is we upcycle trash. What we do is upcycle and produce one of the largest selections of zero waste pack and move products in America. We’re happy to do it because landfills are a mess and the economy is a mess, and I figure if we can clean up the landfill and create some jobs, everyone is going to win.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Spencer, Mike and I could literally spend hours talking with you, and we’re going to have you back because we need to have you back because we’ve got to keep getting the message of what you’re doing out. You’re just truly amazing. We don’t just say that. We’re down to the last two minutes, and these are your two minutes here. Talk a little bit about your journey, you, particularly. The biggest challenges you’ve had, and what’s the best part of being the founder and the Chief Treehugger at Rent a Green Box?
SPENCER BROWN: I think the biggest challenge was working with landfills and trash haulers and people who helped us make all our zero waste packing products. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even say trash. I’d say, “We have this upcycled material. We have this upcycled fiber.” They didn’t understand what upcycled was. The biggest problem was getting people to believe that trash was a resource. When we climbed the mountain and jumped that first hurdle with the Recopack, and then we’ve had so many successes after that, people now really take us seriously. They say, “Spencer can really convert trash into usable packing products.” We’re really making a positive effective change for ecology, our environment, and our economy. No one loses with Rent a Green Box; everyone wins. For franchising across America, not only do we have an award-winning, amazing concept and a beautiful website and tons of products, but we’re a bunch of really nice guys that are opening this up to really nice people to open up. We encourage women to get involved. We encourage people who are immigrants to get involved. Let’s get America back to work and solve some problems. I think Rent a Green Box hits all of the areas that we need to hit in order for us to be a very successful nation moving forward.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just great. Again, Spencer Brown, it’s an honor for Mike and I to have great people like you on the show and give them the platform that they deserve to get the word out. For all our listeners out there, please support Spencer’s business, become a franchisee, use his boxes, go to his amazing website. You’re just going to love it, www.rentagreenbox.com. Spencer Brown, you’re one of America’s great eco-preneurs, and truly living proof that green is good.
SPENCER BROWN: Yeah, I appreciate you guys. It’s an honor to be on your show. I look forward to educating America that they do have a choice, and hopefully that choice will be green.