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Archive for April, 2010

Why Bother?

Let me start by giving you the context of this post. The following quote was taken from a forum out there on concrete countertops. This was a response to a positive, unprovoked shout-out for Squak Mountain Stone  posted on March 31, 2010. I am withholding the author of this comment’s name.

“Squawk (sp) Mountain concrete looks like the backside of my pieces – and I don’t do such a hot job on my backsides. There is a point where putting in waste products compromises the strength and the integrity of the material so much that there is no sense in making it at all.”

So let’s talk a bit about “strength” and “integrity” of our materials, shall we?

When I started my company in 2003, it wasn’t just based on an economics paper idea, as many of you who have followed my company know by now. Before the paper there was a principle: how can a material not only have an environmental benefit but also a social benefit. I looked inward in my own community, Issaquah, Washington, and found an opportunity. While living there Issaquah for about 5 years, my husband and I took our recycling to AtWork!, a local non-profit that provides jobs and training to those in our community who may be deemed “un-employable” because they have disabilities. So when I had to consider a topic for my Master’s paper about local economies I took into account the fact that a sustainable product does not just carry the economic benefit of being locally-made but should have a genuine environmental and social advantage. People spend a great deal of time talking about the environmental elements of materials because those are easily measured. Building social capital is more difficult to understand yet alone quantify. But my thought was if a product could be designed that placed emphasis not just on its environmental provence but also its capacity to provide social welfare as well then we’d have a truly sustainable product. And with access to a variety of recycled goods being collected by AtWork in my own community, it was a no-brainer for me to conceptualize this.

Over the years Squak Mountain Stone has grown and evolved. And yes, the early versions of the product are not nearly as attractive as our recent product but I’ve said to people many times when I’m sharing my experience as an inventor and entrepreneur: some experience you can buy but some has to be earned. And I, along with my guys who have been with me now for the past few years, have all earned a great deal of experience in making Squak Mountain Stone better every day we wake up and cast a slab.  We’ve made improvements in mixers, vibrating platforms, overhead crane systems instead of carying slabs by hand, etc. But I’ve also had several suggestions on how we could save money perhaps if we shredded our own paper with high-volume shredders. Maybe we could save money but at what cost to our community? It would be safe to say that the only real constant in the evolution of Squak Mountain Stone has been where we get our shredded recycled paper.

Squak Mountain Stone was never designed or conceived of to build bridges. It sits on your cabinets and it holds up the microwave. And if you have to stand on it to change a light bulb or reach a high cabinet, you can. So, if you define strength and integrity in that way, we’re fine.

I never like to see when people say bad stuff about us. Its hard to not take it personally. But I appreciated this comment because it serves to provide me and my guys with clarity. The day this blog post was brought to my attention, we were visited, out of the blue, by a mother and her daughter, who is an employee at AtWork in the document destruction division. The mother wanted to bring her daughter in to see where her paper was going and to pick up some samples to show the others who do the shredding work for us.  And there it was. The gentle, compassionate reminder that what we do matters even if people don’t understand why we do it.

For me, this endeavor of inventing and manufacturing Squak Mountain Stone has always been a matter of how does our company’s products strengthen our community and how do we maintain a business of integrity. So in this view of thinking, using mixed waste paper doesn’t just give the product a unique aesthetic and make it lightweight – it is exactly what gives that product its strength and its integrity.

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Amee Quiriconi, CEO of Tiger Mountain Innovations and founder of Squak Mountain Stone, will be appearing at the Grand Opening of the newest retail location of Ecohaus (http://www.ecohaus.com/) in San Francisco this weekend!  Come by on Saturday to say hello and hear about what makes Squak Mountain Stone and Trinity Glass Products so unique. 

Also taking place this weekend in San Francisco is the Green Festival (http://www.greenfestivals.org/san-francisco-spring/).  Come by the Ecohaus booth and see samples of Squak and Trinity.

We hope to see you there!

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