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A Tribe's Business Strategy: Save the Planet

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The Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde has made good on its commitment to environmental sustainability and economic diversity with an equity investment in MicroGREEN Polymers, a Washington State-based company that manufactures recyclable plastic cups from recycled PET. Other investors joined the Confederated Tribes in a $10-million preferred stock purchase announced today.

"As a tribal community we look for investment opportunities that fulfill our commitment to being stewards of our environment and supporting our tribal people looking seven generations forward," says Titu Asghar, director of the Confederated Tribes' Economic Development Department. "MicroGREEN is very sustainable in their approach. They are commited to reducing plastics. What we loved about MicroGREEN is they are trying to tap into 40 billion pounds of plastics and reduce their infiltration into landfills."

This marks the second tribal investment for MicroGREEN. In January, the Stillaguamish Tribal Enterprise Corp. came on board with a $5-million commitment.

RELATED: Stillaguamish Tribe Invests $5 Million in Company Recycling Plastic Bottles

Tom Malone, MicroGREEN CEO and president, says, "We've found the ethos of MicroGREEN and the direction we're going with our products and our technology resonate with tribes… We're extremely excited that we're able to fund the company with investment from a group of people who believe in improving the planet, making this a greener, more sustainable world while also diversifying investments."

Courtesy MicroGREEN

MicroGREEN CEO and President Tom Malone

Plastic cups, says Malone, are a $7-billion industry. "Right now, plastic-coated paper is the dominant technology. That's a product that is not recyclable because it's both paper and plastic. It can't go in one [recycling] stream or the other. The InCycle™ cup can go straight into the blue bin and be recycled repeatedly."

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The blue bin plays a role in Alaska Airlines' decision to use InCycle™ cups on all its flights beginning Oct. 1. Not only do they weigh less than other options, but they can be recycled right along with PET cold-drink cups.

Malone says MicroGREEN will use this funding to expand its production facilities. The company now buys the rolls of plastic it uses in manufacturing InCycle™ cups. New production equipment will allow it to buy recycled plastic water bottles and plastic pellets on the open market and extrude the plastic sheets in-house.

With that capacity, MicroGREEN will begin manufacturing a family of hot and cold cups and lids ranging in size from 7 ounces to 20 or 24 ounces, which in turn will lead to tripling its workforce to 150 employees by the end of the year. The company is expected to achieve profitability in 2014.

Courtesy Michelle Alaimo, Smoke Signals

Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Chairman Reyn Leno.

In its program to shift away from relying exclusively on gaming and timber revenues, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde has made other investments in the two years since its Economic Development Department was formed. They include the purchase of Shasta Administrative Services and a 20-percent stake in SAM Medical Products, a collaboration that resulted in other tribes saving 50 percent on their prescription drugs and the installation of two EV charging stations on the reservation.

Says Siobhan Taylor, director of public affairs, "We are in the forefront of what you will be seeing nationwide. As gaming demographics change and gaming markets change [other] tribes will be looking to diversify their economies."

"As part of our philosophy, we reach out to other tribes for collaboration," says Asghar. "We are always open about our investments. We meet with other tribes… we understand the nuances of politics. We are open for business!"