The Chicagoland Conversation with Free Green Can

In just three years, Free Green Can has taught thousands of Chicagoans to help the environment by doing what they already do – pitch their trash and recyclables into a dual purpose recycle/trash container. With the Park District and major sports teams in town on board, the company has some exciting plans in the works for 2012 – including building on the revenue sharing opportunities for potential advertisers and host companies.
I sat down with Dave Whorton from Free Green Can to discuss how his company is putting corporate profitability and environmental responsibility on the same page.

Dave Whorton of Free Green Can

How did the inspiration from Free Green Can come about? I hear it was from an unlikely source.

DW: That’s right. About 3 years ago, our founder, Steve Holland, was at a park where his son was playing baseball. After the game, his son wanted to recycle his plastic bottle, but couldn’t find anywhere to do it. So Steve wanted to champion that cause by helping the park out with some recycling bins. Before long, the concept grew to the point of where the can is now patented.

It’s great that the idea from a 13-year-old kid really spawned Free Green Can. When you say one person can make a difference, one person really did make an environmental difference – throughout Chicago.

To be clear, the Free Green Can isn’t just for recycling, right?

DW: Absolutely. We are a dual-purpose trash and recycling bin, with half the bin divided down the middle. What we believe is that if we offer a recycling solution everywhere there’s a trash problem, people will generally do the right thing. By having a trash and recycling option in one bin, it makes life a lot easier and people will always do the right thing when presented in that fashion.

What could one Free Green Can mean for the environment over the course of a year?

DW: One Free Green Can, in a year, will save 15 trees.* When you think about our impact in the Chicago Park District, we have 2500 Free Green Cans placed. That’s going to be a very exciting environmental impact for us. It’s one of the big motivations for us as to why we do what we do every day.

How many Free Green Cans are there in the Chicagoland area?

DW: There’s our crown jewel, the Chicago Park District, where we have 2500 cans placed on the Museum campus, in Grant Park and along 16.5 miles of lakefront trail – from 63rd Street Beach to Osterman Beach. Also, at U.S. Cellular Field, we have 375 Free Green Cans. We’ve got 35 cans surrounding Wrigley Field. We were just at Fiesta Del Sol, which is the largest Latin festival in the Midwest. Several Aldermen are working with us now to place Free Green Cans in their wards.

Besides the recycling advantages, speak to the revenue sharing opportunities for businesses that choose to use Free Green Can.

DW: We provide the cans for free. We can do this by the advertisers that have come on board to support us. Those advertisers have four panels to share their messages with a very captive audience that engages with the product.

We take 10% of the revenue earned and give it back to the venue that uses our cans.

Think how that affects municipalities, for example. Everyone’s struggling in these tough budget times. So when advertisers support us, we’re so excited to give back to these host locations in partnership with these companies.

How does a potential advertiser go about working with Free Green Can?

DW: You come to us and let us create a solution for your type of company. If we get the chance to know your brand, we have price points for everyone from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies.

We have companies coming to us with Quick Response (QR) Codes that link back to a website. Well, we can help create that QR Code for a small business or use it for large companies featuring it as part of their marketing plan.

What are your goals for the rest of 2011 and heading into 2012?

DW: What we’re so proud of is how we’ve been embraced by the city and the Chicagoland Chamber. We’re really re-inventing public recycling in the city of Chicago. At the end of this year, we’re going to be able to say we’ve helped the Park District, several wards, Cubs, White Sox and more.

We’re going to use that as springboard to help showcase Chicago to the rest of the country as we go into other cities and say, “Look what we’ve done for Chicago and we’re ready to do the same thing for you.”

That said, we want to make sure our backyard is taken care of, with small businesses here who never thought they could advertise in the out-of-home industry.

Your product is a help to the environment, but how can people make the business environment better for you to succeed as an entrepreneurial company?

DW: I’ve traveled a lot and believe this is one of the cleanest cities in the world. But it can always improve. Now it’s ingrained in people’s minds that recycling is what you should do and that throwing it in a garbage can is not enough.

We’re trying to preserve the awe that residents and visitors have for our city. So for us as a small business when considering where to base Free Green Can, the question was “why not Chicago?”

The Chicagoland Chamber has done a great job of helping us get the word out and offering support, advice, guidance and counsel. That’s one of those things as a small business that you rely upon – people who have a feel for the pulse of Chicago. The connections that the Chamber has made for us have been phenomenal. We want to start giving back to the Chamber with as much enthusiasm as they’ve given to us.

(This post originally ran as a piece for The Chicagoland Chamber.)

*Number is based on if Free Green Can is filled with 25% paper, 25% plastic, 25% aluminum and 25% glass.

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