Radical transparency at Office Depot

Here’s a simple but powerful idea:

People have the right to know where things come from and what they are made of.

That’s the idea behind a free open-source, volunteer-driven platform called Sourcemap. Sourcemap will soon make its mass market debut, thanks to a partnership between Office Depot and New Leaf Paper.

The goal of the partnership is, not surprisingly, to sell more recycled paper. While you’ll get some argument about this, experts say that recycled paper saves trees, energy and water, produces less pollution, uses more benign chemicals, and requires less bleaching than virgin paper production.

The trouble is, recycled paper–for now–costs more.  That’s largely a problem of scale. If there were more demand for recycled paper, there would be more incentive to collect used paper, more infrastructure devoted to recycling and costs would come down.

So, to drive up sales and eventually drive down costs, Office Depot and New Leaf want to show customers — institutions, small companies and individuals — the environmental benefits of recycled paper, in part by telling them exactly where their paper come from.

“We’re trying to make environmental paper mainstream,” says Jeff Mendelsohn, the president and co-founder of New Leaf, which develops, markets and distributes environmentally-preferable paper.

Beginning later this year,  shoppers who buy Office Depot’s 100% Forest Stewardship Council-certified recycled paper will be able to use their mobile phones to read a QR code (a kind of barcode) on the package. They’ll then see a movie, like this one, that traces their paper back to its source. This paper was tracked from the GreenBiz’s State of Green Business Forum 2011 in Washington, D.C., back to the streets of Milwaukee. Please take a look:

I spoke with New Leaf’s Jeff Mendelsohn and Yalmaz Siddiqui, director of environmental strategy at Office Depot, last week in Washington, where they gave a lively talk on their project. [click to continue…]

Sarah Palin goes green!

That Sarah Palin cover on Newsweek is striking, for more reasons than the obvious one–the fact that a politician with national ambitions is being shown in a pair of short black shorts.

PalinThe headline is attention-grabbing, too. “She’s bad news for the GOP–and for everybody else, too.” Really? How? The story says that what Obama advisors (!) call “Palinism” has “created a climate of idelogical purity inside the GOP.” I’m no fan of ideological purity but it’s a stretch to blame Palin for the fact that the right-wing is coming down on, say, Lindsey Graham for working with John Kerry to enact climate change legislation.

As a runner, I was also struck by the fact that the cover photo comes from a series of pictures taken last spring for Runner’s World magazine, which are online here. I’m all in favor of recycling but it’s odd that Newsweek turned to a running magazine for its cover pic.

Then Lee Weinstein, a former Nike exec who now runs his own PR firm, told me that Palin is wearing a running top from a very cool startup, based in New Zealand, called Icebreaker. (Maybe she can see New Zealand as well as Russia from the shores of Alaska.) If you’re wondering, she’s wearing Icebreaker’s long sleeve chase zip in salsa and silver, available online here.

ib_logo_googleIt’s made from all-natural merino wool, sourced in the mountains of New Zealand, which is environmentally preferable to the oil-based plastics used in a lot of outdoor gear. Icebreaker’s charismatic founder, Jeremy Moon, spoke last year at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference about the company’s deep rooted commitment to sustainability. Icebreaker even attaches a “Baacode” — get it? — to all of its products so that buyers can trace their raw materials back to the source.

As Lee emailed me to say:

It’s great Ms. Palin has discovered the benefits of running in natural, sustainable Icebreaker merino, which doesn’t hold odor like synthetic running tops (made from oil).

As opposed to the ‘Drill Baby Drill’ mantra of the last U.S. election cycle, Icebreaker has been campaigning for consumers to switch from synthetic running tops made from oil.

Palin may be “bad for everybody else,” but she’s setting a good example when it comes to sustainable running gear.