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Finding New Purpose

Creative Entrepreneurs Go Green

Independent eco-friendly ventures are growing.

Woman Sitting on Eco-Friendly Products

Among Penny Johnston's many eco-friendly businesses is one in which she makes colorful doormats from rope discarded by lobstermen. — Photo courtesy Maine Float-Rope Co.

As millions of feet of old polypropylene rope filled wharves and warehouses along the Maine coast, Penny Johnston saw a chance to clean up. So was born the Maine Float-Rope Co., which today produces colorful doormats from the indestructible discards of local lobstermen.


When 168,000 pounds of line ended up on a pier in Rockland earlier this year, Johnston quickly did the math: 30,000 doormats. More line will become available this summer as lobstermen continue to cast aside the buoyant rope that they can no longer use. New federal rules now require using rope that sinks to the sea floor, which poses no threat of entangling endangered whales. “We’ll never run out” of raw materials, the 69-year-old Johnston says with a laugh.

Johnston moved to Maine from Connecticut 5 1/2 years ago and since then has started several eco-businesses. She’s recycled and sold barn boards and timbers, which are used to make furniture and building materials, as well as granite foundations and fieldstone walls, used for home construction and landscaping. Now, it’s lobster lines into doormats.

Growing Demand for Green Products

Earlier this year, Johnston’s doormats were named Best New Product at the annual New England Products Trade Show, and she’s been busy filling orders ever since. “I have a hard time sitting still,” she says, while walking around the grounds of her sprawling home. She had it built out of old barn boards and granite on a scenic neck of land in coastal Waldoboro.

Johnston is one of a number of small entrepreneurs who are cashing in on the growing demand for green products. That demand represents “one of the most significant shifts in consumer attitudes in this country’s history,” according to the National Retail Federation.

Although interest in environmentally friendly products has been steadily increasing over the years, in 2007 “the green bandwagon arrived,” says Willard Ander, a marketing executive in Chicago and coauthor of Greentailing and Other Revolutions in Retail.

And that bandwagon extends beyond small businesses to a green industry. The Pew Charitable Trusts in June reported that between 1998 and 2007, clean-energy jobs—both white- and blue-collar positions—grew by 9.1 percent, compared with total job growth of only 3.7 percent.

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