Interview with Linda Lannon (2012)
People Towels believes that every person can have a positive impact on the environment by making everyday lifestyle changes. To facilitate such lifestyle changes, they developed a reusable personal hand towel that is 100% certified organic Fair Trade cotton and is an on-the-go, sustainable alternative to paper towels in public facilities. The WJF’s Erin Jones spoke with founder Linda about People Towels.
Where are you located?
We are a virtual business, with locations in California and Florida.
What problem are you trying to solve?
The problem that People Towels is trying to solve is the problem of waste in the United States and the issues around paper towels and the landfill waste they cause, such as the deforestation, the consumption of water, and the CO2 emissions when they are decomposing in the landfill. In a nutshell, we are trying to educate people about the environment and the impact of single use paper towels.
How did you become interested in this problem?
My business partner spent a lot of time in Japan and in Japan, they do not have paper towels in public restrooms. It is a custom and habit for everyone, from business people to school children, to carry a personal towel. When we were looking at sustainable trends in the United States, we realized that this particular Japanese custom was not practiced in the U.S. We introduced it to the American public.
What is your solution to the problem?
Our solution is a sustainable, on-the-go alternative to paper towels. That is People Towels.
Who are your customers?
We have 3 types of customers. We sell People Towels online at our website. We sell to retail customers, such as the Container Store, Whole Foods, and specialty gift stores, and we do private label People Towels for companies, such as Stonyfield Farms, Waste Management, and the Nature Conservancy, to name a few.
How many people do you employ?
We employ 2 people right now.
Has the William James Foundation competition and mentoring program helped you on your way?
We have entered a couple of times and have made some good networking contacts. That’s primarily how it has helped us, through networking.
What other resources have you found that are particularly useful for social entrepreneurs?
The Small Business Administration (SBA)
We’ve been part of Green America and we’ve found that to be very useful. We also have gone to the Sustainable Brands conference, which is a wonderful conference in terms of networking. In general, the resources have been fellow entrepreneurs. Particularly in the sustainable space, people are very willing to lend a helping hand. I’ve found it very gratifying to work with fellow green social entrepreneurs.
What are some of your major challenges?
A major challenge has been educating people and changing behavior, as we’re a small company with limited resources.
For readers who want to know more about what you’re up to, where can we send them?
Our website www.peopletowels.com.
We also have an initiative that we launched two months ago. It’s an auxiliary website called cleanhandscleanworld.com. We partnered with a nonprofit, Clean the World, that takes recycled soap from the hospitality industry and distributes it to impoverished people in 3rd world countries and to shelters in the United States. We’ve partnered with them to provide a one-to-one program, so if you buy certain People Towels, we donate one free towel to Clean the World for their sustainable hand washing kits. Many infectious diseases could be eliminated through simple hand washing.