Founder of Dolphin Blue Sets an Example as a Leader in Green Business
Tom Kemper describes himself as “someone who loves being human and living on a planet that is the most beautiful place.” The Texas native says he derives meaning from knowing he’s been able to make a difference in his life.
And make a difference he has. As the CEO of Dolphin Blue, the first and only all-green online general store, Kemper has promoted sustainable living through his successful eco-friendly business for nearly three decades.
Starting in 1994, as a supplier of green office supplies like remanufactured ink, toner cartridges, and recycled paper and envelopes, the company has since grown to include school supplies, pet products, garden supplies, personal care items, and kid’s toys. They’ve even branched out into the world of natural bed linens through their sister site, Natural Healthy Bedroom. Every Dolphin Blue product either contains a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer recycled materials or is sustainably manufactured according to the highest environmental standards. Packages and labels are also made with recycled material or recovered for reuse and printed with vegetable-based inks.
Before creating Dolphin Blue, Kemper spent 20 years selling dictation systems and was no stranger to the amount of waste that offices produce. “I was well aware of what I perceived as wasteful practices regarding the volume of paper and office files I witnessed in all businesses,” he explains. “I heard one of my heroes state, ‘If we as a society are to become sustainable, then it is up to business to take the lead.’ That hero of mine was the late Ray Anderson, founder of Interface. Ray inspired me to do great things.”
Dolphin Blue’s sales were modest at first. It wasn’t until 2006 that the company celebrated its first million-dollar year. But as businesses and consumers across the globe have become more eco-conscious, Dolphin Blue’s customer base has grown. “It’s like the world’s finally awakened,” said Kemper.
Customers now include the United States Postal Service and the Social Security Administration. In fact, the SSA is one of Dolphin Blue’s biggest accounts – and Kemper claims they buy more post-consumer recycled office supplies than all the Fortune 500 companies combined.
From Recycling Advocate to Green Business Leader
Kemper’s commitment to sustainability predates the start of Dolphin Blue, long before eco-friendly was a marketing buzzword. In the early 90s, he campaigned for a curbside recycling program outside of a small grocery store chain. He also organized Dallas’s first public recycling event at the 1992 Shakespeare Festival of Dallas.
His early endeavors showed him that more effort was needed beyond simply placing items in a bin. Recycling is great, but without a market for products made from recycled materials, it’s hard to effect real change. Kemper realized that he needed to not only inspire consumers to recycle but also to inspire businesses to buy recycled products.
“My experience in conducting that recycling collection early on inspired me to start a business that would provide only products made from post-consumer recovered materials,” he said.
Kemper was diagnosed with Lyme Disease a few years back, a personal experience that only seemed to reinforce his commitment to sustainability and green business. After his diagnosis, he had his staff prepare for the possibility of his absence.
“Having gone to the precipice on three separate occasions in the past year and a half, I value my time with great attention and respect for the work that still needs to be done by me,” he said. “If we are to leave our children, and their children, a world in which it is worth living, we have much work remaining. I will do all within my remaining time here, to create that sustainable planet.”
He’s had to take a step back from daily business operations to focus on his health, but he continues to meet with Dolphin Blue’s COO at least once a week.
Doing Business While Doing Good
Dolphin Blue’s eco-conscious product line has made them a leader in the green business world, but the earth-friendly efforts don’t stop there. The company also runs a “Dedicate a Tree” program where customers can purchase tree planting packages as gifts. Planting trees produces oxygen, provides a habitat for several species, and stabilizes soil. It’s a win for the environment and it helps the gift recipient take an active role in preserving the planet.
The company’s website states it gives a portion of its yearly profits to “local chapters of environmental non-profits.” Dolphin Blue has also formed partnerships with the North Texas Clean Air Coalition, the Green Chamber of Commerce, and the American Sustainable Business Council.
Despite his health setback, Kemper remains optimistic about his business and about the future. “I love knowing that while I’ve been here, I’ve been able to make a difference,” he said. “I’m interested in seeing other people step forward and make a difference…I look around me and I see what’s possible, I see the beauty.”