Two alumni 19 years apart recycle tires, save trees, make sidewalks easier to navigate -- all while running a booming business.
by Henry "Hank" Stark
"People have no idea how much power they have -- they would be amazed to see how much."
Movie producer, screenwriter, and self-avowed "tree-hugger" Lindsay Smith '67 found out how much power she had one day four years ago while taking a routine walk through her California neighborhood. When she encountered 17 tree workers about to cut down 26 perfectly healthy trees, she was enraged -- doubly so because there had been no opportunity for citizen feedback. Her ensuing verbal blast intimidated the workers so much that they temporarily desisted. It was long enough for Lindsay to phone her local newspaper and summon a reporter and photographer. The article in the paper so energized the residents to protest that the project was quashed. The trees survived.
Lindsay learned that the city had decided to cut down the trees because they were harming the sidewalks. Her concern for the trees -- and the benefit they afford people -- prompted her to do some research. She discovered that "a billion and a half square feet of city sidewalks are damaged each year, 80 percent of them by tree roots. Too often the solution is to cut down the trees." She learned about a member of the Santa Monica public works department who was experimenting with using recycled rubber as a replacement for concrete. The newly developed rubber pavement -- made from tires that would otherwise be destined for landfills -- allowed water and air to penetrate; so that the roots could grow underground without needing to fight their way to the surface.
Lindsay began to phone public works departments in cities around the country. She'd start by asking, "Who's in charge of your sidewalk management?" She asked the sidewalk managers if trees were a problem. The reply was always affirmative. Lindsay started typing up information sheets about rubber sidewalks and sending them to the managers. "It was really primitive," she says now.
Lindsay had been a drama major at Ithaca College from 1963 to 1965 but headed for the Los Angeles area to pursue her love of the entertainment business. Her most noteworthy accomplishment was a stint as screenwriter and producer of the filmed-in-Moscow feature Back in the USSR, the first American-made film to use a Russian crew. Although it was just a "blip" at the box office, Lindsay is proud that it helped American-Soviet relations. She is still in touch with writers and producers Jeffrey Kramer '67 and Marty Nadler '67, whom she had met at IC.
Rubber sidewalks offered her an advocacy project; soon it grew into a full-time occupation. The next step was to hire contractors to create rubber-paving pieces. She'd then send the modular "pavers" to each city. It wasn't long before she was running her own company.
Rubbersidewalks was incorporated in 2001. In its first two years Lindsay concentrated on research and development. In 2003 she felt confident enough to work on expanding her sales. In the year from 2003 to 2004 sales increased tenfold. Rubbersidewalks has supplied sidewalks to more than 40 cities around the country, with sales "well into six figures."
"If you're a successful movie producer," says Lindsay, "you can become a successful CEO. In each job you need to be able to handle money, multitask, be organized, and be somewhat persuasive."
As she fleshed out the concept for Rubbersidewalks, Lindsay felt she needed a marketing manager. On a Saturday morning in January 2003 she started looking for candidates via a well-known Internet career site. Call it serendipity if you want, but the previous evening Dan Joyce '86 had posted his résumé for the first time. Lindsay saw it, noted the Ithaca College degree, and called him, she says, "for that reason and that reason alone."
After getting her call, Dan jumped in his car and three hours later was in the audience as Lindsay gave a presentation to managers of 10 California cities. After the talk Lindsay interviewed Dan. "Ithaca gave us an immediate camaraderie," Lindsay recalls, "an instant trust. And he's 20 years younger than I am!" Lindsay hired Dan to be Rubbersidewalks' first vice president of marketing.
"I got a great marketing education at Ithaca," Dan says. He tells of how as seniors he and his roommate Steve Brett lobbied an IC marketing professor for a $500 grant to use for the promotion of a seminar they wanted to conduct. They obtained the money and held a successful seminar. That experience, Dan says, was the catalyst that propelled him into a business career.
At Rubbersidewalks he uses trade shows, regional road shows, and direct mail to further the company's image and reputation. He and Lindsay invite managers from nearby cities to attend their presentations; word of mouth is their most powerful marketing tool.
Rubber sidewalks have some obvious environmental advantages: by allowing trees to be preserved (the company has saved hundreds so far), they cut down on air pollution (trees clean the air by filtering out particulate matter and converting carbon dioxide into oxygen), save energy (trees shade and cool the air), improve water quality (tree roots filter out impurities), and, as Lindsay points out, raise real estate values. Rubber sidewalks have the additional advantage of sustaining a 60 percent lower impact than concrete, according to a company study. It's much easier on the knees and joints and lessens the impact of a fall. "A glass bottle will bounce off it," Lindsay says. Perhaps most significantly, the sidewalks keep a great number of used passenger automobile tires out of landfills.
"The greatest environmental problem with waste tires," explains Lindsay, "is a tire-pile fire. It takes a lot to get tire rubber burning, a sustained temperature of 700 degrees, but once afire it's hard to extinguish and it sends dangerous pollutants into the air."
Rubbersidewalks accumulates tires from auto dealers who have collected them as trade-ins. So instead of going to the landfill they are "granulated" -- ground by machines into tiny bits. Rubbersidewalks buys 4,000-pound sacks of this "crumb rubber" to produce the modular sidewalk pieces.
The company has already forged relationships with like-minded companies in the recycled-rubber industry including U.S. Rubbersidewalks, Grubble, and Turbo-Scape. They share information and markets, a practice that leads them all to more constructive research and development. Lindsay says, "Every day is R&D day. We continually improve the product and develop new products." Eventually she hopes to have installations in all 50 states.
"We envision paving the country with rubber sidewalks, which means saving trees, providing a safer public right of way, and saving cities money." After that, she says, international opportunities beckon. One can just picture the trees where Rubbersidewalks are installed breathing a little easier.