VoyageATL | Meet Mike Nilan and Craig Ramsey of TreeZero

A version of this article appeared in VoyageATL

Craig Ramsey, President and Mike Nilan, CEO and co-founder of TreeZero

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike Nilan and Craig Ramsey.

Mike and Craig, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Before founding TreeZero, I was traveling the world, sourcing ideas for sustainable products. As an avid environmentalist and a father of five sons, I was looking for something that would benefit generations to come. I wanted a business with a higher purpose.

I found that purpose in a premium, multipurpose paper that’s tree free, carbon neutral and made entirely from sugarcane waste. I was intrigued, because like most people I had never heard of making paper from sugar cane or more specifically bagasse – the fibrous residue left over after the sugar cane has been processed and the sugar extracted. The bagasse is fibrous, very much like wood pulp, and it can be processed into paper.

I discovered this process while traveling in China, and the idea for TreeZero began to take root. The paper production plant in their country used tree fibers in combination with the sugarcane waste. But I knew the process could be improved. The difficult part was finding a sugarcane field and refinery in close proximity to a paper mill. I found that in Colombia, which is where TreeZero’s paper is manufactured today – completely tree free. I can confidently say that our multipurpose copy paper is one of the most innovative and sustainable products to emerge in the paper industry since recycled paper was introduced nearly 50 years ago.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
There certainly have been challenges, but that’s to be expected when you’re trying to disrupt a stagnant industry. We didn’t get into the tree free paper business because we thought it was going to be easy. We did it because we wanted to make a make a difference for the future – and now.

Breaking through the status quo, communicating our value proposition and raising brand awareness were early-stage challenges, but we’ve worked to achieve rapid interest and widespread adoption in a short period of time. Today’s consumers place more importance on sustainably made products – from food and apparel to home goods and office supplies. They’re paying attention to what companies are doing and they’re purchasing products that stand for something. This mindset shift has greatly contributed to our success.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the TreeZero story. Tell us more about the business.
TreeZero is an Atlanta-based company that markets, supplies and distributes agro-fiber paper and other environmentally responsible products to companies, colleges and universities, government agencies and consumers. We’re best known for our flagship product: multipurpose copy paper made from a sugarcane waste byproduct, which is typically burned or landfilled.

We’re proud of what we’re doing because we’re moving the needle from good to great in everything that we do – helping organizations recognize that every business decision is a sustainability decision.

TreeZero paper benefits the environment by combatting deforestation, offsetting carbon emissions and helping reduce climate change. Earlier this year, we became carbon neutral by partnering with Wildlife Works, an organization that funds conservation efforts in Africa. Through Wildlife Works, we have retroactively purchased carbon offsets for every single ream of paper produced and sold since our inception – and we’ve made the same commitment for all future sales.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
We can confidently say that the success of our company is not by luck, but because of the talented and driven individuals that make up the TreeZero team. We have a diverse group of professionals from a variety of backgrounds including business consulting, sustainability and sales and marketing.

Jeff Foote, EVP, Sustainability for TreeZero

For example, our SVP of Sustainability Jeff Foote spent 20 years overseeing sustainability initiatives at The Coca-Cola Company. Coming from a Fortune 100 company, he brings an elevated perspective to our business, whether it’s managing TreeZero’s relationships with environmental groups, leading our carbon neutrality program or contributing thought leadership content on our corporate blog.

And it’s not just our team that’s instrumental to our success – we also have an amazing group of advisers and investors who believe in our mission and in the importance of sustainability.




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Photos via TreeZero.