Turning Paper Into Trees
Allegheny alumnus discovers new calling in life
Mike Greenberg ’88 has three pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Follow your passions; work hard – play hard; find what resonates with you.
Greenberg admits that it took him a while to discover what resonates. Twenty-four years after starting his own business, however, he believes he has found it.
“For years I had been looking for the right cause to support,” says Greenberg, who lives in Denver. “Nothing has ever resonated with me like my most recent venture in our software platform called PrintReleaf.”
Establishing Roots in Silicon Valley
Following graduation from Allegheny, Greenberg – armed with an international economics degree – moved to San Francisco and began selling freight services for now-defunct Consolidated Freightways. Although he says he learned a great deal about sales, what excited him most was that his sales territory was in the technology hub Silicon Valley.
“The year was around 1990, the infancy of the tech sector,” he says. “I didn’t know much about technology beyond floppy disks, but I knew I wanted to be selling technology products and services.”
That’s when he took a job with a technology distributor requiring him to make about 500 cold calls per day. Although he says the three months at this job weren’t “glamorous,” it led him to a new connection.
“I met someone who had just started a small printer sales company, and he asked me to join,” Greenberg recalls. “He taught me a lot about the printer side of the business, which was invaluable, but he was unable to sustain his company.”
Greenberg decided to relocate to his hometown of Denver. Faced with the realization that he didn’t have a job but needed to put food on the table, he decided to put his Allegheny economics skills to use by starting his own business.
In 1992, PrinTelogy Inc. was born.
“I began in a one-room apartment selling ink and toner for printers,” Greenberg says. “I still recall hearing the poor UPS delivery driver pulling his dolly up three flights of stairs to deliver my inventory, then down again at the end of the day with my shipments. The company began to grow, and I was able to expand our services and creating a niche for ourselves.
“The fact that I had the confidence to go out and do something on my own is something I attribute to Allegheny,” he adds, specifically mentioning advice he received from Professor Emeritus Earl Adams and his adviser, Professor Emeritus Steve Casler. “I also learned a lot about leadership as president of my fraternity, Phi Delta Theta.”
Greenberg still serves as head of PrinTelogy, which boasts clients such as Starz Entertainment, Reed Smith LLP and Dish Network. However, a call from a former sales competitor three years ago piqued his interest and helped uncover a new passion.
Data Into Trees
The new idea was called PrintReleaf – a software platform that captures letter paper consumption from software connected to network printers and copiers; reverse calculates how many trees were deforested for that paper; then funds global reforestation projects to replant that consumption.
To put things into perspective, Greenberg explains that a broadly accepted formula equates that 8,333 sheets of paper are produced from one tree. Estimates also predict that 3.3 trillion pages of paper are produced on digital printers and copiers worldwide each year – translating to 360 million trees being harvested for paper.
“It’s important to note,” he says, “that the 3-plus trillion pages doesn’t include commercially printed paper products such as magazines, newspaper, paper cups, toilet paper, etc. This market is at least five times the consumption of office equipment.
“When the company’s founder first came to me with the idea for PrintReleaf, I knew little about sustainability,” adds Greenberg, who now is a partner at PrintReleaf. “Around the same time, I was becoming increasingly aware of how global warming was becoming a dangerous problem for our planet. Tree biomass can provide huge benefits to repairing this damage.
“It’s gratifying to see that we are making an impact, although we know we still have a very long way to go. Since launching our platform in May 2014, we have offset more than 250 million sheets of paper and funded the replanting of 30,000 trees,” he says.
In addition to the time he spends dedicated to the businesses and to his 17-year-old son, Charlie, Greenberg also serves as a frequent public speaker at national industry conventions on emerging ideas and strategies and as a consultant.
Looking back on his career, Greenberg says that although his journey from Allegheny followed a winding path, he is pleased that he has found a cause that finally resonates with him.
“It’s amazing to see how each job has taught me new skills and facilitated new connections to get me to where I am today,” he says. “I never would have guessed I’d be running a printing company while serving as a champion for sustainability.
“I firmly believe that my education and experience at Allegheny played a huge role in me feeling confident and provided the foundation of skills for me to succeed at anything I chose to do.”
Allegheny is the first liberal arts college to begin using PrintReleaf as just one tool within the College’s greater overall strategy for sustainability. Early estimates predict that the College uses 5 million pages of paper per year through its copiers and printers, which translates to 600 trees. If estimates remain accurate, 600 trees will be planted in areas such as Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mexico in the future through PrintReleaf.