Wednesday, August 20, 2008

VerTerra - Sustainable & Responsible Business of the Week

VerTerra (New York City NY) is a manufacturer of disposable dinnerware. Plates, bowls, and cups are made from 100% renewable and compostable plant matter and water. According to the website,

We start by collecting fallen leaves from plantations without cutting down any trees. Normally, these leaves would be burned on the side of the road. Instead, they are brought to our factory, sprayed with high pressure water, steamed and UV sterilized. We recapture over 80% of the water we use. No chemicals, lacquers, glues, bonding agents or anything toxic are ever used. The entire process uses only a fraction of the energy used in recycling.

The products are durable, will naturally biodegrade in 2 months, and can be used in the microwave, oven, and refrigerator.

Items are made in South Asia by VerTerra’s own employees where employees receive fair wages in safe working conditions and are provided access to healthcare.

VerTerra was founded by Michael Dwork.

Sustainable & Responsible Business of the Week is a weekly behind-the-scenes look at what businesses are doing to be more sustainable and responsible in their operations.

Sustainable & Responsible Business of the Week: If they can do it, so can you!


Anonymous said...

Critique of Michael Dwork, founder of Verterra

By Richard - Murwillumbah, Australia.

I am an occasional reader of Time magazine and stumbled upon a business article by Jeremy Caplan on Verterra Dinnerware in the October 13, 2008 edition (Australian) of Time (page 52). Also at:,28804,1706699_1707550_1846340,00.html

Jeremy Caplan’s article is careful not to over-state or claim. However, it strongly implies that Michael Dwork had an "idea" in southern India in 2006, that Mr Dwork developed his idea with "engineer friends", "crossed Asia to find plants for his plates", "through Laos, Thailand and Cambodia", "testing dozens", "in search of the perfect leaf" and so on. Before settling on a palm leaf in southern India - wow.

I think it should be known that plates and bowls steam-pressed from the leaf-base (sheath) of the Areca (the so called ‘betel nut’) palm (Areca catechu) have been manufactured in southern India since long before 2006.

Indeed, in 2006, steam-pressed Areca palm plates and bowls were already in Indian city stores and on display at trade expos in southern India, and have been imported into Australia with the name of Eco-Vision Bioplate since 2005 or earlier. Areca plates have also been imported into Germany, Switzerland and United Kingdom since or before 2003.

Jeremy Caplan’s article includes a photo of Mr Dwork leaning on a small palm tree. I can say, with reasonable certainty, that this small palm is of the species Areca catechu, the common, plantation, Areca palm.

It seems Mr Dwork copied a well established product (material and method) and imported Areca plates into the US market - which is hardly an "entrepreneurial gamble" and is definitely not an original idea.

Mr Dwork was a member of the ‘entrepreneurship class’ at Columbia School of Business. Mr Dwork went on, with ‘his idea’, to become the 2007 winner of the A. Lorne Weil Outrageous Business Plan Competition, and received $100,000 in seed funding from the Eugene M. Lang Entrepreneurial Initiative Fund - which is remarkable considering the Lang Fund’s emphasis for originality.

What is outrageous is Michael Dwork appearing to grab the credit and failing to acknowledge Indian ingenuity, Indian producers and Indian exporters who have manufactured quality steam-pressed Areca plates identical to the Verterra product, and who have done so for years before Michael Dwork arrived in 2006.

For a history of the Areca plate visit:

This limited critique has been sent to the following:

Michael Dwork

Jeremy Caplan via Time

Time magazine

Columbia School of Business

United States Patent and Trademark Office

The New York Times

New York Post

And others.




30th October 2008.

Anonymous said...

Critique of Michael Dwork and Verterra - continuation.

The overdeveloped salesmanship practiced by Michael Dwork and Verterra includes the assertion that shipping palm leaf sheaths from India to New York is okay because rural people would otherwise only burn the sheaths. This claim by Verterra is deceptive.
Although palm leaves may sometimes be burnt for mosquito control, it is arrogant for Mr Dwork to infer that Indian farmers are not aware of the benefits of putting organic material into the soil (composting/mulch).
Also, in rural India cooking is usually over a fire, and dried palm sheaths are an excellent fuel for the domestic fireplace. Removing Areca palm sheaths from rural areas may have unforeseen impacts, as other sources of cooking fuel need to be collected from the forest or fields.

Verterra are proud to own extensive production facilities in India, which is, no doubt, the optimum for New York based Verterra’s balance sheet.

Although Verterra’s facilities provide employment, its wider value for rural development is questionable, and may even be detrimental for rural self-esteem, as the villager labours for the foreign company that stole ‘their’ product.
Other producers of Areca plates include village cooperatives, the greater benefit for rural development would be obvious.
If your concern is to support rural development in India, please consider Areca products from village manufacture.

I like to have Areca palm containers for display in the home. However, from the environmental perspective, the promotion of any single-use dishware is not appropriate - unless intended for areas with serious water shortages.

In Australia, artists make delightful baskets and sculptures from the leaf sheaths of the Bangalow palm Archontophoenix cunninghamiana, which is also an Arecaceae Palmae.

Richard - Murwillumbah, Australia.

Yes, I am a frequent visitor to India, and I do not have any financial interest in any business associated with Areca products.

14th November 2008.

Anonymous said...

I have been contacted by Mr Michael Dwork. He disputes my critiques, I believe my comments to be valid, readers may choose to disregard my previous posts, and should make their own inquires.

Richard - Murwillumbah, Australia.

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