Made from recycled rubber tires and plastic containers, VAST Enterprises' deck and driveway pavers offer a stylish way to go green.
Though the company has been in business for only four years, Minneapolis-based VAST Enterprises is leading the way in green pavers. Or, more accurately, LEED-ing the way.
Named using the last initials of its four founders, college friends Andy Vander Woude, Troy Achterkirch, Steve Smith and Steve Thorkelson, VAST's signature product is a recycled composite paver invented by Achterkirch and Thorkelson. Each paver is made of up to 95 percent
recycled materials, mainly recycled rubber tires and plastic containers--items that would otherwise end up in landfills. Paired with a zero-waste manufacturing process and regional materials sourcing, VAST pavers contribute more significantly to LEED Green Building credits than any
When Achterkirch and Thorkelson showed Smith the product in 2005, he knew it had great potential. They brought in Vander Woude and started discussing the business possibility, holding regular meetings after work at Ridgedale Library.
In 2006, VAST entered the second-annual Minnesota Cup challenge, a statewide competition for entrepreneurial ideas. It won, competing against more than 600 other entries. Smith says that winning the competition "validated the product, the team and the business plan that we
had scoped around this material science."
After winning the Minnesota Cup, the founders began to receive calls at their office jobs from people wanting to buy the product and decided it was time to make VAST more than a secondary endeavor. In late 2006, they walked away from the security of corporate careers and into
uncharted entrepreneurial territory, working with contract manufacturers to make the product. Doors to their Minneapolis office opened for business on Jan. 1, 2007.
Though he does not reveal specific sales figures, Smith says with pride that, to date, VAST has kept more than 3 million pounds of waste out of landfills. But it's not only VAST's recycling achievement that makes it an increasingly popular choice. In addition to eco-friendly
content, VAST pavers are permeable, allowing rainwater to sink into the ground instead of running off into storm water drainage systems. Unlike other rubber-based pavers, they are also structural, making them an option for driveways and parking lots. And because they're one-third
the weight of concrete bricks, they can be used for alternative applications such as paving flat roofs or wood decks, which would not typically hold the weight of traditional paving bricks.
In the construction market, where paving materials have remained largely the same for thousands of years, selling a new product can be challenging. But Smith, who is now vice president of business development for VAST Enterprises, says he wouldn't have it any other way.
"The Romans built thousands of miles of roads from materials that are very similar to the concrete and clay products typically being used today. We're introducing a new company with a new technology," Smith says. "We hope to catch a wave as the market turns back around."
Growth has already been explosive, with sales increasing by nearly 70 percent between 2008 and 2009. Formal distribution now spans 22 states; the company hopes to expand its distribution to 30 states by the end of 2010.