For long-term business owners, staying true to a core mission can be a challenge, as markets and technologies evolve over the years. But for Traci Phillips, founder of e-waste recycling company Natural Evolution, dedication to her original business model wound up being her salvation — even as some of her competitors went under.
Since she started out, Phillips’ focus has been on safely disposing of dead cell phones, retired computers and other gadgets whose materials can have harmful effects on the environment, if not handled properly. She credits her firm’s customer-oriented approach — it crafts tailored recycling programs for schools and state and federal governments — for its survival while others did not. And though the recycling industry lost a great deal of money due to the rising costs of properly processing items, next January, Natural Evolution will celebrate its 14th year in business.
Phillips wasn’t always entrepreneurially driven, however. When we first showcased her work in a video spotlight in 2013, she told us that she started up out of necessity: She needed a job. But her desire to protect the environment always came from a deeper place. When we followed up with her in 2014, Phillips talked about her Native American lineage and how central it has been to her motivation and tenacity.
“My tribe, many years ago, believed we had a responsibility, and we were actually stewards of our surroundings and our earth,” she said, referring to her Osage and Cherokee background. “It feels like I am fulfilling that.”
Of course, a few things have changed in the last two years. She added a dedicated social media staffer to her team, and now has 13 employees in all. She has also incorporated an educational component to Natural Evolution’s work, helping customers understand the intricacies of the recycling process while showing them the adverse effects of e-waste on the environment. It’s a time-consuming endeavor, she says, but one she also describes as necessary for impressing upon others the importance of recycling electronics properly.
However, much remains the same, including a client list dominated by schools and government bodies. And going forward, Phillips plans to stick with what has worked for over a decade, both professionally and personally: standing with her customers in a common commitment to a healthy environment, and standing up for her family and community.
Check out her TSE video profile: