Like everybody else I’ve always looked at CARE, the Carpet America Recovery Effort, as forward thinking on the part of the carpet industry in its mission to divert post-consumer from the nation’s landfills. Launched in 2002 by a unique agreement between industry and state agencies, CARE put the carpet industry head and shoulders above other industries in the U.S. in assuming responsibility for its waste – in this case 2.5 tons of carpet that’s disposed of each year.

Nine years later, in 2011 the effort diverted 333 million pounds of carpet from landfills, 250 million pounds of which were recycled back into carpet and other consumer products. To date the program has kept 2.3 million billion pounds of used carpet out of landfills.

The backbone of this operation is made of entrepreneurs, the people who have built businesses that collect, sort and process all of this collected castoff carpet. Without these guys the machine would not operate and the landfills would be submerged in old, dirty carpet. We had the opportunity to visit the 9th Annual CARE Entrepreneurs meeting recently and to say the least it was eye opening for me.

We’ve all heard the narratives about entrepreneurs putting it all on the line for an idea that was their passion, but these guys are over the top. While I interviewed several entrepreneurs, a comment made by one of the guys seemed to really sum it all up for these carpet recyclers. I’m talking about Dick Kruse, the owner of Kruse Carpet Recycling of Indianapolis, Indiana. He recalled a comment made by his financial guy at the front end of their relationship, who asked: “Okay, let me get this right, you have an unreliable source of supply, you are in a capital intensive business and you have only four customers. And you’re in this business why?”

Kruse said in the interview, “This is a business that’s in its infancy. If you’re not entrepreneurial, if you’re not forward thinking, if you don’t have a source of capital, and if you don’t have some green blood in your veins, don’t even consider it.”  He noted that the whole carpet recycling business is extremely cyclical, where one must weather the highs and lows and above all be forward thinking to see that the final product will ultimately be of moderate to high value.

He said, “This is not a business for the faint of heart.” It’s the same for every recycler/processer involved in the CARE program. Pointing out the down cycle side of the business, one of the meeting’s segments was entitled, “Lessons from the Edge,” which was full of accounts of near-death business experiences that almost every recycler seemed to have.

Like the killer app being the big score for the nerd code writer, the clincher, the ultimate payoff for these guys is the killer product: A new end use for used carpet or a new technology that will bring newfound value and demand for this commodity that not so long ago nobody wanted.

Let me also mention that Bob Peoples is also back as the executive director of CARE, the guy that started the whole thing and who promises to take this group to the next level. He’s the perfect guy for the job, because when you really look at heading an organization that includes these entrepreneurs, a bunch of free spirits and visionaries who are in this game for something more than the money, it has to be like herding a bunch of cats.

Let me thank you, Bob, and the entrepreneurs for the opportunity to attend your meeting. What you guys have done is really build a new industry where none had existed before, erecting the infrastructure, lining up the sources of supply, and finding customers. And above all, doing it with no promise of a payoff in the end. When all is said and done and with what you have put on the line, you are most assuredly the definition of entrepreneurism and cut from a totally different bolt of cloth than most of us. This whole enterprise would have never left the station without you, because you’re driving the train.