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Envirobond, made with psyllium fibre, holds stone pathways together

For 15 years, Mike Riehm’s Envirobond Products Corp. has been providing landscape contractors and homeowners with environmentally friendly alternatives to asphalt for paving and pathways. The key to Mr. Riehm’s business is psyllium, a plant native to India and best known as the key ingredient of Metamucil, the high-fibre dietary supplement. The husk that covers the plant’s seeds can be ground into a powder that, when mixed with crushed stone or sand, fills the gaps between paving stones. It reduces erosion by rainfall and wind while controlling damage from weeds and insects.

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“If you just put regular sand in, it washes away,” says Mr. Riehm. “Our product has the psyllium powder blended with the sand, so when you water it, it locks the sand in place.”

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Mr. Riehm began selling his products by the truckload at trade shows to contractors and landscape architects. But he ultimately decided to shift his focus from bulk sales to 50-pound bags after a landscape architect alerted him to its potential for the residential market.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

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Five years ago, Envirobond forged a distribution arrangement with Home Depot Canada. Sales there now amount to 40 per cent of Envirobond’s revenue. Today the product is being used in the pathway that will run from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Manhattan Bridge in New York City and at Disney’s theme park in Shanghai, China, due to open in the first half of 2016.

Envirobond Products Corp.

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The challenge for Envirobond is to flourish in an inherently seasonal marketplace. “When we’re selling in the Northeast, Home Depot stops ordering from us in August,” says Mr. Riehm. “The commercial market runs until October or maybe November and doesn’t start up again until April or May.” This happens at the same time that the company needs to buy its raw materials for the coming year and be able to cover salaries.

Envirobond Products Corp.

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“I’ve never been happy with making $1- to 2-million,” says Mr. Riehm. “I’ve always wanted to make $100-million. I wouldn’t be much of an entrepreneur if I didn’t dream big. But you can’t get to that just by doing what you’re doing. You have to look at changes to your business model.”

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

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