Sustainable Business Insights
I am excited about the Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011
By John Shepley, Green Business Editor
August 29, 2011
Graphics Courtesy John Shepley
When I first got the email from Linda Velazquez about the summit, I had a great chuckle at my own inattentiveness. “Yes, but WHERE is it?”, I said to myself. I read the email twice: Date, check; Theme, check; location? Location? Then I caught it: the Virtual summit. Of course! This is Linda and Aramis Velazquez we’re talking about here; of course it would be an online virtual summit.
There are a couple of great reasons this event is important. First, it represents greenroofs.com taking their leadership to the next level of bringing in people, ideas, and information together. It’s quite logical after all. Greenroofs.com has been aggregating news sources, inviting guest columnists and editors to their site, and participating in many various green roof forums for more than a decade. The ‘logical’ next step is to get information out in more dynamic ways, with online interactions between presenters and attendees. And of course, they are on top of the technology that makes such intercourse possible.
Even better though, in my book, is that the summit means none of us have to travel physically to Atlanta (or anywhere else) to attend. A quick computation on terrapass.com tells me that by NOT flying to Atlanta, I will save 462 lbs of CO2. Someone from LA would save 1162 lbs. of CO2 by not coming to Atlanta.
Hmmm, Let’s just use 750 lbs of CO2 as an estimate of the median number and assume 1,000 attendees & speakers. That means that by holding a ‘virtual’ summit, we’re saving ¾ of a million pounds of CO2! Add to that the expense of lost time and expense of travel, hotels, and meals. The additional environmental costs of the hotels, rental cars, and other travel related activities contribute even more.
Let’s add it up:
- Air Travel (Lbs of CO2): $750,000
· Air Travel: Zero
· Air Travel: $400 x 1000 = $400,000
· Air Travel: Zero
· Hotel Rooms
2 nights x $250 X1000 = $500,000
· Hotel Rooms: Zero
· Meals: $200 x 1000 = $200,000
· Meals: Zero
· Airport Parking: $20 x 2 x 1000 = $20,000
· Airport Parking: Zero
Lost Productivity Costs:
Physical Summit vs. Virtual Summit Comparison
Even this simplest analysis demonstrates the enormous cost of attending a trade show / conference. And I’m not even including the cost of the time for the attendees, presenters, and vendors.
Now, imagine this for a really large conference and show. How many people travel to Greenbuild? (I checked, last year there were about 30,000 attendees. I’m gonna guess that at least ¾ of them traveled to Chicago from someplace else.) 22,500?!!?
My conclusion is that the financial, environmental, and productivity costs of any conference & trade show are enormous. But if no one takes the time to think about the aggregated costs, then there is probably very little awareness of the total impact of such an event.
So my hat’s off to Linda and Aramis, to Ralph Velasquez & Tremco for instigating and sponsoring the upcoming event, and to those who embrace the concept of ‘going virtual.’
This is a great example of another principle of sustainable business operations, which I’ve wanted to write about: Awareness.
Being sustainable isn’t about being perfect. I don’t suppose that anyone reading this will forgo the next conference or trade show they had planned to attend. But I hope that, if you do want to become more sustainable, you’ll be a bit more aware of the environmental impact of your choices.
Do you look at your electric and other energy bills closely? The old adage goes “You cannot change that which you do not know.” It takes me about 5 minutes, every 6 months or so to type our electric bill into a spreadsheet. Since 2004, it looks something like this, plotted against our revenue:
Emory Knoll Farm's Annual Electricity Usage
For this graph you can see that during the times we were growing the most quickly (Red Line), we were also taking action about our electric consumption (Blue Line).
If I plot the same data differently as electrical consumption as a function of revenue, I can see a measure of our energy efficiency:
Emory Knoll Farm's Annual Energy Efficiency
Eventually, we caught up with economies of scale and implemented all the energy-savings measures we could; and the efficiency graph has leveled out. But had we not implemented the changes that we did, the graph would likely have stayed at roughly the same level (or gotten even worse). We accomplished this by doing the things all business could do:
• Installed energy efficient lighting;
• Considered energy consumption when we upgraded our computers;
(Replacing energy hog CRT monitors with low-power LED monitors made a big impact and saves our eyes as well!)
• Installed solar-powered solutions for high-energy consuming processes (Irrigation, in our case);
• When we expanded our greenhouse heat, we eliminated low-efficiency electric heaters and installed very high efficiency hydronic heat.
Do you consider the impacts of the small things, when added together? The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s new LEED Platinum building was a model of solar engineering and energy efficiency.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s new
LEED Platinum building
Its radical design collects large amounts of solar energy in the winter through a wall of glass on the southern exposure. Carefully placed louvers block the sun in the summertime while preserving the lovely view of the Chesapeake Bay.
A visit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation
But a quirk in the building’s ventilation system, when it was new, meant that people in the south side of the building would roast in the winter, and they all started bringing in small desk fans to keep cool. But people on the north half of the building were freezing. For them, the home-grown solution was the small ceramic heaters they all brought in to keep their feet warm. Both the fans and the heaters impacted the electric consumption for the building dramatically, and all the while the ventilation system which was supposed to equalize the two areas was running and consuming energy. Eventually they worked out the bugs in the ventilation system and the ‘personal’ solutions aren’t necessary. But all those small units made a big impact.
It’s the little things. They make a difference, and by paying attention to them, you can save energy which means saving money. That’s a good thing!
Co-Owner of Emory Knoll Farms
has worked as an engineer, technical manager, business manager,
and management consultant. Since 1984, he has lived
& worked in Baltimore and surrounding areas, with a couple
of years in Copenhagen Denmark building a new metro system
there. In 2004, John co-founded Emory Knoll Farms,
Inc. in Harford County. Emory Knoll Farms grows plants
exclusively for green roofs. In addition to serving
the green building industry, they operate a socially just
and sustainable business.
John is a founding board member of the Baltimore Biodiesel
Cooperative (2004-2009), and has served on the board of
the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance since 2006,
where he has been chairman since 2009. John is passionate
about renewable energy, sustainable living and business,
and promoting a living local economy. He drives a
vegetable-powered truck, and has an electric Mazda RX-7.
John has a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from
West Virginia University, 1984. He lives in Glen Arm,
Maryland with his wife, stepson, and two dogs.
Getting Started in Sustainable Business
April 20, 2011
column is intended for anyone in the green roof industry who
wants to run their business more sustainably. I hope to
provide encouragement to those who want to move towards sustainability;
useful insights for those who are already on that path; and
value to anyone who wants their business to run more efficiently
– that is, to spend less and earn more. This last topic is,
after all, a central tenet of sustainability.
But first things first. What is sustainability
anyway, and why should you care? And who am I, and why
should you listen to what I have to say?
Emory Knoll Farms
/ Green Roof Plants
Who am I?
Let’s start with me. I came into the world of sustainability
from my life-long interest in renewable energy. As a kid,
I was fascinated with a small solar panel I somehow obtained,
and the notion that it could turn sunlight into something useful
– electricity. Growing up in the rural Shenandoah Valley,
I was well aware of the other ways sunlight could be turned
into something useful – into apples in the numerous orchards
in our area, and into alfalfa hay or corn, which in turn was
converted by natural processes into hamburgers, chickens, and
In college, I learned more about photovoltaics than photosynthesis,
and after college I wanted to know more about how to put this
knowledge to practical use - and had a ‘someday’ dream of living
off the grid. The realities of the working world, changing
jobs, and becoming a part of a family held that dream off for
a long time.
In the winter of
2001 I moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. Living among the Danes,
I learned a great deal about how sustainability can be an integral
part of daily life and business. Over there, everyone
recycles, uses public transportation, and the entire country
is covered in large wind turbines that provide more than 25%
of their electric energy.
Today, I still live on the grid, but we purchase wind energy
credits, burn waste vegetable oil and biodiesel in our family
cars, and we try to follow principles of sustainability.
So at least we’re moving in the right direction.
It was also while
I was in Denmark that
Ed Snodgrass and I decided to start a business together,
which you probably know as
Emory Knoll Farms, Inc. From the start, Ed and I wanted
to have a sustainable business, and our very first business
plans included sustainability initiatives.
When I moved back
to the U.S. in the fall of 2003, Ed had already begun delivering
plants for many green roof projects. In early 2004 we
formally created Emory Knoll Farms, and began our path to sustainability.
Since that time, I’ve implemented many alternative & renewable
energy projects at our nursery, helped to grow our business
sustainably, and learned a wee bit.
I also have been
involved with the
Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance (CSBA) which promotes
the interests of sustainable, local, independent business in
our region. Working with other business & sustainability
leaders has taught me more and more about sustainable business,
and has also taught me that I have more to learn. The
next step in my own sustainable evolution is to begin teaching
others. And that leads us to this column.
What is Sustainability?
what is sustainability in business or at home? Is it a
collection of crazy ideas, dreamed up by a bunch of tree-hugging
hippies? Is it saving the earth? Social consciousness?
In reality, there can be many valid definitions of the concept
of sustainability. In this world, we typically talk about
the ‘triple bottom line’ accounting of People, Planet, and Prosperity.
I’ll try to boil it down to several key ideas, which I will
explore further in future columns.
Effectiveness Vs. Efficiency
Definitions: Effectiveness is a measure of the
degree that a ‘thing’ actually fulfills its required function.
In this case, the ‘thing’ could be a business process, a tool,
a compensation plan…. Nearly anything we use or do.
is a measure of the amount of input it requires for a unit of
output of the ‘thing.’ For a person with an advanced degree,
flipping burgers may not be an efficient way to earn a living,
but it may be highly effective if it’s the only job to be had
in a failing economy. In business, we tend sometimes to
worry about efficiency too much and not worry about effectiveness
– this approach is not sustainable, and it will be covered in
more depth in a future column.
In a sustainable world, we must be systems thinkers. The
living world is a system comprised of physical, biological,
and spiritual processes. Those processes are there, and
everyone must ultimately work within and respect the constructs
of the world in which we live. People who actively engage
and enhance natural processes are sustainable. They do
that by considering all these aspects of their decisions and
their actions – as a system.
More simply put,
you cannot control what you do not measure. To run a business
well, it’s important to measure things. To run a business
sustainably, it is imperative to measure things.
Realize a Benefit
It may come as a surprise, but being sustainable should not
cost a business; it should create real savings or other tangible
benefit in a reasonable amount of time. I’m often asked
why a company should sacrifice profit for the sake of social
responsibility or ecological improvement. I don’t know
where people get that idea – it didn’t come from me.
As we progress,
I’ll share many cases where companies (including Emory Knoll
Farms) made a socially- or environmentally-inspired decision
which resulted in very real and sometimes even unexpected financial
benefit. The first case is below, in the ‘Re-use’ section.
Sustainability is not about being perfect. It’s about
being aware. I can list as many UN-sustainable things
we do as Emory Knoll Farms as sustainable things. That’s
because we all pay attention and do the things that we can do
when we can do them. As they say, it’s not a destination,
it’s a journey.
Repeat after me: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” One of the
first things any of us think about in terms of ecology or sustainability
is recycling. Let’s say it again, in order: Reduce… Reuse…
Recycling used plastic water bottles is good. Re-using
a plastic water bottle lets you avoid buying more plastic water
bottles, until it wears out. That’s better. But
buying a lifetime metal water bottle and using it for a lifetime:
Well, simply put, That’s the best!
We’ll also talk
more about this simple concept in the future and about how to
apply it to nearly all aspects of business. Get it?
As I said at the beginning, I hope this column will be accepted
as encouraging. I don’t want to overdo the case for sustainability.
Rather, I hope it will become self-evident to the readers as
we progress together. And my approach is to provide sound
reasoning, valid case studies, and practical ‘how-to’ advice
as well as answers to any questions, doubts, concerns, or valid
skepticism – in the spirit of healthy dialog. I encourage
all kinds of feedback.
Start by taking a close look at your own business. Get
a copy of your P&L and look at the biggest expenses or the materials
that drive the business. Perhaps that’s labor (like it
is for us), or items purchased from vendors, or maybe energy.
Whatever these things are, consider them in accordance with
the following priorities:
Can you reduce the amount of the things you consume the most?
Or, another way to look at it is, “What in my business is the
most easily reduced?” Make a list. Include the things
you consume the most, and the things that represent the most
cost. Consider each item in terms of whether there are
ways to reduce the quantity, their expense, or both. And
then consider whether this is easy or hard, whether it takes
investment, and the time scale in which it could be accomplished.
My guess is that you will find a couple of items in the ‘easy
to do’ category, quickly, and with potentially significant benefits.
Give it a try!
Recently, I attended a CSBA event, hosted by
McCormick & Company (the spice company) here in Maryland.
McCormick’s Sustainable Manufacturing Manager, Jeff Blankman,
told of the many sustainability initiatives at McCormick.
Since most of their shipments are pre-bundled packages of spices
in cardboard cartons that go on pallets, the cartons don’t need
to be as strong. They save money on the cost of the cartons
by making the flaps smaller. It’s a simple change that
literally saves tons of paper each year. But that’s not
the end of their savings. They also Re-use:
Save and re-use the
ubiquitous wooden pallets.
What can you re-use? Get the drill yet?
Make a list! Can you staple together some used printer
paper as a scratchpad? Save lumber or building materials
for future use? Combine multiple trips, or tasks into
single events? Re-fill printer ink and toner cartridges?
Do you get wooden pallets? Save and re-use them, or give
them to one of your vendors who can use them. Can you
save and re-use shipping boxes?
McCormick & Company requires all their wholesale customers to
break down their boxes and return them to McCormick. They
reuse them several times, rather than let the customer throw
the boxes away or recycle them.
You probably already recycle some things. But I bet you
can do better. Here it is again… Make a list of all the
things you currently recycle. And then consider what
IKEA did when they decided to become more sustainable:
Dump All Your Trash Out
You heard me. Take your business’ weekly trash and dump
it all out in a heap in the parking lot. And go through
it. Take your three lists, and gather your people together
and take a good look at what you are sending to the dump.
Do any of the things on your lists show up there? I bet
Now, identify the things you can add to your Reduce, Reuse,
and Recycle lists. Here are some ideas:
- Paper or foam cups? Reduce! And Reuse!! Go out to the Goodwill or Salvation
Army Store and buy some funky cool glasses & coffee mugs. The
money you spend there will be put to good use! Same with plastic
- Office Paper? Shame on whoever put it there. Reuse it and then recycle
- Packaging materials? Save & reuse them or recycle the materials.
- Nasty food waste from the lunchroom? Everyone has coffee grounds. Compost
Get the idea?
Next time we’ll talk about the concepts of efficiency & effectiveness,
and how they apply to sustainability. In the mean time,
tell me what unique and interesting ways you’ve made your business
more sustainable so I can reference them here in the future.
Co-Owner of Emory Knoll Farms
expressed by our Guest Feature writers and editors may not necessarily
reflect the beliefs of Greenroofs.com, and are offered to our
readers to simply present individual views and experiences and
open a dialogue of further discussion, debate and research.
Enjoy, and if you have a particular comment, please contact
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