Sustainable Business Insights
I am excited about the Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011

John Shepley of Emory Knoll Farms


By John Shepley, Green Business Editor
Sustainable Business Insights Column
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 taking their leadership to the next level of bringing in people, ideas, and information together.  It’s quite logical after all. 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 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:

Physical Summit

Virtual Summit

Environmental Costs


  • Air Travel (Lbs of CO2):           $750,000

·        Air Travel: Zero



Dollar Costs:


·        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:


  • Who knows??

·        Less!

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?!!?

Conference goers.

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!


Publisher's Note:  Read about John Shepley in the Speakers page of the Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit  2011, and come join us on September 27 and 28, 2011 to watch him present "Sustainability at a Small Business: Emory Knoll Farms."

John Shepley
Co-Owner of Emory Knoll Farms

John Shepley 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.

Contact John at:

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