Mind your business

Green-building movement shows that good business sense means eco-sense.

SN&R buys a building, wants to make it green and pays Sena: Eco Warrior Princess to write a weekly column about it.

Back in 1973, a Southern gentleman from Atlanta started a carpet company. He did well for himself, building up a mini-empire. About 20 years later, at the age of 60, this man read Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce, then completely altered his way of doing business. Reflecting on this pivotal moment during a green-building conference last fall, the gentleman, Ray Anderson, told the audience, “It changed my life. It changed my view of the world.”

Never before, he said, had the business community been asked the question: “What is your company doing for the environment?”

More and more, financially-secure people living in the developed world are demanding that companies at least pretend to address this question, propelling businesses to redefine their services and products to meet the consumer push.

Anderson’s company, Interface Inc., has become the shining example of the market potential of eco-friendly business practices and products, raking in big profits with its recycled carpet tiles. The building sector especially has moved toward greener principles, both out of choice and necessity, as ordinances and codes head in the direction of mandating increased energy and water efficiency.

Good business sense means appealing to the triple bottom line: economics, social benefit and the environment, explained Craig Greenough, a LEED-accredited professional with the Sacramento branch of DPR Construction, a national general contractor that altered its brand image to reflect its commitment to green building.

“We’re checking our carbon footprint as a company now,” Greenough said.

The company walks the walk. In 2003, DPR employees moved into their new 52,000-square-foot office building in Natomas, and into the first privately owned LEED-certified project in the Central Valley. During the construction process, DPR diverted 75 percent of the 277 tons of waste generated away from landfills and redirected recyclable materials back into the manufacturing process. Waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads helped the company achieve a 45 percent reduction of water use, equivalent to 175,000 gallons of potable water annually.

Indeed, for many companies, going green is more than a mission statement—it’s the business itself.

Green Sacramento on Fulton Avenue in north Sacramento is a one-stop shop for interior green-building supplies, with a 2,000-square-foot showroom displaying VOC-free paints, reclaimed and eco-engineered floor coverings, and countertops made of recycled materials. Owner Josh Daniels runs the business based on the philosophy that individuals, families and communities should exist in harmony with the natural world and with respect for future generations.

Over in the Republic of Davis, interior designer Nancy Morrow recently opened Casa Verde Designs on F Street in downtown. She stocks green-building materials and offers design consultations for homeowners.

“I hope to be there for people after the construction phase is completed to help them furnish and maintain their homes in the greenest way possible,” Morrow said.

The more fabulous news is that this market transformation will benefit the rest of us by bringing down costs on eco-friendly products, shortening the timeline for paybacks, and making green services and products more readily available. Even Wal-Mart carries “green” products (be wary of “greenwashing,” though) and sends out a freakin’ press release every time it switches out an incandescent light bulb for a CFL one.

In my younger years, I was harshly criticized for being too demanding. I seem to recall the phrases, “Stop being so annoying,” and, “You want way too much,” thrown around an awful lot. But I know that in their pathetically inarticulate way, what my sister, parents, friends, teachers and bosses really meant to say was: “You, young grasshopper, have reached enlightenment and see that you’ll never get what you want unless you make it clearly known again and again just what it is.”

So we can politely ask business owners to act as responsible corporate citizens. Or we can demand that these guys clean up their act.

As for Anderson, a particular chapter in Hawken’s book struck the loudest chord. The chapter is called “The Death of Birth,” a term coined as a scarily apt way of referring to what happens when a species becomes extinct, never again to experience the miracle of birth.

In his deep Southern accent, Anderson told the audience how he wept as he read of the declining reindeer population on St. Matthew’s Island. It was then that he made a choice to change his ways, realizing he was doing it for his grandchildren and knowing he was in it for the long run.

“There’s no such thing as an ex-environmentalist,” he said. “Once you get it, you can’t un-get it.”

On that note, I believe it would best behoove the rest of the business community to just go ahead and “get it” already. We’re tired of asking nicely.