For these businesses, a deep-seated environmental commitment results in more clients and great reputations
With Big Business not doing the environment many favors these days — a recent article in USA Today said 60 percent of major corporations were in violation of at least one major federal environmental law — a number of Bellingham businesses are making a point of doing right by the environment while using their reputation as being enviro-friendly to rake in new clients.
Local home-building and remodeling company A-1 Builders has become a leader in the community for “green” building techniques and setting high environmental standards; the company was just named the “most environmentally friendly business” in the recent BBJ Readers Choice Awards. A-1 owner Rick Dubrow, a longtime advocate of sustainable living, tries to utilize recycled products in all areas of his work.
“If we are remodeling somebody’s house, every piece of usable material that we take out, we try to put back into the house in some way,” Dubrow said. “When customers hire us, they know that we have a ‘re-use’ mentality.”
Dubrow said using recycled products is important because it is one of the three pillars of recycling that make the whole process work.
“The three arrows in the recycle logo mean recycling, manufacturing and re-utilizing. If you recycle but don’t use recycled products then the system doesn’t work,” Dubrow said. “You have to do all three in order for it to come together.”
Besides using materials from their remodels, the builders at A-1 use recycled products in other ways. Often they install carpets from Image Carpets, which uses recycled soda bottles for the carpet fibers, and use cellulose insulation made from recycled newspaper. A-1 also uses recycled building material from the Re Store whenever possible.
“We try to do everything in our power to recycle and use recycled products,” Dubrow said.
Although the practices at A-1 are environmentally sound today, it wasn’t always that way. Dubrow said that the more successful the business became, the further away from his environmental values it drifted. On a recommendation from a friend about 10 years ago, Dubrow decided to see if he could maintain a successful construction business— an industry generally associated with a lot of waste—while still being environmentally friendly.
The company began using the triple-bottom-line theory, or the idea that business success comes from economic, social and environmental profits, rather than just the single bottom line of economic profit.
“When I first started changing from the single to the triple-bottom-line it was challenging — my employees thought I was insane,” Dubrow said. “But over a period of about a decade the staff has followed me in the effort to pursue the model, and our pride in the company is really high.”
Dubrow also said that business has increased because of his usage of the triple-bottom-line model.
“We are at the point where clients find us because of our values,” he said. “We used to put so much money into mainstream advertising. Now, we don’t really spend any money on advertising. Instead, we put that money into supporting community events like Bike to Work Day, and the Sustainable Connections business conference.”
Belly up to the bar (code)
Another Bellingham business that follows the triple-bottom-line model is Ryzex. The company, founded by owner Rud Browne, specializes in remanufacturing and selling bar-code scanners, handheld computers and label printers, and uses only recycled materials to create all of its product line.
“I wanted to make recycling and environmental awareness a cornerstone of my career,” Browne said. “I wanted my professional life to be a reflection of my environmental beliefs and I wanted to make a living doing the right thing.”
Ryzex uses 100 percent recycled items by refurbishing old, broken or damaged products. The company begins the process by buying or trading for non-working scanners, label printers or handheld computers. Roughly half of the products the business acquires will be restored and sent back out on the market, the other half, because they are too damaged to repair, will be stripped down and used for parts.
“These old parts are equivalent to recycled physical manpower, intellectual labor, and material,” Browne said. “Scrap metal work is worth about three cents, but as a working unit it’s worth about $300. Every piece of equipment we take is not only utilizing intellect and labor, but it is equipment also not going into a landfill.”
Ryzex also has a strict policy about what happens once a product reaches the end of its assembled life. If a piece of equipment is too damaged to be refurbished, and all usable parts are taken out of it, it undergoes severe dissection and almost every part is recycled. Ryzex Asset Disposal Manager Ron Biery sorts all the pieces down to the plastics, cables and circuit boards and sends them away, sometimes as far as Belgium, to be recycled.
While the recycling aspect of Ryzex is not yet profitable, Browne hopes to rectify that this year. He also hopes other businesses will jump on the bandwagon and begin similar recycling programs.
“Business and entrepreneurship is going to be the vehicle that sells environmental issues, and the key to that is making a model that is profitable,” Browne said.
Even without revenues from the recycling division of Ryzex, Browne still feels very strongly about the triple-bottom-line theory, not just financial profit.
“If you think from a community perspective, it is easier to translate how environmental awareness and policies affect your company,” Browne said. “If we don’t have clean air or clean water, my employees and their children get sick. If they get sick, then they don’t come into work. If they don’t come into work, we have no business. The bottom line is poor environmental quality is bad for business.”
Browne said businesses stuck in the old single-bottom-line model need to expand their thinking.
“Business people have so much economic muscle and potential impact on a community. We need to use it in a way that benefits the public,” he said.
Because the employees at Ryzex are so committed to recycling and using recycled products, the company saved about 85 tons of landfill waste in 2005 alone.
“I’m simply part of a team,” Browne said. “It takes a lot of committed people to do what we do. The employees deserve the credit.”
Both Ryzex and A-1 Builders find success in building their practices around social, environmental and financial guidelines. The contemporary thinking of these two businesses has set an example for other companies that want to make the transition from waste producing to waste reducing.
“People make money for a standard of living, and a good living is more than buying a nice car and more clothes,” Browne said. “There is nothing more fundamental and nothing a person wants more than good health. If we don’t have our health, then nothing else is going to matter. The key to making the transition is to stop thinking of the environment as a cost, and start thinking of it as a return.”