Business owners share different approaches to sustainability

By Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Local government and business leaders gathered at a workshop Thursday to share stories about how environmentally sustainable business practices are good for their bottom line and the community.

Maurice Jones

, Charlottesville’s city manager, said the city initially began making different environmental choices because it was “the right thing to do.” Now it’s also recognizing the financial benefits.

Charlottesville City Manager, Maurice Jones

“Over the last seven to 10 years, we’ve started to realize we are going to save money in the end as well,” Jones said. “We know that the investment we are making … while costing us more money up front, is in the long run going to save us a ton of money.”

About 30 people attended the workshop sponsored by the city, the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center, the Better Business Challenge and the

Local Energy Alliance Program

. Participants represented local government, non-profit organizations and both large and small local businesses.

Some panelists observed they had taken different paths to arrive at a similar eco-friendly philosophy.

Jim Duncan

, a co-founder of Nest Realty, is known for integrating


, social media and new technology in his real estate business. However, Duncan said he didn’t approach his business as a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist.

“I’m grudgingly ‘green’ in what I do,” Duncan said. “I found that being green saves us money.”

Duncan said Nest Realty has made the strategic decision to go paperless, uncommon in a world of home-advertising flyers and paper sales contracts.

“We are building a back-end [operation] that’s going to allow us to manage our transactions much more efficiently, which by being efficient will save us money in everything we do,” Duncan said.

Duncan routinely writes on his blog and


about the best practices he adopts,

like riding a bike to his home showings

, in part to communicate to buyers a neighborhood’s friendliness to bikers and pedestrians, but also to be a living example of his company’s green ethic.

(L to R) John Lawrence, Crystal Mario, and Jim Duncan

Other panelists, those with lifelong green streaks, said they were becoming increasingly aware they should be more outspoken about their business practices. That can be good for business too.

John Lawrence co-founded the

Mudhouse Coffeehouse

with his wife Lynelle.

“Lynelle and I have been ‘green’ from the very beginning,” said Lawrence. “That’s been our intent from the start when we had a coffee cart [on the Downtown Mall] in 1993. We were composting our grinds and saving those for the sous chef at the Omni.”

Lawrence said that at his five area locations the Mudhouse is always looking for opportunities to become more energy efficient, use less water and produce less waste. He said upcoming renovations of the Downtown Mall Mudhouse would include a new roof, more insulation and solar panels.

Crystal Mario founded her business,

Rivanna Natural Designs

, after retiring as a globetrotting technology executive. In 2001, Mario said her goal was to create job opportunities in Charlottesville for recently arrived international refugees.

Early meetings with the International Rescue Committee led Mario to target light manufacturing jobs. Today, 100 percent of her business revolves around those refugees making eco-friendly plaques and awards from recycled wood and glass materials.

Rivanna Natural Designs also has a commitment to sustainable manufacturing processes with its vendors, and at its Allied Street facility.

“We just try and never throw anything away, we just try and find someone else in the community … who wants the stuff that we don’t want,” Mario said. “Invariably we find people who want it so it works out really well.”

Cynthia Adams, executive director of the Local Energy Alliance Program, said these individual business choices had an additive effect contributing to global sustainability.

“Sustainability is unique to each business,” Adams said. “It’s not a one-size fits all with sustainability, it’s completely customized to your business and that gives you a lot of room to maneuver.”

“There are growing expectations on business to help solve environmental and social issues,” said Adams. “Businesses need to be part of the solution, and just a part of ‘the problem.’”