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Jennifer Jackson and her bike brigade tow hand-built trailers full of cleaning supplies.Photo by Isaac Harrell
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Ace Waste Recycling is able to recycle about 75 percent of the construction debris processed through its plant. Photo courtesy Ace Waste Recycling
Just like some climates, where plants bloom later in the season, Central Virginia's crop of green businesses has lagged behind other metropolitan regions. Green jobs in Virginia account for only a small piece of the workforce — in 2010 it was estimated at 112,000 jobs, or 3.4 percent of the state's workforce, according to a labor market survey by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mid-Atlantic Regional Collaborative (MARC).
Under state definition, a green job is one "relating to the field of renewable, alternative energies," says Carrie Cantrell, the state's deputy secretary of Commerce and Trade. But the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses a broader definition by recognizing jobs that somehow "benefit the environment or conserve natural resources."
Whether it's because these kinds of jobs make good economic sense or good environmental sense, local entrepreneurs and companies are stepping up to meet a burgeoning consumer demand.
The MARC report projects steady job growth in the green sector. These businesses and "greentrepreneurs" in the Richmond region are forging the way for those to follow.
Jennifer Jackson, owner, River City Cleaning
When Jennifer Jackson talks about biking through Richmond — towing a trailer packed with vinegar, borax and other natural supplies — her eyes start to sparkle almost as much as the granite countertops in the upscale houses she cleans.
The spick-and-span trade is an environmental cause for this affable 29-year-old, who started River City Cleaning in 2008. Depending on the month, her business has anywhere from 65 to 80 regulars served by a bike brigade of eight, plus Jackson, who tow hand-built supply trailers across town to their clients. By no means desperate housewives, Jackson's clients are "busy moms and busy working people" who she says feel good about honoring the earth.
"Living a green lifestyle will look different for different people. Not everyone wants to compost. Not everyone wants to recycle," says Jackson, noting that because her customers can have a clean house without compromising the environment, "they value our service."
Charles Bush, owner, Off-Grid Green Living Center
Charles Bush, owner of Off-Grid Green Living Center, a Chesterfield County solar-energy company, says his business indirectly benefits from property tax incentives and PACE (property-assessed clean energy) financing, which helps homeowners and businesses to afford the average $32,000 price tag for Off-Grid's solar installation.
"Homeowners will break even in costs in less than 10 years," Bush says. Off-Grid also teaches solar installation to electricians, power company personnel and county inspectors.
While doing his part to help Virginia in its long-term energy goal of achieving 15 percent of its electric-generating capacity with renewables, Bush says being a green company in today's tough business environment couldn't be more challenging.
He advises anyone considering an environmentally friendly startup to ask: "How much heart do they have to stay with it? You need to have a passion for the planet and your children and the future. Or do you just want to make a buck? For anybody who wants to get into it, I applaud them, but they better get ready for a long haul."
Tom Griffin, consultant, Virginia Green
Positioning himself as a green guru for restaurants, golf courses, wineries, amusement parks, hotels and other tourist venues, Tom Griffin implements Virginia Green, a state program providing certification to facilities for their voluntary compliance in recycling, water conservation and energy reduction. "By and large, when you talk to someone about saving money, they're very willing to listen to it," Griffin says.
More than 1,200 facilities participate in Virginia Green, which is funded by tourism grants. Minimizing their carbon footprints not only rewards these businesses with measurable cost reductions — but also garners them a coveted listing on the Virginia is for Lovers website — putting a name and face on eco-tourism in the state.
The Hilton Garden Inn, a Virginia Green-certified hotel in downtown Richmond's former Miller and Rhoads Department Store building, has self-imposed another requirement: composting food waste generated by its onsite restaurant. Last year alone, 13 tons of food waste was hauled away to be composted instead of going into a landfill.
"It just blows me away they are willing to take on the composting piece," says Griffin, "I definitely give them an ‘A' overall for their efforts."
John Cario, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn, says that even though recycling paper and food waste takes extra time and effort for his associates, it's still worth the commitment.
Yet, there are some financial benefits. "First and foremost, we're responsible for profitability and return on investment. It's got to make sense for the owners, costwise, and (with) the business. The owners at this point in time have given us their blessings," says Cario.
Mark Hill, executive director, James River Green Building Council
Whether he's engaging Midlothian middle-schoolers in a conversation about mega cities of the future — or rolling out the 2013 Green Spaces Competition to builders, architects and urban planners from around the nation and around the globe — Mark Hill constantly eyes emerging strategies to make LEED buildings and community spaces even more sustainable in terms of green materials and alternative energy supplies.
"A lot of what we do is a collaborative effort" among industry members who partner with outside entities, such as Virginia Commonwealth University in its Energy and Sustainability Conference, and with local, state and federal government agencies in an upcoming first-ever Green Jobs symposium to be launched later this spring.
Hill says green buildings go beyond the geographic location and the physical features of a place. A truly green building addresses how it impacts your health (think air quality), mood (more windows and natural light, thank you), costs (recycled materials), energy efficiencies (solar power, please) and your life. It's all about what he calls "placemaking."
Ken Mogul, Ace Waste Recycling
Question: Why would a guy with an MBA start a waste-recycling company — amid an already overloaded field of competitors — at the onset of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression?
Answer: Because he believes that a green business approach to the demolition industry will have a positive environmental effect on our daily lives.
Oh, and he wants to make money, too.
For Ken Mogul, it's a business plan that is not only working but thriving. Since 2008, Ace has been able to recycle about 75 percent of the construction debris and other waste materials it takes into its plant. Despite high processing costs, including salaries for 32 full-time employees, Mogul proudly attributes the "very high" rate to his business model: "We get money on the back end" through the sale of materials such as metals, wood, carpet, brick, concrete and plastics. "They're all extremely recyclable. They all have markets."