– As told to Pilot writer Carolyn Shapiro
When I started TerraScapes three years ago, I was a geologist. I got my degree in geology. I’ve volunteered for groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Sierra Club. I started getting some of my clients that I volunteer for asking me if I could help them with work. They started offering me money to work on clean-energy projects and protecting the oceans, cleaning up the Bay.
I’d always wanted to start my own company, doing more advocacy and consulting work that was more in tune with the environment and not just testing water and soil, which is what I did for about 11 years as a geologist.
My first main client hired me to work on clean energy and a federal fisheries campaign. That really started my business off. Within a few weeks, I had a contract with the Natural Resources Defense Council, working on ocean acidification and acid rain.
I always did green business makeovers with previous jobs. I did a lot of government contracting and environmental assessment. I’d go into the different Navy facilities and check the buildings to see if the sinks had aerators, if they have low-flow water, if their toilets were efficient, if their lighting was efficient. I’d been doing that for years as a government contractor as a geologist.
Within the past couple of years, I got some training through Green Irene, which is part of Green America (a nonprofit consumer group that promotes environmental sustainability).
They train you to become a green consultant, which I’d already done, but I just thought it was a nice certification to put on the website. That’s when I started getting calls from homeowners and business owners.
The green consulting is a part that I’d really like to see take off a little more. I’ve probably done about a dozen of them in the past six months or so.
When we go into a homeowner’s house, we start with their living room, and we look at their light bulbs and fixtures that they’re using. Are they using ceiling fans? We check their attic to see if they’re using attic fans up there as well.
The most recent one that we did was the Residence Inn in Old Town Alexandria.
Normally for a large hotel – they were between 100 and 150 employees – it’s anywhere from three to five hours to do a business makeover. We sit down and kind of do a kickoff meeting with them and show them a video, if they haven’t watched it yet, about what we’re going to do. We ask them, “Do you have a green team? Do you have an environmental vision statement that you’d like to adhere to?” Most of the time they don’t, so we sort of help them along the way while we’re doing the whole makeover.
Then we tend to go straight to the break room and bathroom. Are they using recycled products, paper towels? Are they using sustainable products? We want those products to be 35 to 100 percent post-consumer recycled material. We make sure they’re not using styrofoam and plastic utensils. We talk about water conservation issues. We’ll start talking about their laundry facilities, and are they using Energy Star appliances. Aerators are a big deal, in your sinks. If you don’t have aerators, the flow’s going to come out faster. Low-flow toilets, they’re just another energy-saving device.
We try to get people started, to take baby steps. People will come back to us for advice once they get started. When people call me to do a consulting, I’ll let them know it’s a one-time fee, and I’m available for them for a year to give advice. We will compile an electronic report for them if they request it. But we don’t give them really any paper copies of anything anymore because it’s kind of ironic. It’s hypocritical for us to give them a whole bunch of paper when we’re telling them not to do it.
One of the big challenges is getting people out of their norm and looking at the big picture for our future and our children’s future. People are like, “I don’t want to get rid of my bleach,” and, “My lawn’s so green, and then it’s not going to look as good as Joe’s next door.”
It’s OK to let your lawn grow a little bit more and a little higher so you don’t have to cut it as often. It’s OK to keep your clippings on your yard. It doesn’t need to look perfect because then you’re reusing your clippings as sort of a mulch, and it doesn’t grow as fast.
All these little things that people just don’t want to let go of. It’s all about aesthetics. So many people are stuck on that aesthetic.