Northwest Business Profile: EcoLogistics

EcoLogistics2.jpgWith so much attention given to transportation emissions, many people are often surprised to learn buildings are the single largest contributor to global warming. In the US alone there’s approximately 300 billion square feet of building stock and every year approximately 1.75 billion square feet of building stock is torn down, 5.0 billion square feet is renovated and 5.0 billion is constructed new. By the year 2035, approximately 75% of the built environment will be either new or renovated, which represents a historic opportunity for the architecture and building community to implement greener practices.

A new Portland-based company called EcoLogistics is taking advantage of this opportunity to develop a greener construction project delivery system. Recognizing that old corporate values centered around low prices and consumption are not sustainable, they are encouraging industries to reduce their carbon footprints at the construction stage through sourcing materials and labor locally, making energy-informed design decisions and taking a fresh look at site logistics through the carbon lens. Their mission is to work with public and private organizations to figure out how strategic changes in their construction practices will achieve a greener future and a greener bottom line.

EcoLogistics Vice President Chris Humphries explains that in the past, industries developed myopic strategies that primarily focused on achieving the lowest price possible. Since environmental or social impacts were not historically calculated into the price of production, many practices that didn’t have a price impact increasingly created a cost impact to the environment and society. Carbon measurement offers a useful proxy to understand the relative energy use and environmental impact – essentially, the true price -- of producing a given product or service. EcoLogistics hopes this type of access to quick and affordable price measurements will change the way industries think about energy consumption and sourcing.

Photo source: EcoLogistics
In company boardrooms, there's a growing awareness that aligning short-term decision-making with long-term sustainability planning makes good financial sense. One example that Humphries points to is construction costs, which steadily increased from 2003 to 2008 while lease rates and income largely remained constant over the same period. In order to reduce that imbalance, construction projects need to identify cost savings through more efficient use of fuel and energy, which in turn will reduce carbon emissions.

There’s also a growing awareness that because social, environmental and economic challenges are interconnected, a successful company can’t solve one problem at the exclusion of another. Running a business in a sustainable way has the potential to enhance the value of everything we do or buy, if it reduces the “real” cost in the short and especially the long term.

Humphries indicated even industry leaders like Wal-Mart, which now requires suppliers to identify their carbon footprint and steps toward energy efficiency, recognize their economic and long-term sustainability goals are aligned. If a company challenges itself to deliver the maximum benefit for the lowest cost – in terms of all resources consumed -- that industry will ultimately out-compete in its market.

When asked if there would be a plateau for adoption of green technologies and sustainable practices, Humphries says no, “we are consuming resources at a far greater rate than we can sustain and the green curve will only get steeper and early adopters will be way ahead of the game.” This paradigm shift where the majority of industries recognize economic, environmental, and social goals are tied together may spark a self-sustaining trend. Industry standards will become increasingly greener as companies reframe the sustainability question and apply it to their own traditional business practices.

On a more personal note, Humphries shared that this entrepreneurial approach to sustainability has impacted the way he sees everything, even outside of work. Rather than seeing the changes he makes as necessary sacrifices, he views them as opportunities to improve his situation. And, as he points out, showing people the potential benefits of sustainable behavior is a powerful way to propel the movement.

“I think about every bit of carbon I emit as I am doing it. It’s a necessary burden. You have to recognize the issue in order to change behavior. There’s a cyclical progression; information to conviction to action. People need to understand how their own private actions can benefit themselves and others before they are motivated to action.”

Top photo credit: flickr/naughtymerrick, Creative Commons license.

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