Category Archives: GoGreen 2011 Seattle

Green Vid: GoGreenSEA 2011 Visionaries Charting Washington’s Sustainable Path

Video is in from GoGreen 2011 Seattle and we’re posting one of our favorite sessions from the day to kick off the GoGreen Seattle 2011 Green Vid Series. The Innovators: Visionaries Charting Washington’s Sustainable Path session brought together four of the Puget Sound region’s most inspiring leaders in sustainability to talk about how they were able to push green initiatives at their organizations to new places, and share ideas for scaling those ideas in order to achieve success at a broader scale. Moderated by David Allen (McKinstry) and featuring Burt Hammer (HydroVolts), Callie Ridolfi (EcoFab) and Stephen Lambo (American Strategic Group)—this is a great session to revisit or watch if you weren’t able to join us for GoGreen Seattle this year!

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GoGreen Seattle 2011—Photos Du Jour

Our second year in Seattle was a blast and we think the “photos du jour” showcase the optimism and hope, as well as the magnitude of our challenge to create a sustainable economy and greener culture. Thanks to all who came out for the big day—enjoy!

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GoGreen Seattle 2011 Green Line Series: Nau’s Jamie Bainbridge Talks Sustainable Scalability + Product Design

As many have discovered, the deeper you attempt to go back into a supply chain, the murkier it gets. For a product-based company like Nau, Inc. that holds a deep committment to the sustainable roots of its offering, that creates all kinds of challenges. Or, if you’re Jamie Bainbridge, you could choose to see opportunity. Opportunity to prove that well-designed, high-performing apparel and outerwear can also be sustainably made and cycled back into the system once they’ve been worn through. In this edition of the Green Line Series, Jamie takes us through the solutions Nau has discovered in its journey as a sustainable business.

GoGreen Conference: Let’s start broad. What was the inspiration behind creating a sustainable, responsible line of active wear? Was it market demand or some sort of entrepreneurial vision?
Jamie Bainbridge: I would say it’s a combination of the two. We were definitely inspired by experiences that many of us had, but it also felt like the time was right concerning the marketplace—people were listening and ready.

GG: Were you at Nau from the very beginning? A founding mother, so-to-speak?
JB: Oh yes. I’m a survivor.

GG: What was that moment in time like? What kind of feeling did you have when you started this venture?
JB: It seems like it was a very different time—before 2008. A bunch of us had come together from companies that were making small strides into the area of sustainability and were trying to incorporate those concepts into product lines, but everywhere we worked, the view being taken wasn’t purist. There were always escape valves built in. There was always a next time.

When we started Nau, we felt there were many ideas coming together and that we could form a company around them. If we formed this kind of company that was responsible and had a responsibility beyond the bottom line, we felt the world was ready for that. We could build product for that and avoid always saying that we’d do something next season. And if you start out with that standard, there’s no place to go. You have to stay true to it.

That, of course, was also the interesting challenge of it, because there weren’t materials available to build product like that. A lot of the things we were trying hadn’t been tried.

GG: If all the companies the Nau founders came from weren’t able to make these ideas a reality, how were you able to accomplish the feat?
JB: That’s what we said we were about. Three things: Beauty, Performance and Sustainability. Those have been our pillars since day one and they still are. That hasn’t changed in all the time we’ve been in business, even with a bankruptcy mixed in and starting up a second time. We had to figure out a way to make it work.

It’s somewhat difficult to speak to, because there are two eras of our company. The before and after of bankruptcy. And they’re very different times in terms of business models, but the product itself and the ideals are the same.

If you look at the materials that were out there when we started and the business model we needed to institute to create the product, we had to work backwards and build the model around what we were going to do. Yes, it involves some extra cost, but we haven’t found that the extra cost is a barrier to our product. Logistics are the main stumbling block. We’re working through a supply chain that is still very constrained and not terribly healthy in terms of building apparel product.

GG: Is scale an issue? So many things seem to hinge on that component. Can you get the quality of items you want at the quantities you need?
JB: It’s definitely an issue. And it’s one of the reasons we felt strongly about being open source with what we were doing. We needed people to come along with us. If other brands want to know where we’re buying a sustainable material, we’re happy to tell them. We need other people in this space to help strengthen the supply chain—especially companies that can add substantial volume to the demand for the materials. That’s the only way for the segment to grow and the product to become less special and more everyday.

GG: How has Nau been able to navigate those supply channels with success? Is it conditional on relationships?
JB: Yes, it’s very relationship-based. When I hear companies say it’s really hard to get into their supply chain, usually it’s because they haven’t asked. They haven’t dug down to the origins of their product. That’s been one of the undertakings we’ve committed to that is a very different approach from the one most apparel companies take.

We can tell you where most everything that is natural fiber is grown. We can tell you where the polymer is sourced. We can tell you who does every single step of the process. And we’ve formed relationships with all of those parties. That’s how you learn. That’s how you clean things up. That’s how you get what you say you’re going to get.

GG: What about your take-back program. I love that I can return my Nau jacket at the end of its useful life for me and know it’s getting cycled out responsibly. How do you make that program work?
JB: That’s one of the big challenges with this endeavor. So the jackets you’re talking about, with the tags indicating they can be returned, are made by a company that makes polyester through a chemical recycling system. They can take that jacket and completely recycle it into a new jacket, of the same fiber and intrinsic value held by the original fiber. It’s a very unusual example of a product that can be totally recycled and not down-cycled.

But that is a very limited supply chain. We have to limit it to our outerwear. We hope you will use it to the end of its useful life and then pass it on to another person to use even further until it’s got a big ol’ hole it in, and then it would be brought back to us. Logistically that’s still very hard to make happen.

GG: Are other companies moving towards having options like this available?
JB: It’s still fairly rare. It’s not easy to do and the recycling systems are not in place to take a lot of the consumer products we have back into some mostly pure recycling chain. We’re working with a lot of other businesses in the outdoor industry to build more recycling systems that can take a wider variety product and recycle it into something with as high of use as possible.

GG: How does your team approach talking about these things responsibly without greenwashing? Does it require educating your audience?
JB: It definitely requires educating your audience. It’s a very fine line to educate people and not sound like your greenwashing or actually be greenwashing them. We have always been of the mind that it is better to err on the side of being conservative in how we talk about things. We don’t claim that we’re the best at anything or that we’ve got it all figured out. We know sustainability is an ever-evolving endeavor. We’re learning as we go and every year we find ways where we can do better. It is something that we are always conscious of how we communicate.

It’s also very easy for companies talking about the sustainability of their product to sound preachy to their customers—and we don’t ever want to sound that way either. We hope that you buy our product because of ALL three pillars—beauty, performance and sustainability—not just because it’s sustainable. You’re probably not going to buy something unless it’s beautiful to you. You won’t buy it if it doesn’t work. And if you have a value system that puts sustainability up there too, you can hit all three areas with us.

GG: You mentioned that there is always more to do. What are some of the things on your to-do list?
JB: One thing we’re always after is more transparency. We have one wool supply chain that we are very transparent about and know exactly where it goes back to. And then we have other wool supply chains that we can’t do the same for, because of the type of product they are and the untraceability beyond where we’re at right now (at least so far). I would love to have the volume to pull the wool for those products from a supply chain we can better control.

We’re also on a quest—one that we’ve been on for a long time—to get the harmful chemistry out of water-repellent goods. There is one product on the market right now that does that, but it doesn’t give the consumer the kind of performance they’re used to. You’re stuck with a trade-off. You can either have jacket with good chemistry that repels water—but not for very long—or you can have a jacket with harmful chemistry and water repellency that never wears out. Those are the kinds of things we come up against.

GG: The outerwear industry is fiercely competitive. How do you balance being transparent and open source, with maintaining an edge on your technology?
JB: We just don’t really play that game. We’re more than glad to talk about where our technology comes from. We take a different approach, because we need other people to come along with us to be successful in our mission. Design becomes our competitive edge in the marketplace. We’re marketing into the classic outdoor industry, but we’re also marketing into the fashion industry. That’s an entirely different realm to play in. They have different priorities around the technical aspects of the product.

Jamie Bainbridge is the Director of Textile Development + Sustainability at Nau, Inc. She is also a board member of the Outdoor Eco-Index and a speaker at GoGreen Seattle 2011, leading our session on that subject. You can see Jamie and over 50 additional leaders in green business live in Seattle Wednesday, April 20, 2011. Register at: http://seattle.gogreenconference.net/registration

Follow us on Twitter for all the latest green news and event updates at @GoGreenConf. Our official hashtag for GoGreen Seattle is #GoGreenSEA

GoGreen Seattle Green Line Series: McKinstry’s David Allen Argues For Bringing Business + Environmentalists Together

GoGreen Seattle speaker David Allen is a businessman—and a pretty good one at that—but he and his company, McKinstry, aren’t afraid to fight for the environment too. For those with an eye fixed on the bottom line, it might sound like a conflict of interest, but Allen assures us that what’s good for McKinstry’s clients also just so happens to be good for the Earth as well. And that’s the point he’s been tirelessly working to drive home—going green is good business. But results at scale won’t happen unless environmental advocates, government and business all work together to innovate effective solutions. Don’t know about ya’ll, but we hear David loud and clear!

GoGreen Conference: McKinstry singles out innovation as a key component of your success in sustainability—how does that concept manifest itself throughout the company?
David Allen: We became a part of the clean technology and energy movement as a result of the complexity of buildings. We’re a 50-year-old company that is engineering driven in infrastructure, mechanical, electrical, water, etc. In the 1990s computers showed up in homes and the watts per square foot demand increased. The mechanical and electrical systems that consume and use energy became more complicated and interconnected. So as a company that services clients of all types in the built environment, we had to come up with solutions to help them navigate their way through all of these changes. It was the perfect storm to instigate action—the cost of energy rising, mechanical and technology systems improving, changes in how and when people want to work and how they want their work environment to act—all of those things came down on building developers and owners at the same time.

Our goal is to have legacy customers. We design, operate, maintain and reengineer for them for the life of their building. In sustainability’s case, innovation simply became a mandate. Though we didn’t start off saying, “let’s save the planet,” we quickly found out how great an impact the built environment was having on CO2 and electricity use consumed.

From that standpoint we got hit with a double whammy. We needed to innovate for our clients in order to lower their utility usage—and thus their carbon footprint—and we need to innovate better ways of supplying heat, water and power while also maintaining and monitoring the use over time to lower costs. For us, stopping climate change and helping our clients ended up being the same thing. It’s a perfect segway into the conversation that GoGreen champions on the idea that environmentalism and corporate innovation go hand in hand. Businesses need to get involved with environmentalists and vice versa. We need to go arm in arm to attack these problems.

GG: Can you expand on this idea of continuity—that sustainability is not just renewable, but continuing. With green buildings, if you build something to the high standards of LEED Platinum, can you stop there? Will the building maintain its efficiency forever or do you have to keep with it?
DA: The US Green Building Council did a wonderful job of creating the LEED standards. They led on that initiative and it worked. People aspire to it and it’s well known in the mainstream as an important benchmark. The big issue that they run up against is that once a building is done, it’s the operational things that keep it sustainable. You can have a perfectly energy efficient structure with gray water systems, rain water collection, outdoor air mix and the right electrical lighting systems. You can incorporate all those things in a building model, but if it’s not operated correctly, it’s not sustainable.

For example, there’s a city that built a LEED Certified city hall. When they got done building it, they powered it up and it actually consumed more power than the old one. So we came in and found the operations weren’t being run well. All of the “integrated” systems were being run in completely non-integrated ways. Sustainability is all about optimization. And it applies to everything—not just buildings. It’s how we get to work, what we buy, where it came from, how do we get rid of it and where things up.

With buildings, we have to look at whether they are being run efficiently. Are people coming to work in the winter with a t-shirt on, when they should be wearing a sweater so you don’t have to crank the heat and consume mass amounts of extra electricity?

So much of this is behavioral. The green movement and clean energy movements need to adjust and get into innovative behavioral models. We’re doing some of that too. We’ve got a software program that we’re selling in mid-western schools called PowerED, which is a proprietary overlay to the energy education we do with schools, teachers and kids. With this program they can take things into the interactive realm and actually watch the BTU and watt usage. They can even compete with other schools on energy and water use. The result is that kids learn how to optimize their resource consumption. A lot of people say this is the first generation of kids who will be the ones telling their parents to turn the lights out.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the whole notion of a “negawatt.” This is the watt that doesn’t get used, but rather conserved as saved energy. And it’s a renewable energy source. Many experts are now saying that the largest, most accessible pool of renewable energy available in the US is the negawatt.

For example, Seattle City Light is obligated to give the University of Washington a certain amount of electricity. There’s a baseline. The University turned around and decided they were going to be 20 percent more efficient in terms of their needs. That’s a huge amount of returned electricity Seattle City Light essentially gets back in the budget and doesn’t have to generate from coal. They can sell that somewhere else if they want. The opportunity is huge and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute wrote a white paper in 1990 about the negawatt and predicted in would be a $1.2 Trillion industry–and he was right.

GG: You work with a broad spectrum of clients across the business world. How do you work with clients whose budgets don’t always support doing everything they want to in terms of green construction or retrofits? Is it all or nothing?
DA: Here’s how you have to go about it. First, people need to understand that the building they have or are building needs to get specked out, so that when it operates efficiently to begin with. We are showing people that their business model actually has too much money allocated to run their building and pay for power. We’re trying to innovate and rethink the entire system of real estate and built environments along these lines, so that it becomes a financial opportunity to be sustainable, optimal and energy efficient.

Right now, a high-rise developer in Oregon isn’t very motivated to lower their utility bills, because they just pass the cost on to a third party called a tenant, right? That’s just wrong. We’ve been in Washington D.C. lobbying to get legislation passed that creates incentives for private building owners to spend low-interest money to amortize energy work over a longer period of time so that it fits into their model. That’s why all the public agencies are doing it, but not the private. Because they ARE the tenant. If people stay connected to the power rates, we’ll be a lot better off. Because if I own a building and there are 190 tenants, all paying 20 percent too much for power, that’s a lot of room for improvement.

The thing I ask politicians—and it applies to the people who say they can’t afford sustainable buildings too—is whether they want to lower carbon or not? If the elected officials in a community don’t want to do it, then there’s no discussion on sustainability, right? But if they do, they have to get down to it. You can’t just do the cute stuff. You have to do the things that are meaningful.

GG: What are the key areas you see needing to be addressed in order to get that meaningful change?
DA: Water conservation is also huge. We are all over people about water now, because it’s quickly becoming a bigger issue than energy in terms of being a scarce resource. We can solve the energy crisis, but water is not so easy. So if you’re talking to someone with a building who is asking whether or not they should put in a gray water system, we need to educate them. We need to be honest about the fact that water is going to triple in price. That’s just a reality.

And the engagement between business people and environmentalists on these issues is paramount. The GoGreen Conference is right smack dab in the middle of that conversation. We’re positioning ourselves in the middle too, because the two sides have to be brought together to get any results. We need a different strategy than what has always been billed as some battle between the greedy capitalists and the wacko greenies.

These issues are not wacko. There is a shortage of water. Our energy is dirty and there’s a groundswell of desire to clean things up and not live so large. So back to your original question—we are being more upfront and confrontational with our clients about the things we believe are important to push innovation in. That’s why we pour our resources into this. It’s a belief issue, but it’s smart business too.

I spoke at the Sierra Club a while back and while I was there I told them I was proud that they brought in a businessperson like me to speak to them. The environmentalists have done a great job at getting us to a tipping point on climate change and global warming. That’s pushed young people to adopt these things into their lifestyle and politicians to start running on a sustainable platform when they craft legislation. That’s all well and good, but if you don’t get business to come in and execute on the innovation we need in a way that lets us make money and create jobs for everyone—it just won’t happen.

It’s imperative that environmentalists and businesspeople to work on these issues. We work with a lot of non-profits and organizations like the GoGreen Conference to make this happen because we think it’s so important. McKinstry isn’t afraid to say that we’re a for-profit company and our partners say that’s OK too. So we’ve taken a step in the right direction knowing that “for-profit” and “good for the environment” and “socially responsible” can all exist together. We’ve just got to step it up even more to get to where we want to go.

David Allen is Principle and Executive Vice-President of McKinstry, a Seattle based construction, engineering and facility services firm. He’s also a featured speaker on the GoGreen Seattle 2011 roster. To hear David speak, along with 50+ of Puget Sound’s top sustainability professionals, join us April 20th for GoGreen Seattle 2011 at the LEED certified Conference Center. You can get more details or register at: http://seattle.gogreenconference.net.

Follow us on Twitter (@gogreenconf) and Facebook (facebook.com/gogreenconference) for all the latest event updates and sustainability news from the region!