The year has ended and a new one has begun. I have prepared a state of the union statement for where Eco Brooklyn has been and where it is going.
2010 was a turning point for Eco Brooklyn: we became too successful for our size. Up until last year our love for green building and eagerness to turn Brooklyn green meant we took on every green job that came our way. But in 2010 we actually took on more work than we could handle. At one point we had six full brownstone renovations going at once plus a host of green roof installations and other green building jobs.
During the year did green roofs, gray water systems, custom green kitchens, salvaged floors, eco gardening and countless other cutting edge green building. Our clients were great and never did we have to compromise. We maintained our policy of never buying new wood and we got closer and closer to our Zero Brownstone goal.
But we were so busy that it stopped being fun and started to feel like work.
The main problem was logistics. Eco Brooklyn is founded on pure idealism – we are dreamers who believe in making the world a better place. We follow the triple bottom line business model where every interaction is beneficial for everyone including employees, clients, neighbors and most of all Mother Earth.
This energy is great and it is contagious. It is why clients come to us.
But we weren’t focused enough on the day to day details, which resulted in wasted money and stressful projects. We weren’t as pragmatic as we should be, which meant unrealistic goals and missed timelines. We didn’t focus on the bottom line enough, resulting in under bidding or going over budget.
Up until 2010 this wasn’t a big problem. Our energy and enthusiasm made up for any lost efficiency and money. What we lacked in logistics we made up for in good will and creativity.
But by 2010 we had gotten much bigger than previous years and it became clear we needed to make some changes fast. Our biggest challenge was coordinating all the jobs so they ran smoothly and on budget. This is a challenge for any company but when you are redefining green building as you go it is even more challenging. Our work is cutting edge and we often have no past reference for how to price it or organize it.
How do you bid on an earthen floor when you have never done one? How do you meet the deadline when the workers are more interested in making the job ecological and beautiful rather than making money? How do you make sure the dumpster bill is paid if you are more interested in paying for the salvaged flooring?
All this came to a head this year and the jobs became too big, too many and too complex for us to run on fervent idealism alone. We realized what every ethics driven company eventually has to face: no matter how great your cause if you can’t compete in the marketplace you will eventually burn out from lack of energy and money. You will end up bitter and an example that life is no place for dreaming.
Luckily we weren’t too late in our realization. After a couple jobs with late timelines and hurting budgets we saw that we had to become a lot more efficient and pragmatic in order to continue on our own terms. We didn’t become less idealistic or dreamy; in fact we expanded on those values. We added to our focus the idea that we could be competitive and profitable while keeping our values.
We realized that in order to change the current world to a better world we had to be the best of both worlds.
We stepped up our efficiency and our attention to detail. We focused more on profit, not because we particularly care about money itself, but because we understand that money is largely today’s currency of freedom and power. We reduced the jobs we took on to focus on improving the profit and efficiency of our current jobs. We became a very competitive building company as well as the best green builder.
Going into the New Year we are ready. We have found a good balance between visionary dreamers and effective entrepreneurs.
The biggest step in this process was seeing that in order to change the system we can’t criticize it from the outside but rather we have to offer a better system from the inside. The world is inherently pragmatic, sometimes brutally pragmatic, and if you offer a better system it will be embraced.
So instead of getting angry at the world for caring more about profit and efficiency than the planet’s health we ramped up our business so as to be profitable, efficient, AND good for the planet. Eco Brooklyn is now an example of how to be profitable in the current definition of the term while also being a benefit to Mother Earth.
We learned the hard way, and we suffered loss and angry clients, but it has been resolved and we are looking at 2011 with a clean slate, newly hardened to the realism of capitalism but still blossoming in our idealism and passion to turn Brooklyn green.
And we enter 2011 with a more streamlined and effective company, better prepared to be a powerful force in regreening the world.
Going forward we are being more cautious in the jobs we take on. We have reached a comfortable size and want to stay at this size until we master the logistics of a medium to large company. We feel that at this size we can make a steady impact in turning Brooklyn green without stretching our limits.
We will focus on jobs that take green building further instead of branching out trying to make every job green. We will be very vigilant with our finances and stay profitable so that we never have financial constraints keeping us from being as green as we possibly can.
We have a few jobs in the pipeline for this winter onwards, among them a Passive House Harlem brownstone, a Manhattan Earthship, a Brooklyn living wall, a solar install, and some deep energy retrofits. This spring we launch our green garden design and landscaping arm of the business. Last month we incorporated a not for profit to expand on our salvage resale activities and student training program. The Eco Brooklyn green show house is nearing its completion.
Through these jobs and others we hope to continue growing in our own green building knowledge so that we are even more powerful and effective custodians of a green Brooklyn and a green planet earth.
We as a planet are at a crucial ecological point where we have lost so much and have so little left, and yet because of this there is a passion and awareness that propels so many of us to do good and green things in our lives. We must do more and we must do it now. Turning Brooklyn green is our responsibility because acting locally is the only way we can be good global citizens. If every community and business did this for their own geographical area we would be far ahead in our path to global ecological regrowth.
In closing I would like to thank all Eco Brooklyn’s workers and clients who make Eco Brooklyn and its goals real. Eco Brooklyn is defined by its name as both an ecological company and a company deeply rooted in the community and culture of Brooklyn. The community of New York and Brooklyn is what makes the company so special.
Thank you and I wish you a focused and prosperous green year. Happy 2011!
Owner, Eco Brooklyn.