Green and Growing
Temple alumni discover that responsible business practices and profit-making are not opposing ideas.
Story by Larry Atkins, LAW ’86
During his time at the Fox School of Business, Mohamed Ali Niang, SBM ’11, and his brother Salif developed a business plan to create Malo Traders, a company that would commercialize locally produced rice with fortified nutrients in Mali.
The project won several local and national awards, including the Judges’ Choice Prize at the 2010 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition, held at the University of Washington. And, Malo Traders represented one of 18 business plans in Harvard’s Pitch for Change semifinals.
After being mentored at Temple by Fox Instructor of Strategic Management Dwight Carey, Niang left for Mali with his brother, to test the business model in a pilot project. “Malo Traders is unique in Mali and in the region, because it is the first attempt to provide a total solution from the farmer’s gate to the consumer’s plate,” Niang says. “Furthermore, no one has attempted to fortify rice, the staple food in Mali and many other developing countries, without the support of subsidies.”
Niang was born in Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries. A child dies from malnutrition every 10 minutes and rice is wasted due to obsolete mills and improper storage and processing facilities.
“Not only were farmers unable to consume the rice they harvested; they were in debt to individuals who provided them with seeds and fertilizer,” he says. “Initially, we designed a plan to make rice a source of wealth for small-scale farmers. However, when we learned we could simultaneously make the world’s most consumed staple food a source of good health, we found our raison d’être. This challenge presents a ripe opportunity for social and economic change and innovation.”
Niang says that making a profit and being sustainable are not inconsistent goals. “The division between a private sector solely driven by profit and a public or nonprofit sector driven by a social mission is a false one,” he notes. “By combining rigorous business practices, appropriate technology and a social mission, profit that does not come at the expense of the environment or human dignity is possible.”
Sharing the Wealth
In the Delaware Valley, William Covaleski, TYL ’85, deals in another grain entirely. As co-founder of Victory Brewing Co., a sustainable and renowned brewery in Downingtown, Pa., Covaleski supports Pennsylvania agriculture and environmentally responsible businesses.
The company’s green initiatives have included installation of a 345-panel solar array; an initiative to steer all compostable waste away from landfills; a policy that prevents putting spent grain into the waste system; and a water-usage-to product-output ratio of more than 6:1, rather than the historical industry standard of about 8:1.
“A business is naturally interested in conserving its assets, primarily capital,” Covaleski says. “Resource consumption has a cost. So, in reducing our electrical consumption via our solar array and reducing our water consumption, we are lessening our impact on the environment, and improving our bottom line at the same time. Surely, we want to preserve clean water and blue skies for future generations, but conservation has the added benefit of directly impacting costs that businesses cannot ignore.”
Established in 1996, Victory Brewing has inspired other breweries to become more environmentally conscious. Through the Headwaters Grant initiative, a portion of sales of beer made with water from the Brandywine, Pa., watershed is giving back to organizations protecting the local water supply.
“We hope and believe that that program will inspire other brewers to put capital toward positive environmental change,” Covaleski says.
Josh Meyer, CLA, CST ’06, is founder and director of PekaSys, a company in New Cumberland, Pa., that works with other businesses to break down the barriers that keep sustainable technologies from the marketplace.
“We offer sustainable products in high-demand markets, like wastewater treatment, with the goal to have the cash flow to develop the market for other sustainable products that will take more time to be profitable, like hydroponic gardens,” he says. The company’s first big product was the Clear Rex Bubbler, an onsite wastewater treatment system.
Mohamed Ali Niang, SBM '11, plans to add fortified nutrients to local rice in Mali. Photo courtesy Joseph V. Labolito.
Victory Brewing Co. co-founder William Covaleski, TYL '85, infuses the company with sustainable practices. Photo courtesy Conrad Erb.
Meyer was inspired to create PekaSys while leading a project called Latin American Technology Transfer at Temple. Meyer and five other students traveled to the Dominican Republic to build a windmill from basic materials. Then, the group traveled to Rio de Janeiro to install hydroponic gardens in favelas, the city’s working-class neighborhoods.
“Before that trip, my goal had been to work in the nonprofit world to bring about change,” Meyer says. “That experience showed me a major roadblock to my dreams: I needed money and better management skills in order to have a true impact in the areas where we were working. Without that project, I never would have started my own business.”
As for the company’s influence, Meyer says, “We’ve gotten bars to switch to LEDs, including McGillin’s, the oldest bar in Philadelphia, and Arooga’s, a growing chain in the Harrisburg, Pa., area. The nice thing is that these sales were made based on economics. Customers are realizing a quick payback on their investment, and are interested in exploring other ways to be more profitable by going green.”
In the architectural world, sustainability has become essential. Martin Kimmel, TYL ’89, and Jim Bogrette,TYL ’90, have known that for more than a decade. The Tyler alumni created Kimmel Bogrette Architecture + Site in Conshohocken, Pa., a sustainable, environmentally friendly architectural firm long before the practice became popular.
“Sustainability has become all the rage, but when we founded our firm 17 years ago, it wasn’t,” Kimmel says. “We look at sustainability as being built into our projects, rather than added on to them.”
Their firm designed the Howard Gittis Student Center on Main Campus; the Draught Horse, a bar just southwest of Main Campus; the field house and greenhouse at Ambler Campus; the interior renovation of the Beasley School of Law; and Temple’s practice football facility. Off campus, they have designed numerous religious and educational institutions, healthcare centers, municipal buildings, recreation facilities, and retail and residential buildings throughout the mid-Atlantic.
Despite the challenges they face when designing with green in mind, all of their projects are environmentally friendly, “from below the ground to above the roof,” Kimmel says. The firm examines the impact buildings have on their habitats, diverts 90 percent of its demolition and building waste from landfills, uses sustainable materials, designs for energy efficiency and more.
“Being sustainable can be challenging, due to the ‘green washing’ of products—the term for companies claiming to have green products,” Kimmel says. “We do independent verification and vet all the products we use, such as carpeting and roofing, to be sure that green claims are correct before we incorporate them into our buildings.” He admits that the verification process takes time, but also says that because sustainability does make an impact, it is worth the extra legwork.
Borgrette agrees. “Today, you cannot ignore the bombardment of an array of products that are touted as being ‘green,’ ‘eco’ or sustainable. Everyone says they are sustainable; the challenge is to verify how sustainable a company and their building products truly are.”
She guides the firm’s operations and sustainability mission through design sessions, fundraising, planning and policy work for green buildings and project management.
About half the firm’s work consists of designing buildings, while the other half consists of consulting and advising other firms about how to be sustainable. “Our goal is to make sustainability the status quo,” Rezeli says.
“Green buildings have a better quality of daylight, they operate more efficiently and they feel better to the occupants,” Rezeli says. “We want the buildings to do the work, as opposed to the mechanical systems, which should be supplemental.”
She also believes in sharing the wealth. Re:Vision encourages other firms to take up sustainable practices through public education, including lectures and speeches. In the company’s sustainable design sessions, members of the firm share their strategies for going green with the general public, in order to “demystify” the process. For example, Rezeli teaches that sustainable design—such as maximizing natural light and air circulation—is just as important as using sustainable materials. She also debunks the widely held belief that sustainability must always come with a high price tag.
Rezeli’s zeal for education and for the environment was nurtured at Temple, and she praises the School of Environmental Design’s emphasis on incorporating sustainability into its curriculum.
“Temple’s community and regional planning classes are aligned with sustainability, which isn’t true of all university programs,” she says. “Being at Temple was exciting; it attracted students who had a shared interest and passion for the environment.”
Larry Atkins, LAW ’86, is an instructor of journalism in the School of Communications and Theater at Temple.
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