By Mark Laska, an EO San Diego member and CEO of Great Ecology.
When I created Great Ecology & Environment, a company that specializes in ecological consulting, green design and habitat restoration, I wanted to do more than just build a business. I wanted to create a company that reflected my commitment to the social and environmental ideals I hold dear.
In the beginning, I chose to establish a decision-making process that was beholden to the company’s principles. One of the biggest hurdles I faced was during the startup period in 2001. Because “going green” was not in vogue back then, I struggled to create a business that reflected my commitments. We managed to overcome this obstacle by continuously highlighting the benefits of our methods and remaining patient. Luckily for us, more and more people became aware that environmental responsibility has many benefits, and soon enough, we were up and running.
Running a business based on the premise of ecological responsibility takes extra effort, but the payoff, both in client and community relationships, is well worth the energy. Here’s what I did to ensure my company stayed on message:
- I understood my boundaries. We are committed to providing our clients with environmentally responsible solutions. Doing this enables us to guide stakeholders to make sustainable decisions that support their overall business objectives. In one instance, we had a big client that didn’t see the environment as their top priority. I had to walk a fine line between advocating for their needs and maximizing the ecological potential of each decision. It was diffi cult balancing one another’s goals, but by knowing my boundaries, I was able to ensure we were both happy with the results.
- I anticipated the challenges. We always try to impose an ecological component with all of our design projects, such as by adding ecological features to landscapes, creating habitats with native plants and trying to restore lost ecological functions. When we helped create salt marshes and other habitats for the upcoming Brooklyn Bridge Park, we faced numerous challenges with large developers and government regulators. Thankfully, I anticipated the challenges in advance, prepared my design team and adjusted to them accordingly.
- I stuck with my principles. Maintaining an ecological platform has never been an easy business decision, but it has always been an easy social decision. At GEE, we have a vested interest in the long-term health and quality of the areas in which we provide ecosystem restorations. Because we stick to our principles, we earn the respect of our clients and competitors, and we remain a profitable, viable business.
- I learned to stay relevant. To stay relevant within the environmental framework, I have had to continuously refine my business rationale and provide a diverse set of offerings (such as adding “green roofs” to buildings and habitat features to landscapes and parks). I have been tempted to sell my ecology practice, but my passion for ecology and environmental values keeps me motivated to build and maintain an ecologically focused business. By diversifying my approaches, I’ve maintained a foothold in my industry.
As an entrepreneur, it is rewarding to start and grow a profitable company on the premise of social responsibility. This has now advanced with the launching of my newest business, Ecology Venture Partners, a fund whose mission is to invest in habitat restoration projects. While not all companies have such a symbiotic relationship between business and social goals, with GEE I’ve learned that it’s important to show how far a strong environmental commitment can take you in the for-profit world.
I’ve also learned a very valuable lesson: Profit is important, but it’s not everything. It’s all about the relationships I’ve gained and making a positive impact on our environment. That is what’s truly rewarding.