Sponsored by George Fox University
Home Back Issues June 2006 First Person: Commentary from Barry Russell, CEO of Encore Ceramics

First Person: Commentary from Barry Russell, CEO of Encore Ceramics

| Print |  Email
Archives - June 2006
Thursday, June 01, 2006

{safe_alt_text} Waste not

A small business aims for a big impact on the environment.

By Barry Russell

In 2000, my wife, Debbie, and I started Encore Ceramics. Having just left our successful previous company in a dispute with the financial partners, we were starting our professional lives over in our late 40s. We weren’t finished doing what we loved, so we took the leap and began again. We stayed with our particular expertise: designing and manufacturing handcrafted ceramic tiles. Little did we know what a learning curve lay ahead.

Encore’s first factory just fit in our two-car garage. Undercapitalized, we raced against time and money to develop a process and product for a larger facility. Our business plan said we had one chance: get to $30,000 a month in shipments, fast, with five people.

Energy issues loomed large. We were in Northern California, where the Enron-induced energy crisis was happening. Which day would the brownout happen in our sector? Would we lose a firing? What was all this talk about global climate change, and what was our role in that? If we survived, how would we grow our energy-intensive process? The future of energy seemed tenuous and fraught with challenges to the planet’s health.

Our experience had been to fire with natural gas — once considered “clean-burning.” In the new context, I saw that if we used gas we would be depleting a fossil fuel, while at the same time emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) directly into the atmosphere. On the other hand, electricity seemed in short supply but held the promise of one day originating from a clean, renewable source such as wind or solar. The same could not be said of gas.

In 2001, we moved to Oregon, where energy was plentiful (think hydro) and less expensive. Taking our five-person, $30,000-per-month operation to Grants Pass, we set about growing our business nationwide. Our sales climbed, our staff grew; we were on our way. It felt good. Until early 2004, that is, when I opened our power bill.

I still remember the shock. Inside the envelope was a small report. What it said threw me: 78% of the power we used came from burning coal in Utah. I don’t know about you, but when I think about burning coal, what comes to mind is sulfur dioxide and acid rain. A climate-change cocktail. Our little company by then was using 60,000 kilowatt-hours per month, and the growth curve still looked steep. Visions of a brown, overheated earth played in my head as I imagined a conversation with a future grandchild. “Grandpa, why didn’t you do something? Didn’t you care about me?” It was time to do something.

Scrambling, I launched a nearly full-time effort to obtain the largest solar photovoltaic setup I could get. If we needed so much power, we’d just generate it ourselves. I soon realized that even a $1 million system would provide only 30% of our usage. Undaunted, I searched for $1 million. The Department of Energy financed these systems, I was told. Their representative took our application and not-so-politely rejected it, saying our ratios were upside-down. After two rounds of project downsizing, we asked: “Is there any size project you will finance for us?” “No” was the reply.

This couldn’t be the end. Months of effort could not come to this. That day, our contractor spoke to the president of Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Angus Duncan. He explained our project to Duncan, who seemed to admire our determination. Duncan called me and said, “We have never made a loan like this before, but I have a question for you: How would you like to ‘green’ all the energy your company uses?” When I responded with interest, a unique partnership was born. BEF would lend us money for our project if we would buy their Green Tags to offset the GHGs from the rest of Encore’s energy use: electricity, gas, auto miles and airline seat-miles. And when our system was producing electricity, Bonneville would buy the green attributes of that power from us, adding it to their inventory for customers who similarly “green” their energy.

I couldn’t be happier with the relationship. Surprisingly, our customers love the idea of tile made from clean energy. We received $80,000 in tax credits and an Energy Trust grant of $35,000 for installing our system. Our company’s operations are “climate neutral.” Two years from now our photovoltaic system will be fully paid for, and it is guaranteed for 25 years.

Consider this: For March and April 2006, our manufacturing was up 30% over 2005 but our imported electricity was down 6%. This gives me hope for the future. Our monthly purchase of Green Tags is developing an infrastructure of wind and solar energy projects. I no longer worry about our growing business. And our customers love it.

If we’ve learned one thing from our years in business, it’s this: Wherever you put your attention, you will soon see improvement. Where is your attention? Isn’t it time you do something about your energy use?

 

More Articles

OB Video: Dress for Success

News
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
DFSOBY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB WEB EDITOR

Dress for Success Oregon promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools.


Read more...

Updated: Disrupting innovation

News
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
070814 thumb disputive-innovationBY LINDA BAKER  | OB EDITOR

The New Yorker recently published a sharply worded critique of “disruptive innovation,” one of the most widely cited theories in the business world today. The article raises questions about the descriptive value of disruption and innovation  — whether the terms are mere buzzwords or actually explain today's extraordinarily complex and fast changing business environment. 

Update: We caught up with Portland's Thomas Thurston, who shared his data driven take on the disruption controversy.


Read more...

13 West Coast seafood species now 'sustainable'

News
Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Fishing OrBiz Fishing 0357 ADOBErgbCiting the transition to catch shares management as a key to rebuilding stocks and reducing bycatch, 13 species caught by the West Coast trawl fishery today earned designation from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as sustainable.


Read more...

Interview: Dr. Mark Goulston

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, July 10, 2014
JustListenBY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER

Tom Cox interviews Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Just Listen, Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.


Read more...

Blips and trends in the housing market

News
Thursday, June 26, 2014
062614 thumb realestateBY ERIC FRUTS | OB BLOGGER

Last year, the housing market in Oregon—and the U.S. as a whole—was blasting off. The Case-Shiller index of home prices ended the year 13% higher than at the beginning of the year. But, was last year a blip, or a trend?


Read more...

Understanding Oregon medical marijuana dispensary tenants

News
Friday, June 13, 2014
061314 thumb grassrentBY CLIFF HOCKLEY | OB GUEST BLOGGER

This article summarizes the key considerations a building owner must keep in mind when thinking about leasing to a medical marijuana dispensary.


Read more...

Risks & rewards of owning triple net investments

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, July 24, 2014
NNNinvestmentBY CLIFF HOCKLEY | OB GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

With the increasing retirements of Baby Boomers, a massive real estate shift has created a significant increase in demand for NNN properties. The result? Increased demand has triggered higher prices and lower yields.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS