"I'm not an environmentalist," says Grant Goodman. "I'm just attuned to business ethics." The 45-year-old entrepreneur is CEO of six companies, but his flagship business is Rockland Materials--which employs 230 people and brings in $40 million a year making building materials like ready-mix cement. He works out of Phoenix, a city known for having a "brown cloud" over it. But none of the pollution comes from Rockland Materials, the largest commercial user of biodiesel fuel in the country. Yes, Goodman's 120 trucks run primarily on soybeans. The fuel is biodegradable, nontoxic and virtually free of sulfur-earning him a prestigious EPA award and high praise in publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Soybean Digest.
Since you can clearly make money as a pro-environment business, why aren't more companies doing it?
Grant Goodman: The honest truth is, it's not as profitable. It's something that needs to be considered, evaluated and implemented irrespective of the profit mode. The primary thrust is, What does it do for the environment? Look, it's great to have job creation and distribution of wealth and all the other bells and whistles, but if you're killing everybody you're trying to employ, what good is it? Second, until the federal and state governments place a premium on businesses run with environmentally friendly policies, it's not going to be a moneymaker; it's going to be a money loser. But you have to have the backbone, as an entrepreneur, to take a posture that reconciles the profit mode with the desire to make things in sync with the environment.
So what can entrepreneurs do to make their companies more planet-friendly?
Goodman: A lot of businesses won't have to address that issue, because they can't really positively or negatively impact the environment tremendously. If you run an accounting firm, can you recycle your paper? Can you carpool? I guess that's something. But in other industries that affect the environment, like what I'm in, I look at it as an opportunity to really do something. And this is a decision that doesn't need to be made by committee. If you don't have the stomach for it, nothing's ever going to happen. But a guy by himself can really change things dramatically.
So if you're an entrepreneur, it's easier to make an impact on the environment than the CEOs of some of the bureaucratic international corporations?
Goodman: It's the reverse. They have the cash; they have the logistics people. They've got everything I don't have. It should really be a cakewalk, if they cared about it.
Geoff Williams is a writer in Cincinnati. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.