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When Mark Laska walks through the streets near his office in New York City, he doesn't look at the buildings and the sidewalks. "I look at the landscape and imagine what was here before and what could be here again," he explains.
The CEO of Great Ecology and Environments, a consulting firm dedicated to repairing the world by restoring habitats, Laska works with developers and corporations looking to offset the environmental impact of their projects, governments looking to restore public lands, and nonprofits focused on saving the environment.
"I have a passion for natural areas," says Laska, who launched his company in 2001. "If we can bring a representation of natural space into an urban area, that will educate urban kids and also provide a place for wildlife to take refuge." His favorite project has been working on Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City to help create a habitat for fish and wildlife. Other local projects include a stream and lake restoration along a 6-mile stretch of river in Westchester County, reviewing the impact of a marina expansion on Staten Island and working with the owners of a golf course to reverse the effects the course had on an existing stream.
His company has also branched out West, recently opening an office in Grand Junction, Colorado, which led to the restoration of over 10,000 acres of land. "In urban settings, there's a lot less land, so we're restricted in terms of scale,"says Laska. "In the West, we have projects that are many hundreds of acres."
Laska has also launched an investment business in conjunction with GEE called Ecology Venture Partners. He's focusing on creating a fund to invest in degraded habitats. The goal is to generate environmental credits and sell them to corporations and governments to offset any adverse environmental impacts they've made. Says Laska, "This is an emerging market we're helping to build."
GEE expects sales of $2.4 million this year, and there's only room for growth. "When you hear a guy like me talking, you often think he works for the Nature Conservancy or the Forest Service, but we're doing this for profit, as a business," Laska says. "We're trying to demonstrate that market forces can help in the preservation of habitats. We really think we can have a profitable company and do good things by putting together the best of environmental stewardship and entrepreneurship."
JJ Ramberg is the host of MSNBC's small-business program Your Business and co-founder of GoodSearch.com.