The creation and collaboration of Plymouth-based Noble Conservation Solutions.
When you hear the word “green,” what do you think of?
The Earth? Recycling, reusing, efficiency, sustainability—perhaps wind power, solar power, LEED design? Or maybe your brain goes straight to the Almighty Dollar—los dineros, cold-hard cash, savin’ Benjamins.
But why not both?
Combining the two “greens” is at the core of a small-but-growing Plymouth startup that began literally in the backyards and on the soccer fields of our hometown’s neighborhoods with two friends—Matt Noble and Lev Buslovich.
A Soccer Story
Cofounder and chief executive officer Matt Noble, for whom the company is named, is the one who’s been in the industry for more than 15 years, specifically energy managemetnt and lighting retrofit. He’s a certified consultant with a CEMBA energy management license as well as a CLMA certification. An expert engineer, he’s received national recognition for his quality and innovation in environmentally sound solutions.
Lev Buslovich is cofounder and chief operating officer who has a background in product strategy, marketing, operations and business improvement for Fortune 500 companies, including GE, Target and Carlson. So where, then, do the two converge?
“We are neighbors, literally three houses away,” Buslovich says. “I coach our daughters in soccer … I was always hearing Matt talk about work, all these terms like HUAC, lighting, control systems, all these things that I didn’t really understand, so finally one day I just asked him, ‘so what the heck do you do, exactly?’”
Turns out Noble’s cousin had started a lighting efficiency installment company in 1994, way back when the country was just on the edge of the lighting boom, and Noble himself installed hundreds of projects. “I don’t even know how many conservation projects I’ve done throughout my career,” Noble says. “In 2006,-7 and -8 alone, I know I did 3,000.”
The two talked for hours about green initiatives, the environmental benefits of lighting systems, but more so what a no-brainer this sort of work was (and increasingly so was becoming) to all companies, from retail to residential to industrial complexes, because it was a huge cost-savings, not just energy-efficient by fiscally efficient.
“I believed in what Matt was doing, and I had been trying to push a lot of these sorts of developments from the inside at the companies I was working for,” Buslovich recalls. “It sells itself, really, so I pitched the idea of ‘conservation solutions’ to a couple of clients myself, and right away found an interest.”
The pair launched Noble Conservation Solutions (NCS) in December 2007 and incorporated in January 2008. “When we started, I wanted to be an implementer; I wanted to see the project actually be done, see the savings in action,” Noble says. “It helps you get better at your engineering.”
“Matt is a very strong designer, but he wanted to do more,” Buslovich concurs. “And that’s what we can do with this business.”
The Three Collars of NCS
“Sometimes ‘green’ costs more money than it saves,” Buslovich says. Think about the hybrids, and all those cash-for-clunkers deposits that just got wasted. And those replacement hybrids are expensive, too, to both the consumer and to the environment, which soaks up the excess churning of industrial emissions in the cars’ production that wouldn’t have existed if all those clunkers were used for just another year or two.
“We like to talk in terms of ‘practical green,’ saving your money and our planet,” Buslovich says. “The companies that are most-green for altruistic reasons often quickly realize that green has a cost to it. We focus on what saves the most, costs the least, and then those companies are more likely to continue on to the next step of environmental impact, which is more attainable after saving the money.”
Buslovich likes to term it by collars that everyone is familiar with: blue, white and a new one, green. The engineer is the white collar; they’re innovative and technically precise. Then their ideas get passed down to the implementers, the contractors who are often the blue-collar workers. Somewhere in the mix in the sustainability movement comes the third green collar; these are the integrators, consultants and project managers who have a depth of knowledge regarding the why and wherefore of utilizing the white collar initiatives, but rarely do the three converge. When they do, however, you find the greatest cost savings, and this is at the core of NCS’s philosophy.
“The goal is to have one point of contact: We bring these three collars together, as well as integrate multiple technologies, each unique to each individual project,” Buslovich says.
You might be wondering, what exactly do they do? Specifically, they design, consult on and install more efficient lighting, energy management systems (EMS, think switchboards), HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning), other engineering projects that go along with their work and water systems.
More savings are available via rebates, maintenance and tax credits, and NCS professionals consult on all of those, too. “Our technology can use less energy, and therefore also tighten the hours the technology is used,” Noble says. For example, “We had one client who said he hadn’t turned off the lights in 15 years; the large warehouse of offices just wasn’t designed to turn them all off at once, and so they often just stayed on all weekend. By simply redesigning the EMS—the physical placement of the light switches into one space—we saved them $50,000 a year by turning off 3,600 lights all at once. Cost was only about $10,000, and now he’s got cash-flow to do more.”
The NCS team is not involved in promoting any one system over another; they merely present a few of the numerous options available and give recommendations based on what the company’s needs seem to be. The final system install is always up to the company itself. “At the heart of what we do is we save money through producing and offering the best design, but also we are able to then implement that design,” Buslovich says. “That way nothing is lost in translation. That is what green means to us.”
A Greener Recession
Starting a business in the recession was tough on anyone who tried it; what’s unique about this recession, however, is it was simultaneous with a lot of Obama-based cash incentives and tax breaks serving dual purposes: One, of course, to rebound from the bust, but two to improve the environmental impact of daily living.
And in this tiny little niche of excellent engineering, sound construction and a piqued interest in saving “green,” Noble Conservation Solutions was flourished. Having just four employees (including the founders) by the end of 2008, the pair doubled its company size in 2009, then tripled it in 2010. At the close of the first quarter of 2011, NCS had 30 full-time and 15 part-time sales/contractors on staff, on track to double again this year, not just in terms of personal but primarily now (at a good size for a small company, Noble says) in number and frequency of projects.
This process, of course, doesn’t come without some setbacks. Just getting funding proved a challenge, and Buslovich and Noble can’t speak kindly enough about Plymouth-based Citizen’s Bank, who believed in what the pair was doing and has been NCS’s bank since the onset. “The other main thing we’ve come across is a lack of trust in the industry,” Noble says. “So many contractors, who were all out of work due to the economy, tried to do similar energy-efficiency projects, because they saw this opportunity. The problem is they didn’t really know what they were doing. What is a fledgling industry that’s fragmented is now fragmented even worse because clients have a bad taste when projects are done poorly. And we’ve had to do a lot of cleanup on that.”
Read the website, and you’ll discover there are four “partners” in this family-owned and -operated business. The other two are semi-silent, at least in the office: Amy Noble and Dina Buslovich run the work family on the home front. Interestingly, three of the four principals are Armstrong graduates.
Truly the company operates with this family mentality. “It feels very chaotic sometimes,” says Jen Gergen, operations manager and controller (and two-year employee, one of the second-wave of hires). “But really it’s an awesome opportunity to be in the ground up of a small and growing business. It’s a very familial feel.”
The team knows things about each other from their company parties and outings, which take place about twice a year. One of their contractors, who’s originally from Ukraine, was a battleship captain back home, something discovered on a company boat cruise on Lake Minnetonka when he adeptly grabbed the wheel.
It’s busy, but it’s fun, they say, getting a genuine kick out of their before-and-after photos, and the scouting shots taken from across the country that almost look like travelogs for frequent vacationers. From airplane hangers to warehouses to office buildings to retail stores, the pros at Noble Conservation Solutions continue to update, install and identify more efficient methods of saving energy and saving green. Noble Conservation Solutions, 14505 21st Ave. N. Ste. 202; 763.746.0982 —LH
Why Install an Energy-efficient Model?
CFOs and presidents of companies are NCS’s primary clientele, and increasingly they have one question on their mind: How are we hitting our green initiatives? If you’re one of these and you’re not asking yourself these questions, here are the basic reasons why you should.
1) Green = good publicity for the company.
2) Updated technologies and products guarantee direct cost reductions, often in two-year, five-year and 10-year plans.
3) General consumption reduction: You really are saving the environment one light-switch at a time.
What Do They Do?
Noble Conservation Solutions’ services and philosophy, in five nutshells:
- Several different products and service lines available
- Lots of subdivisions of these
- Install lights
- Optimize further what they already have
- Install system
- Monitor aspects of current systems
3) HVAC (heating, ventilation and air condition)
- Install rooftop units
- Replace/recomission existing ones
- Other controls
- Big Water: Boilers, heating/flowing
- Little Water: Low-flow, sinks, toilets, faucets, outdoor water
- On all aspects of energy-efficiency and cost savings
- Includes tax rebates/etc.
- More in 2008, now companies have responsible business VPs of Sustainability who know what they’re doing, but we’re still called in on one-up occurances. We tie them all together.
Fashion-forward meets eco-friendly in Toby Pomeroy’s jewelry line at Plymouth’s own Tesa Jewellers.
Toby Pomeroy has a knack for highlighting the beauty and simplicity found in nature. With an eye toward sustainability for the future, the designer uses only 100 percent reclaimed sources for his line of eco-friendly jewelry.
“As one of the first industry artisans to exclusively use reclaimed materials, Toby Pomeroy demonstrates that one person taking inspired action can make a difference in contributing to, and preserving, the world around us,” says Merrit DeSilva, manager of Tesa Jewellers.
The sleek, sophisticated jewelry, carried by Tesa Jewellers for the past three years, includes earrings, bracelets, pendants and more that range from simple Sterling silver to 18 karat white and yellow gold. Each piece is wrought by hand and specially made to order by Pomeroy and his team of four artisans, and diamonds are all hand-set.
New this year (and on-trend for summer) are several designs made of blackened silver with hints of sparkle from carefully placed black or white diamonds. “The pieces have a timeless appeal and can be worn both casually and with your favorite little black dress,” DeSilva says.
Don these eco-friendly designs on your next ladies night out and your friends will be green with envy. Designs start at $155; Tesa Jewellers, 3525 Vicksburg Ln. Ste. 400; 763.537.3144 —MK
Installing a geothermal heating and cooling system in a Plymouth home.
With pricey furnace repairs looming, Sherri Cady and David Sanderson decided it was the perfect time for an upgrade to the heating and air conditioning system in their 1985 home near Bass Lake in Plymouth.
The couple started looking into it as a possibility for their own abode last summer. They scoured the Internet and read every article and review they could find, called Wright-Hennepin County for a list of resources, and interviewed several contractors before deciding to hire Massman Geothermal (763.389.0376) to install the new system. The skilled team worked around a fence, swimming pool and an underground sprinkler system to install directional boring in 300-foot loops in the Cady–Sanderson backyard last September.
The entire system is underground, supplies 99 percent of their heating and air conditioning, keeps a 40-gallon storage tank filled with hot water and reduced their gas bill by nearly $300 in each winter month. The state-of-the-art system also self-regulates the temperature, so Cady and Sanderson don’t even have to think about touching the thermostat. “It’s set for 70 to heat and 74 to cool, and automatically switches from heating to air conditioning. It has outdoor sensors so it knows the outdoor temperature, so the humidity and dehumidifier are also controlled,” Sanderson says.
If the system detects too many below-zero days, it falls back on the electrical heat strip, but those instances are rare as it remained functioning even through the harsh winter last year.
The project, which cost about $25,000 to complete, was well worth it. Pre-geothermal, the couple paid close to $3,000 in heating and air costs each year and now say they pay less than half of that amount. “We want to live in our house as long as we can,” Cady says, adding that furnaces are becoming a thing of the past as many new houses are being built with geothermal systems. “In the long-run, living here 20 or so more years, it’ll pay for itself in as few as five.”
While Cady and Sanderson have no immediate plans for additional upgrades to their own home, they would consider adding solar panels in several years. It seems their whole street has caught eco-friendly fever as well; Cady says several neighbors are looking into installing similar geothermal systems this year and have also discussed installing a wind turbine to generate electricity in the future. —MK
Three things to keep in mind as you consider going green.
1) Timing is everything. Sherri Cady and David Sanderson recommend completing the project in the early fall, because you might go several days without heat or air conditioning as contractors remove your furnace and install the geothermal system.
2) Do plenty of research. Choose a contractor carefully, understand the process, and don’t feel rushed to make this important decision.
3) Take advantage of the tax benefits. Homeowners who pursue eco-friendly upgrades (like geothermal systems and solar panels) receive a 30 percent tax credit through 2016.
The Life Aquatic
Here are two must-try green products for those who love to lounge in the pool or hot tub.
Creativity is one of the most valuable things in a business, and for Dr. David Knighton, it was essential in how he came to start Creative Water Solutions in Plymouth. The name says it all as Knighton found a unique way to make the water in our pools and hot tubs something of note.
With a background as a vascular surgeon, Knighton found himself reading a research paper on treating traumatic wounds during World War I one day back in the ’90s. He learned that English who had their wounds packed with Sphagnum moss had higher rates of survival than those who were treated with cotton. “I figured it had to be anti-microbial,” he says. He began to consider other uses for such microbes, and sure enough, in working with microbiologist Vance Fiegel throughout a decade on this moss, Knighton knew they were onto something special.
Five million dollars in research and development later (which was completely funded by the duo), Knighton and Fiegel started selling their sustainably harvested moss as PoolNaturally and SpaNaturally products in 2002. “It just really was a progression,” Knighton says of his expansion from moss as a medical treatment to its current form as a water treatment. His medical background has long been in transition, launching research for companies since 1984 and inventing many products through the years.
The Sphagnum moss is hand-picked in New Zealand, sanitized and then packed for easy installation in any pool or hot tub. The blue satchels look like long sponges, and in a way it is a teabag because it filters and cleans water naturally. This means people don’t need to dump clarifiers, balancers and perfumes into their pools.
Knighton says his Creative Water Solutions products “work with any of the approved biocides, like chlorine or salt, but the moss takes care of everything else.” And you only need to change out the moss once a month. How’s that for easy pool upkeep?
Knighton recommends his PoolNaturally and SpaNaturally products for a few reasons:
1) You can solve the problems.
On how others take care of pools, Knighton says, “If the water’s cloudy, they add a clarifier. If the water’s ph is off, they add a balancer. And when it smells, most people have perfume added. Instead of fixing the problem, they give you a band aid.” With the moss, it naturally conditions the water.
2) You can use “a completely green product.”
“When you’re done with [the moss], it can go in the garden. You can use it as mulch,” Knighton says. Can’t say the same about the chemicals that go down the drain, right?
3) You can have it all.
“It provides the kind of experience that people with pools want,” he says. For example, local testimonials include swimmers that no longer feel the burn in their red eyes and hot tub soakers who no longer have foamy residue in their spa. Jody Soderberg of Minnetonka says, “The less work I had to do in maintaining the chemical stuff, the more time I had to enjoy relaxing in the water.” Cost: PoolNaturally Starter Kits start at $239.95 for pools that hold less than 10,000 gallons; SpaNaturally Starter Kits cost $89.95. Creative Water Solutions, 1864 Berkshire Ln. N.; 763.398.0141 —JT
Transform Your Waste
Start a sustainable recycling project in your own backyard.
Banana peels stinking up your garbage can? No place to put excess plant trimmings before trash collection day? Consider creating a composting container right in your own backyard:
1) Prepare a container at least 3 feet by 3 feet in size (and no larger than 5 feet by 12 feet) made of a durable material like metal fencing or rot-resistant wood. Position it in the rear of your property at least 40 feet away from the nearest neighbor’s home.
2) Fill the container with equal portions of green (grass, green garden waste, raw fruits and vegetable scraps) and brown (leaves, wood chips, mulch and dried garden waste) elements. Greens provide nitrogen and are essential sources of protein for the microbes working in your composting pile, while browns provide carbon and energy.
3) Add just enough water to moisten the pile and air by occasionally stirring the materials. Watch as the microorganisms break down the materials into compost, and spread in your lawn or garden when the mixture is ready. (This can take about eight weeks, depending on the moisture, mixture of green/brown elements, and how often you turn it over. It will have a properly decomposed appearance.) —MK
For a complete list of composting do’s and don’ts, including troubleshooting tips, visit they city's website.
Plymouth siblings Jamie and Patrick McNaughton were ‘going green’ long before it was cool to do so.
Did you know that 60 million soda bottles are used every day, just by Americans? Or that each year, 38,000 miles of gift-wrapping ribbon is thrown away? “Our country is running out of landfill space!” says Patrick McNaughton, Plymouth resident and co-founder of McNaughton Inc.
Since 1985, a time when little information about “going green” was available, McNaughton and his sister Jamie have been working to spark change in the way products are developed, manufactured and marketed. With Jamie’s experience in sales, Patrick’s creativity as an inventor and the mutual determination to succeed, the siblings founded McNaughton Inc. and TOTT Products Inc. (TOTT stands for Thinking Of Tomorrow Today.)
One of their first products? The aluminum can crusher, a space-saver that crushed soda cans down to the size of a hockey puck. (Can crushers are no longer manufactured but were a successful product for 20 years; it’s likely you even had one in your house. Production stopped because in most cases recycling isn’t separated anymore and pick-ups are weekly.)
Through the years they have developed, manufactured and marketed more than 100 products. “Every product we develop has green considerations,” says Patrick, “starting from when they are just ideas drawn on a napkin to real products on the retailers’ shelves. In our packaging we use all recyclable materials and some are even made out of 100 percent recycled newspaper.”
After the can crusher came the trash can divider, newspaper bundler, beverage bottle crushers, plastic bag holders, recycle tap, soda bottle bird feeders and the list goes on. Their line of bottle wasp traps is especially handy during the Minnesota late-summer months. “Many of us know firsthand that wasps like to get into our beverages. This device simply screws onto a bottle and uses a little of the beverage as the bait. Once inside, the wasps cannot get out of the bottle,” Patrick explains, noting that all bottles are first re-purposed, then reused or recycled. Soda bottle bird feeders are available at Ace Stores and Wild Birds Unlimited.
Both Patrick and Jamie know the importance of educating future generations on the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle. They partner with Boy and Girl Scouts of America, school districts across the country, church groups and child-care providers to teach children to think critically and creatively about how to repurpose recyclable items. By teaching alternative uses for soda bottles, like creating feeders and watering wells for birds, both children and adults can see the value of full-circle recycling.
To help reduce waste on holidays and birthdays, when presents are plentiful, the McNaughtons invented bow stickers, flat stickers made out of recycled paper with 3D graphics made to look like real bows: Simply stick them to a wrapper package, wine bottle or gift bag to dress them up. —MK
For more great recycling ideas or to purchase McNaughton Inc. products, visit the company website.