Emerald Built Environments wants to help businesses make sure their buildings help them work towards a sustainable future.
The Cleveland-based consulting firm has grown in recent years, expanding its reach beyond northeast Ohio and helping more and more businesses achieve their green goals.
Laura Steinbrink, a managing member, said the company’s sales increased by 52% in 2020 and revenue increased by 40%. She said Emerald Built had more than $ 1 million in revenue, but did not share details. And she has big goals for the future.
One of the “major trends” that Steinbrink said they have observed, particularly among its corporate clients, is the focus on carbon neutrality. Many of these goals are tied to the year 2030, a pivotal year for many countries and businesses as they strive to significantly reduce carbon emissions by 2050.
To that end, Emerald Built has its own 2030 target. Steinbrink said the company wants to have improved 2,030 environments – buildings and spaces, not projects – by then. To date, the company has started or completed more than 435 projects. And as he works toward his 2030 goal, he’s spent 2021 running a “365 days of sustainability” campaign on his social media feeds, Steinbrink said, highlighting a different project every day.
Emerald Built Environments has eight full-time equivalent employees, two of whom were added this year. The company will also soon complete its move from Bedford to the MidTown area of Cleveland, which is closer to many of its customers, Steinbrink said.
Steinbrink, who has a background in entrepreneurship, most notably as founding executive director of Cleveland Bridge Builders, was working in community relations for university hospitals when she first discovered sustainability consulting. She saw a need for this kind of work in the Northeast Ohio market, so in 2008 she left the hospital system to start her own business, then known as Humanity’s Loom.
Much of the company’s first decade was spent raising awareness, Steinbrink said. There have been big wins, like helping Big River Steel in Arkansas achieve LEED certification, and steady growth.
Sustainability has played a bigger role in real estate and construction in recent years, which has created plenty of opportunities for Emerald Built, Steinbrink said. For example, the state of Ohio required that K-12 schools be built to achieve LEED certification. And the city of Cleveland has offered tax breaks for residential projects that meet its green building standards. These two efforts have resulted in many local opportunities for the company.
Then, in 2017, Emerald Built took a big step towards future growth by engaging an energy modeling and commissioning company, expanding the services it was able to offer. Director Matt Setzekorn merged his company, Brandywine Consulting, into what was then known as HLMS Sustainability Solutions, bringing energy services such as modeling and testing to the business.
“These pieces are essential pieces of a puzzle for a major renovation (or) new construction meeting sustainability performance goals,” said Steinbrink.
The company also changed its name to Emerald Built Environments at this time. Emerald is another word for green, but it also evokes the northeastern Ohio emerald necklace, Steinbrink said.
Today, the firm helps companies define their sustainability goals for construction and renovation projects and serve as a strategic partner to achieve these goals, by offering services such as energy audits.
“We can put these parts and parts together to help them achieve their goals,” said Steinbrink.
One of his clients is Illinois-based Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors, who are redeveloping a property near the West Side Market using mass lumber instead of more traditional steel and concrete. Steve Willobee, vice president of government and public relations, said it was Harbor Bay’s first solid timber project. They knew it had the aesthetic look they wanted and had environmental benefits.
“So as we started to go down that road to look at what the building is beyond its beauty, we knew we really had to delve into the sustainable aspects of it,” said Willobee.
This is where Emerald Built Environments came in. Harbor Bay is looking for LEED Gold, said Willobee, and the help has been “crucial.”
Another client was Westfield Insurance, based in Medina County. Emerald has helped Westfield analyze its current business, facilities and sustainability efforts and examine industry trends, creating a strategy for the future, said Alan Hazzard, Westfield’s corporate real estate operations manager. Hazzard said he was looking to create a “sustainability roadmap” for the insurance company, and Emerald had both the technical and business expertise he needed. And the female-owned small business was the right fit culturally, as Westfield tries to support various businesses and small in every way, he said.
Strategic work between Emerald and Westfield was completed shortly before COVID-19, so the company has not been able to implement as much as it originally planned, Hazzard said. But the plan that had been delivered was what Westfield was looking for. It included a mix of “fruits at hand,” like better energy management, he said, and bigger initiatives that will require engagement with leadership that the pandemic has complicated.
Westfield considers part of his job to be “stewardship,” Hazzard said. This generally applies to protecting his clients’ assets, but it also extends to the wider world, he said. And the insurance industry is keenly aware of the impact of climate change as it faces natural events like fires and floods.