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"If not now, when, if not here, where, and if not you or us, then who? I guess that's the quote I live by." That's what Bauer Power owner Mark Bauer says about his decision, in the mid-2000s, to go into the renewable energy business, to bring greater availability for solar and wind power to the Midwest.
As an active nature lover, former Marine, and educator for the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, Mark has always had an interest in reducing the impact we have on the environment. As Bauer Power prepares to exhibit at their first Green Festival in Chicago (May 22 - 23), we asked Mark to tell us more about his green business and what's inspiring him now.
Green America: What does your business do, and what is your most popular product?
Mark Bauer: Bauer Power installs solar and wind energy; we’re installers, located in Michagan and Illinois. Though we do install both, solar energy (both PV and thermal) is by far our more popular, since wind is so site-specific. Since 2006, we've put in more than 650 installations.
What makes your business green?
Mark: As I told the screener years ago, when we applied for membership in Green America, "We sell solar and wind energy, how could we not be green?" But also, our facilities are green; we run the gamut with what you'd typically find in a green workplace. We've got low-flush toilets and no paper towels or hand dryers, we just use a towel. We're energy efficient with our lighting, we use Energy Star computers, we recycle, we reuse. We have a policy to collect all of our scrap wire and never leave any waste on site after an installation. We use minimal shipping packaging, the whole bit. And of course we power our own building with solar; our meter goes back every day. I believe it’s an integral part of being in green business -- to power your business with renewable energy.
What motivated you to start Bauer Power?
Mark: I’ve been an entrepreneur for 25 years, and this is my fourth business. My previous business was a construction company and I saw the waste in the construction industry, which made me think of doing something different. In the early 2000s, I saw this renewable energy need, so I started taking some classes and then decided to start the business. I thought it was time. Green energy wasn’t cool yet, and now five years later it’s the coolest.
What have been some of the biggest challenges of maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?
Mark: The toughest thing is wanting to have high standards and stay profitable as a business. We have 11 employees and everybody has mouths to feed, so that's the biggest challenge -- to both create real change and stay profitable. We have a long sales cycle, and can have long installation times, which can lead customers to treat us somewhat like a bank, but we simply can't float a project for a customer. Lines of credit are tough for anybody these days, so I'd say capital constraints are the biggest and most consistent challenge. We're always working to keep ahead of those constraints.
What's been your proudest moment as a green business owner? How do you know it's all been worth it?
Mark: Everyday knowing I’m doing the right thing keeps me going. But ultimately, I guess the American public, by their choices, will decide whether what I’ve done is all worth it or not. In my opinion, until what I’ve done is truly mainstream, I don’t know if it’s worth it. Making your own energy has to become as popular as installing good windows and good insulation. Solar energy simply can't continue to be the ignored child of the energy economy while coal and nuclear interests rule. I want to see our country shift.
What advice would you give to other green entrepreneurs just starting out? What do you know "now" that you wish you knew "then"?
Mark: Have lots of money. I mis-guessed how much capital I would need to start my business and sustain it while waiting for the country to wake up!
Cheap power in the Midwest doesn’t make it any easier. The treatment of nature as an externatility, in combination with cheap fossil fuel energy, has perpetuated us and enabled us to be an inefficient nation. We waste probably a third of all the energy we make on stupid behavior and inefficiency, and the reason we behave that way is that it's cheap.
If energy in America was reflective of true cost, we’d be like Europeans or Asians; in general, they use half of what we do. But because of our subsidized fossil fuel use, we continue to buy it and use it like profound fools.
What are you most excited about going forward?
Mark: New hot products. More awareness. More renewable energy going in. More and more peoole becoming aware.
What one green product (besides your own) could you not live without?
Mark: My high-mileage car. As you can imagine, being in renewable energy and sales, I need to do a lot of traveling, and if not for my high-mileage car, I'd be generating more carbon.