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New Company for New Needs

Reston-based company performs environmental audits in Americas.

Ever since they met at graduate school for Environmental and Resource Policy at George Washington University seven years ago, Jorge Morera and Felipe Albertani have dreamed of starting their own eco-friendly business. The first idea, building windmills in Costa Rica fell through, but the two are making their dream come true with the Reston-based EcoCapital.

"This is an idea that we’ve had for a long time," said Morera, 30. EcoCapital, based out of Morera’s condo in Reston Town Center, is on the verge of signing its first clients. The company performs two services. Its environmental risk management service mostly targets banks and most of that operation is conducted in South and Latin America. The other service, Green Company Programs, offers companies an audit so they could become as environmentally friendly as possible.

"It is good for the environment and the businesses want everyone to know they are environmentally friendly," said Morera. He said the eco-friendly label would improve the public image of a business, attracting more clients while reducing its costs. "Good environmental performance and growing your business go hand in hand," said Morera.

ASIDE FROM THE TWO founders, EcoCapital has a network of 30 professionals with backgrounds in environmental management and information technology. Some of the network is based in Brazil and Costa Rica, Albertani’s and Morera’s respective birthplaces. "This is amazingly exciting," said Albertani, 33. He said the demand for EcoCapital’s services is high. The company targeted the top 100 law firms in the nation, receiving a 30 percent response rate from the firms’ upper management. They were expecting 1 to 2 percent.

Nicole Darnall, an assistant professor of environmental policy and management at George Mason University, said companies have been using environmental audits increasingly since 1996. The positive notion of becoming environmentally friendly and customer pressure are two of the factors driving the increase in the audits. Darnall’s research has shown that the increase is a global trend, especially apparent in Japan and Europe. Also, she said, most companies do not have environmental audits performed for government regulations. "They do it to get ahead of the curve, it is much more strategic," said Darnall.

However, external auditors might not always be as objective as they ought to be. "If you want repeat business, do you fail your clients," said Darnall. "You don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you."

Albertani said he could see the conflict of interest in some external audits, but added that EcoCapital does not give grades. Its audits are not performed for a license. "We make recommendations, it’s not a pass or fail," he said. "Here is what your impact is and here are programs, costs, savings." Albertani said that if EcoCapital was in the business for a quick profit then there might be a conflict. However, the company hopes to stay in operation long term, meaning that its reputation means everything.

ECOCAPITAL IS ALSO targeting some restaurants to offer its services. While eating lunch at Reston Town Center’s Big Bowl, Morera noticed that the restaurant employed some eco-friendly practices, including using seasonal vegetables and printing their menus on locally produced paper. Dan Ormond, vice president of Big Bowl, said the restaurant takes care of its guests and provides them with a product that is fresh and wholesome. "My partners and I, we all have children and we are trying to take care of our environment and provide them with a better tomorrow," said Ormond.

After four weeks of selling their service, Morera and Albertani said they are swamped with work. "This is moving a lot faster than we expected," said Morera. He added that there is little competition, but with a steady rise in environmental awareness more competition could soon present itself. "We expect a lot more competition very soon," said Morera.

Albertani said that 10 years into the future every company would look to be carbon-neutral, and will require similar audits to what EcoCapital offers. He said environmental issues are gaining prominence on global agendas, and companies’ customers and staff will continue to pressure for better environmental practices. "Now it’s a news story. Ten years from now it will be what you expect," said Albertani.