As the green building movement pushes further into private industry, one Lehigh Valley firm is finding fresh opportunities for growth.
The Stone House Group is a stone’s throw from its origins in a tiny structure on the grounds of Lehigh University in Bethlehem. The facilities consulting firm still occasionally conducts meetings in the one-room stone house, but with its move to the Flat Iron Building at Fourth Street and Broadway in South Side Bethlehem, it has since grown into a multifaceted company with a global reach.
The firm started in January 1999 with a heavy focus in the nonprofit sector. Higher education arrived at the forefront of the green building movement and took the long view on sustainability, while private companies have been a little slower to catch up.
The firm, founded by Darren Cassel, principal, and Lawrence Eighmy, managing principal, moved into the private sector as energy savings and energy-efficient buildings grew more popular. Since that time, The Stone House Group has done projects for a variety of corporations, municipalities and health care organizations.
A main focus of the firm is performing consulting and commissioning services for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ratings, plus facility audits, utility and energy reviews and energy modeling.
The LEED movement was one that Eighmy thought would reshape the commercial and industrial real estate industry. In its own way, it has.
LEED, a building-rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council that awards certifications to facilities with energy-efficient features, has since become a selling point for companies that want to be environmentally friendly, run more efficient operations and tout their eco-happy image to clients.
“We were early adopters of getting our people accredited,” Eighmy said. “It’s one thing to do the project; it’s another to think, ‘what’s the best structure to manage that investment?’ ” Eighmy said.
With energy procurement, the company helps clients replace fossil fuels with renewable sources and uncover ways to save energy by buying it better, two services that clients increasingly seek.
But is it possible for companies to be focused on saving green while being green?
“You can make the connection that both are possible,” Eighmy said.
Businesses are beginning to realize that being green is better not only for the environment, but financially, by reducing how much energy a building consumes.
The Stone House Group has done work for a number of LEED facilities at universities and colleges, including East Stroudsburg University, Princeton University and Dickinson College. The firm commissioned several buildings to help them achieve certification, including Panasonic Corp. of North America in Secaucus, N.J., Amazon in Breinigsville, Ben Franklin TechVentures2 in Bethlehem, Two City Center in Allentown (nearing completion), Arts Quest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem and St. Luke’s Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township.
Since its formation, the company has served more than 85 schools and 220 total clients, Eighmy said.
One of the company’s newest projects is a cycle maintenance plan for the Hoover-Mason Trestle, which would create a pedestrian walkway from the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem to the visitors’ center at the SteelStacks campus. For this project, Stone House Group is working with the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority to determine the necessary facility and maintenance requirements for a high profile structure.
With 20 employees, the small firm’s reach goes well beyond the Greater Lehigh Valley – including in the Virgin Islands, China (at a Nike warehouse) and Japan (at an Adidas warehouse).
“We tend to have certain areas of the company going strong; it’s helped us maintain a pretty even work flow during the recession,” Cassel said. “Times were tough for everybody.”
To build business, the firm’s staff aims to be recognized leaders and speakers in the region. Business leads also are generated in giving back to the community through volunteer efforts, as well as by employees speaking at regional and national conferences. And word of mouth is a business driver as well, Eighmy said.
Whenever it performs renewable energy analysis feasibility studies, the firm strives to evaluate any available options for grants and incentives, including the Pennsylvania Alternative and Clean Energy Grant, said James Hayes, senior associate.
“We find ways to help them keep saving energy,” Hayes said. “We’re finding clients have a desire to go green.”
As John Pozzetta, an associate, said, The Stone House Group is reducing operating expenses for its clients.
Pozzetta works on the technical side and performs energy usage assessments and lifecycle analysis.
“I’m looking at energy consuming equipment in new or used buildings,” Pozzetta said.
Companies continue to keep a more watchful eye over planning for future needs while reducing energy costs and carbon footprint.
“We’ve seen a huge uptick commercially and in the corporate world,” he said. “Health care facilities, we’ve definitely seen an uptick in that as well as hotels.”