Entrepreneur. Leader. Teacher. These words describe Ron Gdovic, a forward thinker who put Pittsburgh on the wind energy map with the launch of Windstax in 2012. In this week’s Sustainability Insider, Ron shares with us what he sees at the forefront of the sustainable business industry.
– What is a macro trend driving WindStax’s growth that is widely relevant and all businesses should be watching for their own interests?
The macro trend driving the alternative energy sector is the paradigm shift occurring in the utility sector from centralized to distributed energy. Electricity is the lifeblood of our economy and effects all business and economic development. Our nation’s aging infrastructure extends to the thousands of miles of distribution lines and aging generation plants. While we enjoy relatively inexpensive electricity now, shuttering old plants and replacing them with cleaner alternatives in gas, wind, and solar will be extraordinarily expensive. Business and homeowners will foot this bill eventually. Many large progressive companies, usually the prime utility customers, are not waiting for the fallout. Rather, they are taking it upon themselves to invest in generating their own power with wind and solar. Fundamentally, these companies are treating electricity as an investment on their balance sheet, hedging against future market uncertainty—rather than an expense on their P&L statement. Large-scale battery storage is helping smooth the variable nature of alternative energy. Even your electric car could be a source of stored energy on the grid when it is parked in the garage overnight. Utility companies are struggling to develop new business models and keep up with emerging technology. It is in this disruption in the energy industry where WindStax is most active.
– What would leaders be surprised to know about WindStax’s own sustainability challenges and opportunities?
WindStax began manufacturing every component of our wind turbines except for major electronics. The notion of “building things in Pittsburgh because this is where things get built” was a romantic vision. Our mission was to provide alternative energy solutions that are easy to own and install. Embedded in that mission is the pledge to follow sustainable business practices from cradle to grave with our products and within our operations. For example, we use zero VOCs in our finishes, keeping the air and our workers safe. We even use repurposed utility poles for foundations as an option to concrete and steel. Net zero carbon footprint from fabrication to installation to operation is our target. However, net zero is a lofty goal in manufacturing. We are faced with economic and regulatory pressures regularly like all businesses. We often have to strike a balance between sustainability and price or origin of some components to stay competitive. As a green energy company we take comfort in knowing we are selling products of sustainability—empowering others to reduce their carbon footprint by generating their own power.