Come on CEOs, Do Something Green. You Can Make Money at It.

Houweling's Solar Panels

In this day and age, not enough CEOs are giving thought to making their companies more environmentally friendly. Some, like Richard Branson (the Virgin Earth Challenge – see the YouTube video below) and Larry Page (Google Energy) are leading the way. Mr. Page has invested more than $200 million dollars in wind farms and solar power. If all goes well, Google’s investment in the construction of a solar power plant in California ( will be the largest solar thermal project in the world, supplying electricity to 140,000 homes.

Whether a CEO is driven by personal ethics, the profit motive, or headlines praising “sustainable” organizations, business is finally responding to the green trend—albeit much slower than I’d like to see. Some leaders have the “will” to transform their companies. The “way” is supposedly blocked by huge inefficiencies and horrendous costs. CEOs hear these objections all the time from their CFOs (Chief Financial Officer) who want high returns on investment. That shouldn’t be the end of the discussion. Imagine where Apple would be if Steve Jobs accepted the advice of his “experts” all those years ago.

We are in an era of green pioneering and risk-taking. That’s what entrepreneurship is all about. I’ve taken more risks than most – lost on some, won big on most. To be fair, Houweling’s transformation into “green” business started with the desire for a better return on investment. Quite simply, I wanted to improve the efficiencies of my greenhouses. You do that by increasing crop yields and reducing costs.

Four years ago, I had an idea to create “semi-closed, over-pressured” greenhouses that would create a better growing environment in California’s hot, arid climate. That vision when paired with the expertise of various engineers blossomed into several projects. Today we capture heat, generate solar energy, and reuse our water. Pardon my capitalistic side, but those new greenhouses also produce the most delicious tomatoes on the planet. And one more thing – I have to be frank with you – it came at a significant cost as the entire project went well over budget, costing us $50 million dollars. But it was worth it.

If you are interested in a tour of the new facility you can watch this feature by KCET in Los Angeles who spent a day with me. They call Houweling’s The Farm of the Future. I’ll take the complement, but I’m a long way from finished.

The video gives you a peek of:

  1. The 4 acre pond that captures rain water and runoff. Even condensation in the greenhouse is collected. Water that was previously washed away is now treated and re-circulated to the crops.
  2. 5-acres of photovoltaic solar cells and a thermal heat storage system. We generate 2.1 megawatts of green electricity, the equivalent to powering 1,500 homes. These systems have reduced CO2 emissions by almost 17 million pounds a year. This equates to taking 3000 cars off the road.
  3. The new Ultra-Clima® Greenhouses that help our tomatoes flourish in the ultimate temperatures, humidity, light, and carbon dioxide levels.

As you are probably aware, America is the most energy wasteful society in the world. We all need to do something about that and it begins in our backyard. As for my backyard, my next initiative in sustainability is adding a combined heat and power system to our US and Canadian facilities —a cogeneration initiative that will exceed our power needs and actually feed energy to the grid, eliminating waste. My CFO doesn’t like this idea either.

With my regards,

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