Two of the key figures in Providence’s green business boom are Matt Grigsby, CEO & Co-Founder of Ecolect, and John Jacobson, president of JTJ Investments.
Read our interview with Matt Grigsby to learn more about their businesses and how Providence is becoming part of the green industrial revolution.
Matt Grigsby, Ecolect, CEO & Co-Founder
1. How did you come to work in green materials?
I've always made a concerted effort to design with the environment in mind. It just makes more sense and there's an added benefit of following a business model that is triple bottom line (people, profit, and planet).
Ecolect was started out of my frustration as an industrial designer running a product design consultancy upon graduation from the Rhode Island School of Design. It was aggravating that everyone was talking about "green materials" and "sustainable design" but there were no good resources, aside from stacks of catalogs, blog posts, and illegible manufacturer websites which were painful and slow to sift through. I still remember thinking to myself, there's got to be a better way.
2. Where did the idea for Ecolect come from?
We started the company because we saw a huge need for companies to create sustainably without all of the confusion and wasted time because the market was unclear and the choices were scattered.
Ecolect is a combination of the words "ecology" and "intellect." It's also a word that means a certain way of speaking within a household. This is perfect since our mission is to speak about sustainability to the design and business communities in ways they can understand and get excited about.
What we've created is a better, more efficient way to source and discover viable eco materials for architects, product designers, engineers, and others in the creative industry.
3. Are green development and entrepreneurship mutually exclusive?
Architects for years have known and thought of ways to make low-to-no impact buildings. In the past, it has not been about the architect’s ability to create a sustainable building; it was whether the client wanted to put more effort into designing a building that would not be harmful to the environment.
Green development can be an endeavor, especially if you're not savvy in the realm of green technologies. To create a sustainable building, it's fundamental to consider the environment that you're building on. Given that every site is different and should be made to work with its surroundings, there's not one completely "right" way to do a sustainable project. That's where the entrepreneurial aspect comes in.
A lot of the consulting work we do is helping developers and product companies produce sustainable spaces and goods with great materials and technologies that provide a financial return and competitive advantage.
4. What are some of the successful green development projects in Providence?
JJ's building is an example of a green building that has been done in a progressive way. There's also the Plant, which is the building we're in. It's a mill renovation project done by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse that has brought together a vibrant community of designers, architects, and entrepreneurs.
Reusing existing structures is a great way to have a minimal impact on the environment and oftentimes can save costs if the building can be adapted to the project’s needs. The Plant in particular left a lot of the existing brick and steel structures exposed, giving it a lot of character and history.
The Dreyfus, located in downtown Providence, was recently purchased by AS220. Constructed in 1890, it has a long history as a hotel, lounge, and restaurant that served the downtown theater district and travelers searching for lodging from the nearby train station. AS220’s adaptive re-use has a strong focus on historic preservation and has brought together a thriving community of artists and designers who can affordably live and work downtown.
5. How is Providence positioning itself to go green?
One of the things that I love about Providence is that it’s bikeable and walkable. There are restoration projects, farmer’s markets, co-ops, and new green developments taking place all over the city.
Among several initiatives, the city has put together the GreenPrint, which highlights ways that we’re reducing and working to eliminate our involvement with global warming and pollution.
The Apeiron Institute based here in Providence holds an annual festival that highlights what consumers can do to become environmentally friendly.
On the state level, through stimulus funding and other grants, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation is working to support the development of green buildings and alternative energy systems.