As a child growing up in the 1970s, Kevin Neumaier got an environmental education that few of his peers could match.
His father had cofounded an environmental consulting firm, and even family vacations touched on ecology. “I was probably one of the few kids who went on vacation and got to see strip mines and other environmental issues of the day,” Neumaier says.
Neumaier joined the firm in 1986, after earning a B.S. in civil & environmental engineering from Clarkson, and began to rise through the ranks, working in 22 of the countries where the company does business. By 2008, when he was elevated to president and CEO, Ecology and Environmental Inc. (E&E) was among the nation’s largest environmental consulting firms.
Today, almost every aspect of his day and every choice he makes touch on the environment. He owns a hybrid car, which emits less carbon dioxide than gasoline-only vehicles, but he has found a way to cut his carbon footprint even more when he commutes to work — he leaves the hybrid at home. “Today, I walked to work in six minutes and 35 seconds,” he says.
Neumaier pulled off this low-tech feat by building his energy efficient home close to his office at E&E’s headquarters in Lancaster, N.Y. He says that allows him to cut some three tons of CO2
emissions each year from his carbon footprint, in comparison to a typical American who commutes 32 miles round trip.
Neumaier supports high-tech methods to save the planet from global warming — his company specializes in innovative solutions to environmental problems. But he also believes old-fashioned, low-tech solutions pay off too. “Living close to work is a trend that makes tremendous sense,” he says. In Neumaier’s case, living close enough to walk, snowshoe or rollerblade to work also yields side benefits: it helps keep him in shape, and it saves about 40 minutes a day in commuting time. “In the short run, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal,” he says. “But over the 14 years we’ve lived there, it’s saved maybe a year’s worth of time.”
His firm was founded in 1970, nine days before the first Earth Day. The firm’s founders were motivated by the sorry state of the environment, Neumaier says. “There was real concern at the time that nothing was being done.” Among other things, American rivers oozed with pollution, some of it flammable. “In Cleveland, the Cuyahoga River had caught on fire,” Neumaier recalls.
Because of its early start, E&E has been a groundbreaker in the environmental field. Its 1989 headquarters building in Lancaster, N.Y., is the oldest structure in the country to receive the coveted platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. “Nobody outside the company understood why we wanted to build a building like that,” says Neumaier. “Since then, it’s gone from people thinking that we were a little crazy to people coming on tours of the building.”
Since those early days, the environmental movement has become big business and gone global. E&E, for example, has done work on more than 50,000 environmental projects in 96 countries. The company is now helping the Democratic Republic of the Congo develop methods to deal with outbreaks of disease. And it’s designing a clean technology center for a company that mines phosphates in Morocco. E&E now has more than 1,200 employees working in 85 scientific and engineering disciplines, including human health. “The environment ultimately is about human health,” says Neumaier. “Human health is something we place great value on. And a good environment is a lot healthier than drinking polluted water and breathing polluted air. Good environmental design and practices help reduce disease.”
Good practices also save energy, and that’s a front-burner issue as concerns over global warming grow. Neumaier goes home each night to an energy-efficient home. “We have recycled rubber shingles designed to last the life of the house. They look like slate, but they’re made from old tires. We have solar hot water heating, and geothermal space heating. We pay very little to the gas company — about $30 a month, and about half of that is a fixed fee for being hooked up.” The one thing that isn’t cheap is electricity; Neumaier and his wife, Michelle, a computer systems development specialist at E&E, pay extra to buy power from wind.
It may take some time before the Neumaiers’ environmentally conscious lifestyle becomes the global norm, but the prerequisites are in place to make rapid progress. Governments around the world, including the U.S. and China, are pouring cash into environmental projects, especially those that produce green energy. “I’m tremendously optimistic about what we can do,” said Neumaier. “We know so much about how to improve the environment. And in the information age, people around the world can make environmental changes because they can get information quicker and turn that into action. There is a global trend towards a green economy.”