Brent Rutley’s farm in western Howard County is as unique as he is. Dubbed "Just This Side of Paradise," the 50-acre property is home to both his family and landscaping firm, Capitol City Contractors, LLC.
Rutley is, by nature, an innovator. He embraces emerging technologies of all sorts that cut costs and increase profits. Since he purchased the farm 15 years ago, it has slowly morphed into the living laboratory of a renaissance man seemingly obsessed with making his business more sustainable.
For example, he tackled the high cost of energy by doing the following:
- Erecting the first wind turbine in this suburban county of 300,000.
- Installing two solar arrays on the roof of an 85-year-old barn that houses his company’s offices.
- Heating the barn via a wood-burning, forced-hot-air furnace that uses waste wood taken from landscaping jobs.
- Heating a smaller maintenance shop with an innovative device that burns waste oil salvaged from the company’s vehicles and equipment.
“This stuff has lowered our monthly electric bill from $649 to $105; we’re almost off the grid,” said Rutley with a characteristic twinkle in his eye. “Solar is the real boon to us. We add four Kw each year and I figure we’re one year away from being energy neutral.”
Rutley, who describes himself as a fiscally and socially conservative born-again Christian, is proud that his windmill was the catalyst for a summit of sorts between local Republicans and Democrats.
“We had Congressmen Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) here for the ribbon-cutting. It went great. This is how nondivisive sustainable business operations should be. Everyone worried a bit about what would happen, but as it turned out, the biggest problem was Howard County didn’t know how to grant a permit for a wind turbine. For a while, they couldn’t decide if it was a cell tower or a flag pole.”
Rutley is dismayed that sustainability endeavors somehow became politicized, stating: “I tell my conservative friends all the time that conservation is, by nature, a conservative effort. Why were liberals allowed to lay claim to it?”
In addition to seeking alternative energy sources, Rutley and his 18 employees have experimented extensively with commercial composting.
“We windrow leaves to make new soil; it takes about three to four months,” explained Rutley. “We used to pay $25,000 a year to have landscaping debris hauled to the landfill. At the same time, we were spending $15,000 a year to buy compost. Now that we make our own, we save $40,000 a year and our only costs are the little bit of fuel and labor it takes to turn the piles.”
At the same time, Capitol initiated a new-chemistry approach to controlling pests that has proven more effective and saves money by cutting losses due to infestations.
“We no longer make blanket applications of pesticides based on a prescribed calendar. Now scouting dictates our protocol, and we inject pest-specific treatments into the tree trunk and root zone only when needed,” said Rutley.
Rutley is a strong advocate of government incentives to increase sustainable practices. “We should be investing in things like smarter pest control and alternative energy. Delaware, for example, is ahead of us. They have a great program that gives nonprofits and churches a guaranteed cost for electricity if they install solar panels. We need more of that.”
Rutley, who grew up in West Virginia and went to Linton Hall military boarding school, credits his upbringing and faith with his propensity for sustainable business operations.
“God is very clear about stewardship,” said Rutley, from the shore of a lake that punctuates his farm. “Nothing goes to waste around here.”
This entry originally appeared on www.GreenBusinessMatters.com.