Lean, mean and green

Consortium aims to turn Israel into a world environmental leader.

By EHUD ZION WALDOKS
February 28, 2008 20:27
eilat tourism 88 298

eilat tourism 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post [file])

Broadly speaking, two wars have swept over the world in the past few years: the war on terror and the battle for the environment. Now, a new initiative plans to merge the two and make Israel a leader in confronting them both, at least where buildings are concerned. The MyPlanet consortium has brought together building companies, security specialists and an environmental NGO in a unique partnership to construct secure green buildings from scratch, or refit existing structures, so that they can both withstand the ravages of a terror attack while saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Homes, hotels, factories, office buildings old and new - all can benefit. The group has recently begun cooperating with the city of Eilat to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by at least 10 percent within a year. MyPlanet began a year ago as the brainchild of David Schwartz and Mayan Metzler. Schwartz, an immigrant from Princeton, New Jersey who has been here for 20 years, began to ponder the dual applications of certain products while working for Hanita Coatings in Shlomi. Its feature product is window film that reduces solar heat, blocks UV radiation and also prevents windows from shattering in the event of an explosion. "I found myself spending about half my time with the environmental experts and the other half with the security experts," Schwartz told The Jerusalem Post. Schwartz has even gone to the UN to speak about the valuable properties of window film. "I came to realize that the environment and security are not separate issues - they are both strategic," Schwartz said. "Israel is a recognized leader in anti-terror training and securing installations. We've got a worldwide reputation in that field. Environmentally, we are beginning to develop some really useful products. And some of them are actually the same product." Schwartz envisions a time in the not too distant future when Israel will be a worldwide leader in "green" products as well. Instead of being known just for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel will be a brand name for security and environmental applications. What sets this initiative apart, Schwartz continued, is that it is a for-profit plan that receives no financial support from the government. Established companies are coming together in a responsible way to provide needed services, he said. In addition to the dual application products, MyPlanet intends to become a one-stop shopping solution for anyone interested in retrofitting their facilities to become "green" buildings - or constructing a "green" building from scratch. To that end, MyPlanet has brought together around 20 companies and experts to handle all the tasks involved. The one-stop shop model came from Metzler, an Israeli living in New York for the past 10 years. He founded a home remodeling company, MyHome, eight years ago at the tender age of 23, which has been listed on Inc. magazine's 500 fastest growing privately held companies two years running. MyHome does everything from design to installation. The Post caught up with Metzler by phone from New York in between meetings. "Environmental and security products are part of the exact same set of products - building products. We already bring the latest and greatest to our clients. We will just provide whatever is needed to build buildings," he said. Metzler, a largely self-taught businessman, said MyPlanet was more than just another business initiative, however. "I wanted to do something socially responsible. We are trying to create a new positive atmosphere in the business world in Israel, which is sadly lacking. "Putting together MyPlanet, we are learning that to move things along fast, one needs to partner with other companies and organizations. To that end, we are developing a cooperation science. It may be that, because of this science, Israel could become known as the source for learning how to join forces. It could be a part of Israel's future," Metzler enthused. One company that has joined the MyPlanet initiative is Alubin, which makes doors and windows, among other things, out of aluminum. It has just developed a revolutionary window in conjunction with two researchers from the Desert Architecture and Urban Planning Unit of the Department of Man in the Desert, a Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In layman's terms, Professors Evyatar Erell and Yair Etzion developed a reversible window which will both keep in the warmth during winter and reduce solar heat and glare during the summer. All one needs to do is flip the window around between seasons. "Joining MyPlanet was a natural step for Alubin. We've always been an ecologically conscious company, not just out of principle, but because it makes common sense, financially, because of the savings," Dr. Michal Segal, vice president for marketing, told the Post. "MyPlanet is a great idea because everyone wants to sell ecological products now. It's also a total package - we sell the products and explain how to use them," she said. Segal said she was happy that "we've gotten to a stage in industry where we want to sell ecologically friendly products." However, MyPlanet is more than a sales initiative, Schwartz said. In line with Metzler, Schwartz stressed that the companies involved have all pledged to follow the criteria laid out by Maala Business for Social Responsibility, for adopting a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. As part of its commitment, MyPlanet brought in the environmental NGO Shomera to provide advice and guidance right from the beginning. "This is a new alliance between environmental groups and business. The two are no longer on opposite sides," Shomera Director of Resource Development Miriam Ratzerdorfer explained. "Right from the beginning, they said let's bring in an environmental NGO to get that perspective," Ratzerdorfer told the Post. Ratzerdorfer took an active part in MyPlanet's debut event in Eilat two weeks ago. "We held a one-day symposium targeting the business community where we presented a whole host of clean tech products. There was a very nice turnout, with lots of interest. Many businesses have asked us to look at their buildings," she said. A green building is more than one which conserves energy and water, she noted. "It's a building that has good airflow, lots of sunlight, no mildew or mold. Special paint and carpeting that don't contain volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are cancerous, are used. Studies have shown that students who learn in green buildings perform better and workers have higher production rates," she explained. The Eilat event was hosted by the City of Eilat in conjunction with the Sustainable Energy Department of the Eilat - Eilot Environmental Unit. Noam Ilan, who runs the unit, brought the consortium to Eilat and was equally effusive about the event and the initiative. "This is a new, unique, I would even say a sort of revolutionary, initiative," Ilan told the Post. "It combines corporate responsibility with professionalism and one-stop shopping." "Eilat is attempting to become a solar city - saving energy and creating solar energy," and MyPlanet fits right in with that, he said. He deemed the debut event a huge success. "There were lots of people who came, from hotels, and other important people. And since then, there's been lots of action - all sorts of projects have been launched," Ilan declared. Metzler, however, was more reserved in his praise. "On the one hand, it was a great success. It was a door-opener. Jerusalem wants a similar event and I can take the Eilat contract and use it to pitch green building in New York and New Jersey. "But I am treating it with healthy skepticism. We need to show results. We need to get our ducks in a row. What it really means is that we have a ton of work to do. We promised to reduce Eilat's emissions by 10% within a year - we need to get started," he said. "I don't want to be another organization that just talks a lot," Metzler declared. To my mind, "action and achievement should speak for themselves."


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