Tracy and Mia Levesque say they first started a so-called triple bottom-line company because they were selfish.
And, for them, Yikes Inc., their web design firm in Northern Liberties that is waiting on the completion of new LEED-certified offices in Fishtown, is keeping them happy.
“We wanted to create a company that we wanted to work for,” says Mia. “A lot of the things that make a socially resposible business starts with how you treat your employees, it’s about treating people first then profit.”
So, while the couple has built a web design shop that recently dropped a Penn Medicine Livestrong campaign site and has an e-commerce platform launching for another client soon, when you chat with the pair, they seem to be just as excited to talk about construction.
Specifically the construction of their new LEED-certified offices on Girard Avenue in Fishtown, which, when completed this July, just might be the first LEED rehab in the state. And the four apartments above will be among the first such designated rental spots in all of Philadelphia.
That puts them in a fine place to suggest how your small business can take smaller steps to being a bit more green-friendly, before you’re ready to buy a couple rowhomes for $348,000 and renovate them for $800,000, including architecture, certification and other soft costs.
Residents of Bella Vista, the couple started off doing pro bono web work for nonprofits in 1994 and now have an eight-person staff and a portfolio of work.
“They were like a puppy with three legs,” says Tracy, noting that buying a complete shell allowed them to be able to push for LEED certification. “Historically it’s been trouble, from a crack house to boarding house. The building itself was a wreck.”
The building’s certification comes down to a lot of factors, but three clear ones are its ‘thermal envelope’ or insulation, reclaimed building materials (including, Mia says, material from the movie set of M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Last Airbender‘) and efficient systems, like its HVAC unit.
Taking a century-old Fishtown building and making it again a beautiful, functioning and fitting part of its architecture is a “dream come true,” says Tracy.
“It’s the Holy Grail of the triple bottom line business, our headquarters being this green building,” Tracy goes on. “The opportunity to take one of these beautiful buildings, renovate it and contribute to Philadelphia is the greatest thing in the world.”
Though the eco-friendliness continues to become less movement and more mainstream, obstacles still stand in the way of businesses, particularly smaller companies, to lessening their impact, the pair says. Below, they share a few simple, cost-effective ways to make a big impact.
- Reduce your trash — “How much trash are you producing a week?” asks Tracy. “We recycle and re-use everything we can, something that’s gotten a lot easier in Philadelphia since we started.” The company also uses Bennett Composting to collect every week compostable materials (starting at $10-15 a month).
- Be smart with your e-waste — If you’re a technology company, reducing paper might be in-born, but old computers, keyboards and other IT hardware with hazardous materials can end up in dangerous places. Remember what happened to a piece of equipment from the School District of Philadelphia? Yikes has an e-trash container and contracts out with a company to ensure the proper recycling. “We also look out for e-trash days, like ones held at the Northern Liberties Community Center, to find a proper home.
- Little stuff helps — They use cloth towels that get washed rather than paper counterparts, an eco-font that uses less ink when they do print and use a paper-use calculator to have trees planted to replace whatever use they do.
It goes beyond sustainability, of course, and back to a desire to run a company they would want to work at, says Mia.
“We have flex time and generous vacation time — four weeks of vacation to start,” says Mia. “You get paid time off for your birthday and on Halloween… and we just generally treat people with the kind of respect that we try to offer [the environment].”