Giving more — and giving back — is MGB’s blueprint for growth
Green construction and luxury homes might sound like an oxymoron — but not to Stephen Ellis and Grant Castilow.
Co-founders of MyGreenBuildings (MGB) in Sarasota, Ellis and Castilow have built more than 50 sustainable projects since launching their company. This includes some of Florida’s first beach-front homes to win platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED).
The partners met in 2006 after Ellis sold the environmental-waste consulting business he had run for 12 years. At loose ends, he turned his attention to real estate and began fixing and flipping properties. When he acquired a small 1940s bungalow, Ellis asked Castilow, a general contractor, to help him expand it. To differentiate the property, they embraced green building practices and renovated the first existing home to be certified by the Florida Green Building Coalition (the state’s version of LEED). In addition, the bungalow received the coalition’s second-highest score of all previously ranked homes.
Today MGB generates about $5 million in annual revenue with 10 employees. The company has won numerous awards including being ranked No. 326 on the 2011 Inc. 500 list (the only green builder on the list) and was named 2010 Hall of Fame Entrepreneur Award winner by the Sarasota Economic Development Corp.
For Ellis and Castilow, green construction isn’t about tree hugging or a political agenda. It’s about performance and value. “We’re architectural purists and building-science geeks,” Ellis says. “We deliver luxurious, quality homes that just happen to be green. It’s about the materials we use and how we put a building together.”
Indeed, while visually stunning, MGB’s homes are not just another pretty face. Low-toxin materials, combined with higher levels of fortification, insulation and technology result in lower CO2 emissions and improved health of watersheds. What’s more, the homes are healthier for occupants — and lower the cost of maintenance and ownership. “You’re not giving anything up with a sustainable home,” Ellis says. “You get more.”
Unfortunately, there’s still a misconception that green buildings will be restrictive or cost too much. In fact, in focus groups conducted by MGB, participants have equated green construction with eco hotels where lights don’t come on right away or guests have to use towels several times.
In response, the company is rebranding to focus on its reputation for sterling service and quality rather than green construction. This includes a name change from MyGreenBuildings to MGB Built. “That doesn’t mean we’re backing off green construction — it’s the only way to build a house,” Ellis stresses. “But to grow the business we have to be able to reach out to everyone — not just people who are interested in green from the get-go.”
For MGB, high performance isn’t relegated to its product. It also extends to a corporate culture of giving.
In the company’s second year of operation, Ellis and Castilow created a formal philanthropy program, known as Community Support for Local Resources (CSLR). One of its major initiatives has been teaming up with the Warren Backpack Program and enabling disadvantaged children at a local elementary school to take healthy meals home to their families. Another project was donating a green roof exhibit to the Marie Selby Public Gardens. The first of its kind in southwest Florida, the exhibit educates visitors about the benefits of healthy watersheds and how individuals can manage water runoff on their own properties.
In 2013 the partners introduced “CSLR 2.0,” which gives their employees 12 paid days each year to devote to nonprofit work. “Rather than Grant and I making the decisions, they pick what’s important to them,” Ellis explains. “We hope that enabling our staff to support what they’re passionate about is more meaningful — and a way to increase their involvement in the community.”
Giving is part of the formula for success, he adds. “If you’re going to be in business for the long term, you have to provide exceptional service, delivering a high-quality product. And you need to give back to the community that’s supporting you.”