Helping farmers save energy and dollars
by Rosie Wolf Williams
Craig Metz is president and Amelia Gulkis, chief operating officer, partners in the operation of EnSave, an agricultural energy-efficiency firm in Richmond. EnSave helps clients all over the United States.
A large part of our success as a company has been bringing savings to our clients that otherwise would have gone unrealized...”
Craig Metz views a true sustainability model as a three-legged stool — a milking stool with the legs of environment, economics, and society. Take one away, or put one ahead of the other, and the stool is going to fall.
Metz is president and CEO of EnSave, an agricultural energy-efficiency firm housed in the old two-story Richmond Underwear Factory building. He and his partner, Amelia Gulkis, chief operating officer, believe the agricultural community is underserved and often overlooked when it comes to energy efficiency.
EnSave helps its clients reduce their environmental impact and increase savings. Farmers are able to capture savings they might have missed, says Gulkis, “but we’re also bringing the benefits of energy efficiency to a sector that otherwise might not have done anything — because they’re busy farming. EnSave is able to come in and bring a program to them that analyzes their energy use, and outlines how they can save.”
Metz was raised in Essex, and in 1978 he began to work toward a degree in business administration at Trinity College. He already owned a lawn and landscaping company, so he bartered with Sister Janice Ryan to maintain the lawns at Trinity in exchange for his education.
He was to take several detours before completing his degree in business administration in 1999. He had begun working in real estate and wanted to do more of it. His uncle offered him a business opportunity in Massachusetts, and in 1983 he moved from Vermont to begin investing in real estate.
With partners, he developed several real estate investment and business ventures. But in 1996, he moved back to Vermont to help care for his ailing mother. He began working for Century 21 in Burlington and eventually moved on to County Data Corp., using his marketing background to generate leads. The owner of the company, Terry Allen, introduced him to a company called Energy and Solid Waste Consultants, which was looking for help with its growth.
“They offered me several jobs with another company they had and I said, ‘I don’t want it,’” says Metz. “Finally they said, ‘We have this other company that we’d like to move to a national scene.’ I just jumped in.” He was hired as a director of program development in 1998. The company was renamed EnSave in 2004.
He embraced the opportunity to work with dairy farmers; he was the first generation not born on the 200-year-old Cambridge farm of his ancestors. After the first year, he says, the company was national. “It wasn’t a question of whether there’s enough business out there. You just need to decide what you want to do as a business. [The company’s mission] was everything I wanted.” In 2003 he became a partner, and a year later he was CEO. Metz bought out the last two partners in 2010, and brought in Paul Jansen and longtime employee Amelia Gulkis as partners.
Jericho native Gulkis earned her bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Vermont in 2001, studying in England her junior year. She spent a few years working in the development office at Fletcher Allen Health Care (now known as The University of Vermont Medical Center), but she desired a position that would allow her to pursue her interest in the environment and her love of writing.
In 2004, she heard that EnSave was looking for someone to help with grant and proposal writing. The company’s environmental focus interested her. “Agriculture had always held some interest for me,” she says. “But for me, it’s always looking at the energy efficiency and overall sustainability — how we can make all operations leaner and more efficient. It just makes sense. Being involved in something like that was pretty interesting.”
Over the years Gulkis began to take on more projects and become more involved in the company, and in 2010 she was named partner and chief operating officer. “As an owner, of course, you’re always involved in all different aspects of the business, but I think for Craig and me, our core focus is still what’s on the horizon, looking out at the broader marketplace.” Jansen, chief financial officer, is no longer a partner.
EnSave recently bought an Idaho engineering firm, Riverbend Group, and brought on two more partners, Craig Meredith and Eric Lee, as senior engineers. They work out of EnSave’s Northwest office in the greater Spokane, Wash., area, merging their skills in industrial energy efficiency to grow the business.
Metz is on the sustainability council of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, leading the farm energy-efficiency initiative for the dairy industry. “The dairy industry has made a commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by 25 percent by 2020,” he says. “The goal of that program is to save 216 million kilowatt hours in energy saving; a reduction of 58,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.”
Gulkis adds that although EnSave’s participation helps achieve that goal, consumers and suppliers play an even larger part by insisting on accountability. “They want to know where their food is coming from and if it’s sustainably produced. We’re certainly helping the farmer, but we’re also helping to better tell that story back to the vendor or to the consumer. It’s certainly a business need that’s driving a lot of that, but there’s also an environmental concern.”
Energy is treated like any other natural resource by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). EnSave works with NCRS as a technical service provider. “We start with a benchmark of current conditions to assess what actions will achieve the most environmental benefits for the least investment,” says Rebecca MacLeod, NRCS’s national energy efficiency liaison for dairy. “The great thing about energy audits completed by our technical service providers is that they show not only the environmental improvements we can expect, but how much money a farmer can save. There aren’t a lot of conservation plans that do that so clearly.”
John Roe, project manager for milk processing at the Vermont Technical College Institute for Applied Agricultural and Food Sciences, contracted with EnSave to audit its farm in preparation for a new milk processing plant. The goal is to produce more income for the farm and increase the educational opportunities it offers in order to move into training people for making milk products.
“EnSave did an energy audit and looked at everything that used energy on the farm,” Roe says. “They modeled everything over the course of the year and compared our bills with what they would expect by comparing us with other similar sized farms. In that way they could tell us if we were using more or less energy.”
The audit helped discover an air compressor that was using more energy than it should and, says Roe, “we have a chunk of energy we can’t account for. We are now trying to sort out what is happening in our systems; we are showing we use more energy than our system should consume. [EnSave has] helped us move forward on our intended plan, and they are trying to figure out the problem.”
“All agriculture is certainly important to us,” says Metz. “A large part of our success as a company has been bringing savings to our clients that otherwise would have gone unrealized because people haven’t traditionally addressed agriculture as a distinct source of energy efficiency. They are usually at the end of the line.”
EnSave employs 22 people and more than 200 subcontracted data collectors throughout the country.
“We have enormous respect for our staff,” says Gulkis. “There’s a lot of younger folks who are Vermonters coming out of UVM, on the engineering side and other aspects of the company. We’re very committed to having those folks grow with the company like we did and offer them the same kinds of opportunities. We’re all about leaving a legacy and looking for folks who have that same passion.”
As a Vermonter, Metz feels a strong responsibility to employ more people in Vermont. “We have to really work hard to make sure that we’re growing the business, so that we’re not losing our young people. Business is good, profit is good — but you need to be responsible, and you need to value your people.”
Metz and his wife, Janet, have six children from previous marriages. He and Janet, who has 37 years in New York State government, divide their time between Albany, N.Y., and Bolton. They recently adopted Wally, a rescue Labrador retriever who, according to Metz, has “changed our lives for the better.” He is a supporter of the Greater Burlington YMCA.
Gulkis lives in Burlington with her husband, Dave Deforge, who works at EnSave handling FEAT, a software tool used for generating energy-audit reports and data analytics. Their daughter, Margaret, is 4 years old, and at press time, the birth of another daughter was imminent.
“Figuring out how to better use our energy and natural resources is one of the defining challenges of our time,” Gulkis says. “If I’m going to work hard, it should be toward supporting a goal that can impact our world in a positive way.” •