An interview with Michael Jedlowski
CEO of Ashley Furniture Homestores
I would like to start this interview, Mr. Jedlowski, by thanking you for taking the time to share your ideas with me and the alliance members. You are also our very first business owner who is sharing ideas with, we hope, the world through our Business Spotlight part of our website. Well, let’s begin the interview.
Do you think sustainability is important?
Yes. Why I think it is important is that it can not only be good for the world, but it can also be economically beneficial for a business if it does it correctly. I believe that sustainability just for sustainability purposes costs businesses money and may keep a company from doing it. We need to come up with ways [to become sustainable] that are economically feasible and can save a business money, but at the same time, is the right thing to do.
What are some of the ways that your company is becoming more sustainable?
With the utility companies, we have reengineered and redone the lighting in all of our stores and in our warehouses. Number one was that we had the utility companies come in and do an analysis of the warehouses. There we put in motion sensors [for lights] and in our stores we put in lights in the aisles that people walk through while they pick furniture. We use new lighting systems that have a low energy usage and we put compact-fluorescent CFL bulbs in all of the light fixtures. It’s not only saving us a lot of energy (it lowered the energy usage by 60-65%) but it also made the stores cooler. Being in Arizona and Nevada (where the outside temperature reaches over one hundred degrees) the tops of our stores were reaching 140 degrees due to the hot lighting. By lowering the energy [and heat] in the stores, we save a lot on air conditioning. The downside is that we had to redo our entire lighting systems. It has been difficult to do, but we have done it.
Do you think that it is difficult for more businesses to follow your lead?
Yes because it is expensive, time consuming, and difficult. Nobody makes it easy for you to do it. There are not easy ways for businesses to do it, there are not easy blueprints for businesses to do it, there are not easy ways to figure out your costs and savings. It is going to cost money up front and you have to figure out if you are going to get your money back and when you are going to repay your initial investment and how many months it is going to take to repay it. Then it is going to take an awful lot of work. Remember while you are doing this work, you are paying people to retrofit, reengineer, and redo all of what you already have. This makes it a tough deal. I think it is worth it though. I think that it was worth it from the very beginning.
Well if it is important to me and my business, it is going to be important to me personally. So number one, everything in our house runs off of electricity now. As a matter of fact, we don’t even have gas pumped into our house. We had to put propane in the backyard so that we can barbeque and use the stove, and that is the only thing that is run off gas. Everything else is electric. When I had the solar company come out and put solar panels on the house they recommended a solar system half the size of what I have out there. Last month my electric bill was actually minus ninety-eight dollars, so we generate more electricity every month than we use. The nice thing about it was that it wasn’t just doing good for the environment and saving money (we will recoup our solar panel investment in 5 to 7 years), but also it’s the fact that I do not get upset when my wife wants to turn the air down in the summer or when someone doesn’t turn the light off in the house. We are not using more electricity, we are just burning off what we have generated already.
What is your opinion on biodiesel?
I would say that right now, fifty percent of our trucks are running off of biodiesel. We have not recouped our initial investment yet, but over the next ninety to one hundred-twenty days we should recoup our initial investment. The problem now is getting the raw product to make biodiesel. Now that biodiesel has become something that is en vogue, getting the grease and the material that is used in making biodiesel is more expensive because what the restaurants used to think was waste (they would spend money on services that would throw it all away) now makes them money. Now that there is a demand for it, more people are making it independently. Then they make money on it by selling it out. It has become a big process now.
Do you support for fund any “green” organizations or companies?
Yes. In the new company that I am going to invest in this year, we take diesel engines and convert them to run off natural gas. When an engine runs off natural gas, you can stick your mouth on the tail pipe and breathe it. The only things that are coming out of the tail pipe are carbon dioxide and pure water vapor. If every vehicle in Phoenix ran on natural gas, all of our smog would be gone in five years. Now you can buy natural gas for ninety-five cents a gallon. That means that I can run those trucks on liquefied natural gas for ninety-five cents a gallon. When we convert engines to run of the natural gas, I’m going to sell the technology to other companies that use trucks. The majority of those companies have diesel engines because diesel engines run a lot longer that gasoline engines. If you get one hundred thousand miles out of your gasoline engine, you did well. Once you hit three hundred to three hundred fifty thousand miles on a diesel engine it is just breaking in. Our company plans to split the savings with our buyers so that from day one they will be saving money. The way I believe it is if you make it economically advantageous for people to live environmentally conscious, they all will. They will all do the right thing if they save money.
Do you think that the “green” movement will grow?
Yes. I think that it will grow, but it all depends on your generation. See, for our generation, we had to recycle things. Do you know what happened when we used to buy a bottle of coke? We got five cents back. We used all those bottles; we washed them and reused them. That was the same with everything that we had. Do you know what happened when we went to the grocery store and had a paper bag? Everything was reused back in that day. You know what would happen with old clothes? They were passed down to the younger sibling. Bikes were handed down. Now days, we throw all that stuff out. If we see some kid that has a new bike, we throw ours out and get a new one. That’s not what used to happen in the old days. We were environmentally conscious because we had to be, not because that’s what we wanted to be. Now days, money is what makes people less environmentally conscious. People have too much. It all depends on whether the environment becomes more important than convenience.
Do you think that lessening a dependency on fossil fuel is important?
Yes, because we all know that burning fossil fuels in an outdated technology. We have been burning fossil fuels since what, the early 1900’s? Henry Ford made the first car by burning fossil fuels. We are smarter than that; we are more intelligent than that. We hardly do anything else the exact same way as we did it back then. We can find better ways to do it. The problem is, yet again, finding ways that are cheaper. Do you know the top five companies in the world today? A lot of them are oil companies, because the world runs on oil. It is an economic engine. We also know that sooner or later we are going to run out of it, right? We don’t know when, but sooner or later we will run out. So then why don’t we come up with something that we won’t run out of? Take nuclear power. How do we feel about nuclear power? [You can use it, but it has negative side effects too] Everything does! What about wind power? Negative side effects too by the way. We don’t understand that good policy, the right thing to do, and good economics can all work together. It is difficult to do it that way, but they can all work together. That is what we need to do. That’s what I believe.
Do you believe in “Clean Coal?”
No. I believe that clean coal is a B.S. way of trying to do the same thing that we have done for years, and call it a different name, make it a little bit cleaner, and make it a little bit better; without fundamentally changing the way that we do things and make things better. That would be kicking the can down the road, and I hate kicking the can down the road. If you have a problem, solve the problem. They are just kicking the can down the road. That’s stupid. Solve it.
Link to Ashley Furniture Homestores