Taking “Green” to New Heights
By Tracy M. Fitzgerald
June 02, 2019
When Michael Furbish and his wife Heather set out to construct their new house in Anne Arundel County in 1999, they had two major goals in mind: build a welcoming place to call home, and build responsibly, using natural, sustainable, energy efficient materials. What they didn’t anticipate was the number of phone calls they would receive after moving and settling in. People were hearing about the new “green” home the couple had built, and they wanted to know more. Many asked if they could come by to check the place out, and when they did, the recurring theme and parting comment was almost always “This is amazing! I want to build one of my own, just like this!”
The problem was that those who wanted to construct a home or business similar to the one the Furbishes had built were challenged to find local companies and contractors who could pull off the job. In the early 2000s, sustainable building was gaining popularity, conceptually, but there weren’t many construction companies capitalizing on the idea, and offering the right line of products and services as a way of building and growing their businesses. Furbish saw not only a clear market demand and need, but also an opportunity to merge two of his personal passions – industrial and systems engineering, and commercial real estate. With that, in 2003, Furbish, the company, was born, offering solar thermal, geothermal, straw-bale and natural plaster building technologies, to become one of the first in the Baltimore area to merge into the green roof industry.
“It was a coincidental combination of things that came together and led to a unique opportunity,” recalls Furbish. “There were some businesses out there that wanted green roofs as a means of managing storm water. We did a few, and people started to perceive us as the ‘experts,’ because at that point in time, few firms were doing it. The phone started ringing, and kept ringing as more people saw or heard about our projects and wanted to replicate them.”
Over the past 16 years, Furbish has grown slowly, steadily and methodically. It’s evolved from a shop that functioned with one man and a phone, to a regionally and nationally-recognized firm that staffs a team of 40 who build, monitor and maintain approximately three million square feet of green roof space across the mid-Atlantic region. Headquartered in a three-story warehouse in Brooklyn in Baltimore City, Furbish’s corporate office was built to exemplify how natural and sustainable materials can be integrated into everyday work environments, and the many benefits associated with doing so.
“Beauty is one aspect, but it’s about so much more,” said Furbish. “Think about how you feel when you walk into a botanical garden or the rainforest section of the National Aquarium, for example. Most people say it creates a different kind of feeling … because it does. Nature triggers a greater sense of well-being. When it’s incorporated into built environments, it makes people feel good, it lifts their spirits, and it inspires them.”
It seems that businesses can’t go wrong by building and sustaining nature-centric work environments. Research shows that those who have made the investment are seeing higher rates of productivity, efficiency, teamwork and staff retention. Perhaps it’s this data that has inspired powerhouse companies such as Under Armour and Starbucks, and localized industry leaders including the Port of Baltimore and Potomac Plaza in Washington, D.C., to invest in Furbish’s line of products.
“Originally, our green roofs followed German specifications, and they worked, but our team started brainstorming ways to develop innovative alternatives that would boost efficiency,” recalls Furbish. “Common sense told us we could do things better and more efficiently. And it was through these conversations that the Furbish team became great product developers.”
Today, the company differentiates itself in the marketplace by offering three patented and proprietary products: SmartSlope, which integrates plants into a vertically-oriented landscape structure; BioWall, a vegetated interior wall that is quick to impress, aesthetically, while naturally filtering and improving air quality; and EcoCline, a low maintenance, thin-profile green roof system featuring top-of-the-line storm water management capabilities while reducing carbon footprint. Recently, the Port of Baltimore invested in EcoCline, applying interesting ecologies to add an innovative green roof atop a corrugated metal structure, to manage storm water.
“The project we did for the Port of Baltimore was unique in that we were able to use very lightweight materials,” said Furbish. “A typical green roof weighs about 35 pounds per square foot. The one we did for the Port of Baltimore weighs a quarter of that – about 10 pounds per square foot.”
Furbish says that currently, his team has a handful of product ideas in the works that they believe will be very popular once released in the market. And while the quality of his products speak for themselves, Furbish believes his personal commitment to customer service has played an equally important role in his company’s success.
“Delivering a really exceptional customer experience is every bit as important as offering a great product,” said Furbish. “We are constantly putting ourselves in the mind of our customers so we can make it easy for them. We strive to give them answers before they even ask the questions. Generally speaking, customer expectations in the construction industry are low. People are accustomed to new construction or renovation projects being long, difficult, and filled with headaches. And it’s created an opportunity for us. We are the company that does it differently.” I95
Original Article can be found at the I95 Business Magazine website as follows: