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12:52 AM   April 18, 2015
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Operation Green

Pet Camp balances good business practices with environmental responsibility.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

A pet boarding facility isn’t a venture typically positioned at the cutting edge of green business models, but Pet Camp, a dog daycare and cat and dog boarding facility based in San Francisco, is leading the way. Owned by Mark Klaiman and his wife and business partner Virginia Donohue, Pet Camp successfully marries environmental stewardship with business savvy, resulting in a pet care service company that caters to pets, serves the community and benefits the planet—while making a profit.

The Cat Safari greenhouse is a cat-boarding center that features a photovoltaic system on the roof to provide electricity. Courtesy of Mark Rogers Photography
It all began with California’s rolling blackouts in 2001.

“We decided then that we had to do something,” recalled Klaiman, who prior to opening Pet Camp in 1997 worked with his wife at the Environmental Protection Agency in the City by the Bay. “There were so many people arguing for drilling in Alaska and coming up with all sorts of ideas that we thought would make the environment worse. We really thought we needed to take some action on our own, and so we started looking at how to mitigate what we did.”

The first area they tackled: energy consumption.

“Our power bill [in 2002] was running about $25,000 a year, just for electricity,” Klaiman said. “Last year, it was below $7,000.”

How did they lower their power costs by more than 70 percent? Klaiman and his team, which included representatives from the nonprofit San Francisco Community Power Cooperative (SFCPC) and utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), examined a range of ways to cut energy use and incorporated the viable options.

Klaiman admittedly relied on the experts’ advice to guide him.

“The thing we learned early on is as a small business, we don’t have the expertise in any of those fields, nor do we have the capabilities of getting up to speed on them all by ourselves,” he said. “There were a lot of other people out there who were smarter than we were. They knew about this stuff and were willing to partner with us, and they all brought different things to the table. So from our perspective, that was a really interesting lesson to learn early on.”

Taking Green Steps

Mark Klaiman, who owns and operates Pet Camp in San Francisco with his wife and business partner Virginia Donohue, successfully blends concern for the environment with business savvy. Here are his tips for others hoping to do the same:

  • Recycle and reuse as much as possible.
  • Encourage staff to participate in the company’s environmental stewardship programs.
  • Set a green goal and work toward it in attainable steps.
  • Call on experts to help reach goals.
  • Be creative and don’t be discouraged. 
  • Stay true to the business’ core mission.
  • Look at what’s bought and whom it’s bought from.
  • Take advantage of financial incentives offered by local, state and federal government.
  • Enroll in free classes offered by nonprofits or power companies.
After consulting with SFCPC and PG&E, Klaiman and Donohue first installed 252 solar panels, which produce 33 kilowatts of energy—more than half the energy used in the facility.

“When we put them on, it was the largest solar power project ever in the city and county of San Francisco,” Klaiman said. “Even now, it’s still one of the largest privately financed ones.”

At Cat Safari, their cat-boarding center, they also installed a photovoltaic system on the roof to provide electricity.

“For our hot water, we use solar thermal and tankless hot water systems,” Klaiman said. “On most days, the solar thermal system provides all the hot water we need. When the solar thermal can’t meet our needs on its own, it will preheat water before the water circulates through a tankless water heater.”

Next, they swapped their heavy HID light fixtures and fluorescent tubes for high-bay T-8 bulbs, which are compact fluorescent bulbs that measure a “scant 8 millimeters thick,” Klaiman said, adding that the rebate from PG&E totaled $750—$75 per replaced fixture. “We also converted our pressure washers, pool heater and filter from 120 volts to 220 volts, which use much less electricity to run.”

Finally, they installed high-volume, low-speed fans that Klaiman discovered when looking for the most energy-efficient way to keep Pet Camp’s indoor air quality continually fresh. They finally sourced the two 20-foot air movers from Big Ass Fans Co., an architectural and industrial fan manufacturer based in Lexington, Ky. 

“The slow-spinning giants move more than 68,000 cubic feet of air per minute,” Klaiman said. “And they only use 58 watts of power. So we installed these two fans and turned off 13 other box fans.” He saves 9,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year while he circulates the air and prevents the spread of airborne germs, he added.

When deciding which energy savings measures he would implement at Pet Camp, they had to complement his core mission: providing loving care for cats and dogs, Klaiman said.

Mark Klaiman and his wife and business partner Virginia Donohue founded Pet Camp in 1997.
“I wasn’t going to give up air flow to save on my electric bill,” he said. “But if I could figure out a way to meet my health and safety needs and save power at the same time, then of course I’m going to do it.”

He did it in a big way.

Beyond curtailing energy use, Klaiman and Donohue decided to tackle another environmental hurdle: dog waste. As a dog-boarding kennel and daycare, the facility produces a lot of poop, and they knew there had to be a way to dispose of it in a green way. Once again partnering with an expert in the field, the Pet Camp team came up with a solution.

“Just by talking to Robert Reed at Recology, our garbage company, we were able to be creative and look at alternative ways to get rid of the waste,” Klaiman said. “He came up with the idea of sending it to a biomass facility. They take carbon-based material and run it through a digester [at the East Bay Municipal Water District], where it breaks down and creates methane gas. The gas is then turned into electricity to run the water treatment facility. Adding composting to our recycling efforts has allowed us to divert more than 80 percent of our waste stream away from landfill.”

From minimizing power use, purchasing environmentally friendly office products and patronizing green distributors to reducing, recycling and reusing day-to-day items, environmental stewardship pervades every facet of Pet Camp—and Klaiman and Donohue, with the help of their advisers and staff, have successfully incorporated it into their business model.

“It impacts pretty much every aspect of what we do,” he said. “From how we buy to what we use to how we run the place and how we get rid of the stuff when we’re done. With all that said, it all saves us money, which is frankly the name of the game with this economy.”

Steven Moss, executive director of SFCPC, said Klaiman could inspire other small business owners who want to make a difference.

“What’s really valuable about a fellow like Mark is he is a business guy,” Moss said. “He’s got a whole panoply of challenges that we all face if you’re in business today, yet he is pioneering some stuff that he doesn’t need to do, and he is focusing on creatively transforming his business so that it is operating more tight, and he’s producing environmental benefits to the community.”

For others in the pet industry hoping to weave some green into their business practices, Klaiman said to seek out and welcome the expertise of others.

“Come to the realization that you can’t do it on your own,” he said. “You have to call on your partners and tap into your partners’ expertise. Think about where you want to go, and find the tools that are there to assist you getting there.

“And have fun with it,” he continued. “You’ll be super creative in ways you’d never thought you’d be. That’s how most business people want to be. They want to be creative. They want to have fun, and they want to push things. This is another venue to do it.” <HOME>

Wendy Bedwell-Wilson, a book author and former managing editor for Pet Product News International, has been tracking the pet industry for nearly 10 years. 

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