CPW Partner ecoFAB: It’s all about relationships

CPW Partner ecoFAB: It’s all about relationships

(From Left to Right): Kenny Hempel – Intern from South Seattle Community College, Conservation and Weatherization Program, sponsored by Seattle’s Office of Economic Development; Angel Gerardo; Josh Batley; Yirim Seck – Graduate of Got Green job training program, and sponsored by EcoFAB for journey with the Laborers Union

Community Power Works contractor EcoFAB is co-owned by partners Callie Ridolfi, Ann Brudno, and Kevin Laycock, who found each other at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute sustainable MBA program. The vision was to build EcoFAB as a social venture, rather than just a typical for-profit company. According to Ridolfi, managing director of EcoFAB, “We are building an organization to bridge the gap between healthy housing and workforce development.”

With a workforce of 12, EcoFAB provides sustainable, and energy efficient retrofits for homes and small businesses, including offering energy auditing, contract bidding, and contracting services. The company has also been active in employing trainees from Seattle’s Got Green and Clean/Green Technology Programs. “We want to be a pathway to green jobs, but this is just a start. It’s about building relationships, getting stronger skills through on the job training, and fashioning a career,” Ridolfi said.

The inspiration for EcoFAB stretches back some 20 years, with Ridolfi’s work on Native American lands, and the idea of improving the distressed state of housing there, by providing green technology and workforce development. Poor home construction and inefficient energy systems meant that occupants couldn’t afford to heat homes, which in turn caused serious health and mold problems, among others.

Kenny Hempel and Angel Gerardo

Couple this with severe unemployment, and the challenges were evident. “We asked, ‘How can we connect the two?’” said Ridolfi. The answer was training this group of people to provide home energy retrofits for their own community. “In addition to providing skilled job training, we thought that we could help people have greater appreciation for their homes by understanding that homes can, and should, be healthy.”

Fast-forward to present day and Ridolfi is still connecting employment and healthy, sustainable housing through EcoFAB’s commitment to developing a workforce to meet the demand for sustainable building and home energy upgrades. EcoFAB’s work crew currently includes two products of Seattle’s green jobs training programs. Kenny Hempel is a recent intern from the South Seattle Community College Conservation and Weatherization Program, sponsored by Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, and Yirim Seck was an early graduate of Seattle’s Got Green job training program. Seck finished his first job with EcoFAB two years ago. Since then, he has performed so well that EcoFAB has sponsored him as a journey with the labor union, which sets him on his path to become a master.

As Secks’ skills grow, so also does EcoFAB as an organization. “Since Yirim did his first job in December of 2009, we have all learned a lot, and are evolving together. We are co-creating the organization. But there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Ridolfi.

Yirim Seck

EcoFAB also has the distinction of having two female partners out of its three, in a male-dominated industry. “I had heard that EcoFAB was owned by a woman, and I liked that idea,” said recent CPW customer, Carol Frederick. “That was incentive to work with them.”

Ridolfi feels that being a woman in a man’s world has positively impacted EcoFAB. She said, “As a woman I have the benefit of putting my heart into building trusting relationships with our social venture partners, training institutions, and community groups, which support our pathways to prosperity mission.”

This focus on relationships carries through to EcoFAB’s service philosophy. “It’s all about customer service,” said Ridolfi. “We focus on making the process as painless as possible. We listen to learn, and improve our offering. That’s what our business depends on.”

The result is happy customers who are eager to share their experiences with others. EcoFAB was referred to Carol Frederick by a neighbor, who was referred to them by a friend. Frederick’s job was finished quickly, despite the necessity to blow insulation into her walls from the inside to avoid damaging the stucco finish of her 1922 home. “The crew spent three days here and I thought it was great,” she said. “They were just such nice guys that I really enjoyed having them around.”

Frederick, feeling “Great!” about her upgrade and EcoFAB’s work, has contacted the company again for a bid to further upgrade her home. It is through relationships like these that the industry continues to grow.
Ridolfi appreciates the part that Community Power Works has played to create demand for home energy upgrades like Frederick’s. “CPW has been building a foundation for a sustainable industry,” she said. “Through the program we are gaining resources to promote retrofits to a wider community.” Please visit http://www.ecoFAB.net/ for more information on the energy experts at EcoFAB.

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Community Power Works is a Seattle neighborhood-based building retrofit program that will achieve deep energy savings and create green jobs.