Green business has become big business in Nashville and across Middle Tennessee. For this year's iteration of Green Heroes, we assembled almost 30 individuals and companies in four categories: Adopters, Evangelists, Intermediaries and Makers.
As they and others get us toward a critical mass of sustainability, we will no longer need to make a distinction between being green or not. Green we will simply be.
Shoals Technology Group
When Tennessee decided to become a leader in the solar power industry in 2008, Shoals Technologies Group was among the first wave of clean energy companies that responded.
Shoals, known for innovate solar power engineering, moved its headquarters from Muscle Shoals, Ala., to Sumner County and has since expanded from one to two large manufacturing facilities in nearby Portland.
Portland Mayor Ken Wilber says the company now employs between 400 and 500 and is one of Portland’s top three jobs providers.
“Of course, having new jobs is great for our community, but with this company it’s more than just a job,” Wilber says. “These are green jobs that are an important part of the future of our economy. It’s really helped put Portland on the map.”
Shoals is known for its ability to change with the times. Although the 16-year-old company is a leader in cost-effective wiring for renewable energy sites, it started out as an automobile parts manufacturer. In the mid 2000s, when the auto industry started to decline, Shoals made a strategic shift, moved to alternative energy and started manufacturing components of solar panels.
Industry insiders praise the company for the strength and diversity of its solar power-related products, which include a portfolio of products, including specialized ‘combiner’ boxes in which circuit breakers are placed; custom solar harnesses; and photovoltaic wire, commonly called PV wire, used for solar applications, fuses and PV monitoring devices.
Wilber says Shoals puts great care into its products but also is impressed by the company’s investment in the people of the area.
“They care about being a good corporate citizen and are concerned about helping some of the less fortunate here,” he says. “They are providing a future for a lot of people, but also reaching out to help with nonprofits and charities.”
Even after making our Green Heroes list twice, one of the world’s biggest tire makers continues to be an innovator among Tennessee’s growing pool of environmentally conscious manufacturers. Workers already at the more than 2,000 retail stores around the country recycle 98 percent of the used tires they replace, but officials also are looking well into the future. This summer, they picked a 281-acre site in Arizona where they will build a research complex to grow guayule shrubs that could prove to be a renewable source of rubber. Researchers also are examining the option to use rubber produced by Russian dandelions in manufacturing processes. Large-scale testing of that resource will begin in 2014.
This Australian company’s U.S. headquarters is based on West End Avenue and oversees in five states 10 power plants that use landfill gas to produce electricity. Landfill gas is about 40 to 60 percent methane and is accessed by pumping vertical wells and pumping the gas to a central facility where it is burned in an engine or turbine. The company’s network produced $20 million in revenues and about 76 megawatts of power in 2011.
Two-year-old New Wind has quickly emerged as one of the region’s most prolific producers of so-called “small wind” turbines. The company’s devices can harness sun and wind energy simultaneously and also are more affordable for consumers than household turbines have been in the past. New Wind’s products are now being marketed in more than 20 states, helping the company stake its claim to a U.S. market that is forecast to grow to more than $600 million by 2015.
Launched in 2010 as a joint venture between Thompson Machinery and Associated Physics of America, PHG builds and runs small power plants (pictured above) that convert various types of waste and biomass into a synthetic fuel that can substitute for natural gas. The company this summer was awarded a contract to build in Covington, Tenn., a 125-kilowatt generator that will convert 12 tons of waste daily, thus reducing greenhouse emissions equivalent to what 75 cars produce per year.