Five years ago, Deanne Clough, owner of Clough Construction, began thinking about the different ways that her business affects the Earth. While at her company’s lumberyard one day, she realized they were making a personal contribution to deforestation. With this new self-awareness, she began looking into alternative building materials on the market in hopes of making a small difference from her corner of the world in San Rafael, California.
Clough’s first step in her journey was re-writing her business plan to become more sustainable. She started going to forest audits and visiting the different manufacturers’ facilities and learning as much as she could on site. With the awareness that information is constantly changing, she committed to always learning and being open to new information.
“At the beginning, I was afraid to say I was a sustainable contractor. I thought someone might walk into my office or showroom and have more knowledge than me and I would not look credible,” said Clough. “After identifying that this is a work in progress, I became confident that being sustainable means I am on a path to discovery. Humbleness took over fear, and I had an overwhelming desire to do something better and different.”
Armed with a new business plan, her next step was to overhaul her showroom. Every item that entered its doors was now “intentional,” not just an item selected to make money. Clough eyed products that were the best in the industry, based on quality and by measuring the company’s commitment to protecting the Earth. One such product she began offering is TimberTech, a premium composite decking produced from up to 73% recycled material.
“We were invited to TimberTech’s facility in Ohio several years ago, and we were so moved by the company’s commitment to a low waste program and re-usage of materials,” said Clough. “Also, it’s a very attractive and eye-catching product.”
Beyond her showroom, Clough has also committed herself to “responsible forestry.” She recognized an issue in the creation of many wood manufactured products—clear-cutting. This is when all of the trees are cut down in an area of the forest and the manufacturer plants one species of a tree that makes the most money. The forest ecosystem is not taken into consideration, and often, entire species are wiped out from the area.
“We can have healthy lumber practices and still be fair to the forest. It’s just about giving back after you have taken something,” said Clough. “If you go into a big, diverse forest and prune it, you should replant seven trees for every tree harvested. You need to make sure to plant different types of trees as to not disrupt the existing species and ecosystem.”
Not only does Clough feel strongly about giving back to the environment, she also finds ways to promote her business by taking the money that would be allocated to advertising and giving it back to her community instead.
“We started donating to organizations like the Global Student Embassy and the Marin School of Environmental Leadership,” she said. “We wanted to take part in teaching students to become environmental leaders, and by focusing our efforts here, it helped further validate our cause within the community.”
Beyond monetary donations, Clough hires interns to further promote sustainable practices to the community while looking for additional ways to expand her efforts. “We have had interns go to elementary schools and talk to 500 students at a time about sustainability. And one group of MSEL students just planted 2,000 redwood trees,” said Clough. “You see a lot of businesses lately that create a positive culture for the employees. When our employees and interns are doing this type of work, they can feel good about contributing to something greater and bringing others into the world of sustainability.”
Not only has Clough stressed the importance of being a mentor for those looking to become more sustainable, but also the importance of finding one.
“Find a mentor, someone who knows more than you. Mine is Linda Delair, and with her gentle guiding I have learned how to contribute to bettering the Earth through effective actions,” said Clough. “She recently led me to the brilliance of Paul Hawkins. If anyone were to read a book about climate change and how to participate, Drawdown is the book. The exciting thing about the book is that it offers solutions every person can participate in.”
While sustainability cannot be perfected, it can be learned, she notes. By keeping herself open to new information and going a step further with the planet’s best interests at heart, she has maintained a successful and award-winning business, with accolades including 2013 Forest Stewardship Council Leadership Award in Education, 2016 Business Leaders Vision into Action Award, and 2012 Sustainable North Bay Award.
“When it comes to protecting the Earth and its future, the job is never done, but there are small steps that everyone can take to help. Working in collaboration with our industry is our pact for the future.”