January 29, 2010 at 2:33 am EST | by Nick Napolitano
Local firm working toward a greener D.C.

Local gay businessman Joe Andronaco said his sexual orientation was never an issue in the workplace. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Ask someone how to save the earth from ourselves and you likely will get a range of advice. Trade your gas-guzzler in for a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle, or better yet, an electric car. Attach solar panels to the roof of your home and use them to wean your house off of non-renewable resources. Invest in tree replanting efforts.

Local gay businessman Joe Andronaco has a less expensive, though admittedly less sexy suggestion that he says will not only have a greater collective environmental impact, but will also end up saving you money before too long: have your home inspected for energy inefficiencies, and take steps to address those inefficiencies.

“Conservation is something that doesn’t require new technologies or a major investment,” said Andronaco. And with an estimated 75 percent of the city’s carbon emissions coming from building energy use, the potential environmental benefit “is huge.”

Andronaco not only sees value in conservation, he also believes there is a good business opportunity there. Last year, he helped launch a company called Access Green, which conducts home energy audits in the greater Washington area. The company’s base product, the knowledge audit, provides homeowners with valuable information about their home – where air is coming into the house, which appliances are creating dangerous chemical emissions, and how their energy consumption stacks up against comparable dwellings, to name but a few of the items addressed in the audit.

“One of the biggest issues with green,” observed Andronaco, “is follow through. You can talk green all you want but are you going to get it done?”

For those who choose the company’s premium product, the fulfillment audit, Access Green technicians will come to your home and make some of the repairs and upgrades recommended in the knowledge audit, from changing out HVAC filters to caulking windows and doors. It is this marriage of green advice and implementation that Andronaco says sets his company apart as an innovator.

“We come with a trades knowledge to green,” said Andronaco. “We know how to practically do the things that will achieve the savings. There are lots of inexpensive, couple-hundred-dollar items that can save you thousands.”

Access Green is part of a larger corporation called USA Technologies, a $12 million business that Andronaco has led since 2003. The well-known local commercial heating and air conditioning company Argent, which received the Angie’s List Super Service Award for the past two years, is also part of USA.

“We really take a whole house approach to the way we do systems,” explained Andronaco. “Before you do something like put a new heating or air conditioning system into your home, you really need to do a whole house analysis.”

Access Green is the first company that Andronaco himself has launched, along with lawyer David Julyan and environmental lobbyist Sam Brooks, known by many locally for his spirited attempts a few years ago to win a seat on the D.C. City Council. Brooks and Julyan are principals of 360 Green, a firm that markets green knowledge and services to the business community.

Andronaco was born in Caracas to a Venezuelan mother and an American father. The family moved to Miami when Andronaco was eight and he lived there until going to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to get a degree in history. He got his start in business while working for local utility giant Washington Gas. After leaving D.C. briefly to get his MBA from the Wharton School of Business, which he received with honors, Andronaco came back to D.C. and again worked for Washington Gas before leaving to pursue his dream of being an entrepreneur.

Though Andronaco has been openly gay since his days at business school, his sexual orientation isn’t something that he trumpets in the workplace. So imagine Andronaco’s surprise when his mentor, USA founder Mike Berard, an elderly, staunchly Republican, Vietnam veteran he befriended while working at Washington Gas, called Andronaco into his office to discuss Andronaco’s “lifestyle.”

“He goes, ‘I’m not going to have someone run my business and be in a closet.’ I said, ‘Mike, some people might be offended.’ He said, ‘I don’t give a shit. If they have a problem, I’ll fire them.’”

Aside from one of the company’s top salesmen expressing misgivings about how company morale would fare with a gay man in charge, a line of questioning that Berard quickly shut down, Andronaco said he has received zero negative reaction in the workplace.

“Most people thought that especially these sort of roughneck good ‘ole boy electricians and HVAC guys would have issues, but they don’t,” said Andronaco. “People are multi-faceted and you can’t take them for caricatures that are created by the media and even by ourselves.”

The 43 year old is quick to stress that being gay is just one facet of who he is, and he is extremely active in the wider community. He sits on several local boards of directors, including Goodwill and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, and is active with the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund as well. He is also on the D.C. Mayor’s Green Collar Jobs Advisory Council and the Sustainable Energy Utility advisory board, which partners with the D.C. Council to administer sustainable energy programs. In 2008, he was recognized by the Washington Business Journal with a Greater Washington Minority Business Leader Award.

A proud D.C. resident, Andronaco lives with his partner in the Northwest neighborhood of Crestwood. Their 1925 Dutch colonial home doubles as a training and demonstration facility for his company. Earlier this week, in fact, Andronico’s colleagues at Argent used his house to demonstrate how to install programmable thermostats.

Andronaco is also a strong supporter of the city and he sees expansion of the green economy as a way to boost the District’s tax base and address its high unemployment rate. He made a conscious choice to base Access Green in the District, along the H Street corridor in Northeast, and said he likewise makes a point of hiring city residents.

Access Green conducted more than 200 home energy audits last year. According to Sara Loveland, who left her job at D.C. Greenworks last year to be Access Green’s chief operating officer, 2010 is already off to a strong start.

The company is working with the Corcoran on its green roof and recently it scored a contract with the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative to be the sole provider of home energy audits for SMECO clients in Prince George’s and Calvert counties. They are also busy supporting legislation before the D.C. Council right now that would simplify funding options for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy products.

“The homeowner wouldn’t have to go through a credit application as long as they have equity in their home,” explained Brooks. “If they move before the loan is paid off, it’s attached to the house and stays there. “ This is an innovative way to finance energy improvements, particularly for homeowners, that Brooks said will solidify D.C.’s place at the leading edge of the green movement.

Brooks is quick to note that this legislation is one of the rare instances where the public interest is perfectly in alignment with the interests of “green collar” businesses like his, a trend he sees continuing.

“The better a firm like ours does,” he said, “the closer the government comes to realizing its object to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.” Moreover, he added, there is opportunity here for private sector companies like Access Green to provide market-based solutions to environmental challenges, rather than rely wholly on the government for leadership.

Said Loveland: “People are so dazzled by super sexy projects like solar paneling. Not enough attention is paid to conservation. We can generate all the alternative energy we want, but without conservation we won’t achieve the results we need to meaningfully reduce our carbon footprint.”

The Access Green knowledge audit currently runs $249 while the fulfillment audit starts at $599. For more information on Access Green’s products, visit http://www.greenerhome.com or call 202-559-6061.

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