Solid 'Green' Credentials

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 12, 2009

When Steve Kuhn says his moving and storage company is "green," he means it.

Many people claim too freely to be green, he said. And there's no way to prove that what they do is helping the planet.

So for nearly 10 years, the owner of JK Moving and Storage researched how he could make every aspect of his Northern Virginia company more environmentally friendly.

He decided to stop using cardboard boxes. Then, struck by the "abundance of waste" that people usually leave behind after a move, he looked into companies, charities and outlets across the region and found about 60 that could recycle or reuse items.

Office furniture and working appliances go to Goodwill Industries or Habitat for Humanity's Habitat ReStores. Because Goodwill can't take sofas or beds -- landfill managers say they've seen lots of perfectly good ones in trash bins over the years -- Kuhn found a company that recycles fabric into insulation, rugs and padding.

Broken water heaters and other metals go to one of a handful of smelters in the area. Wood waste is packed up and sent to a waste-to-energy facility in Baltimore that turns it into steam and pumps it into the Baltimore Steam Co. to power air-conditioning systems in the inner city.

Kuhn started a Web site that works much like the Freecycle Network, where people take photos of stuff they no longer want and post it at http://www.reusedc.org, so others can get it for free.

By changing to "boxless moves" 10 years ago, Kuhn said he figures his company has kept more than 25,000 tons of compressed cardboard -- about 45 football fields stacked three feet high with cardboard -- out of landfills. He calculated that the company, which he founded with his brother in 1979, has saved 425,000 trees. And by aggressively looking for ways to recycle and reuse nearly every scrap that's typically tossed out in moves, he said JK Moving has kept more than a million pounds of waste out of landfills in just the past seven months.

"We've all been hearing more and more about being green. The reason why we didn't promote it three years ago when we started was because we didn't feel there was any accountability behind people who promote the word 'green.' So we spent years building a system that was foolproof," Kuhn said. "Our mission is to walk the talk."

Kuhn said he decided to go green a few years ago while sitting at his kitchen counter with some of his four children. They'd been talking a lot about the environment, and what they were saying stuck with him. With their help, he drew up the company's first environmental action statement.

"Now, I can't pass a light switch without turning it off," he said. "It's contagious. You start looking for things you can do, and it builds. It's like having an obsessive-compulsive disorder. But the bottom line is, we feel like we're in a position where we can make a difference, so that's what we want to do."

So committed is Kuhn that his company gives out an annual Environmental Sustainability Award. Last year's winner, announced late last month, is the Crystal City Business Improvement District, which has put being green among its top four priorities. The Crystal City BID and Kuhn's company sponsored a Power Purge event, in which more than 50,000 pounds of electronics was collected from about 300 community members and businesses and sent to recyclers. (This year's Power Purge is Wednesday.)


CONTINUED     1              >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company