If you look at Tommy Linstroth’s career, you’d think he was a veteran. He founded Trident Sustainability Group, his own consultancy, in 2010; he was instrumental in forming the USGBC Georgia Chapter; he’s served on various advisory, director, and trustee boards; he’s been honored for his leadership in myriad publications. But Linstroth is still a member of the “under 40” set, and his work has only begun. We sat down with Linstroth to talk about origins—and destinations.
gb&d: As an undergrad, you studied business administration. Now you’re a major leader for sustainability in Georgia. What’s the story?
Tommy Linstroth: It started during my undergraduate career. I would come back home every summer and see more and more urban sprawl popping up around where I grew up. My local farms and woods were being turned into these run-of-the-mill subdivisions. But there were also moments from my youth. When I was growing up and there were all of these houses being built around me, I would go to these construction sites and pull cans and recyclable waste out of the dumpsters, and I’d go recycle it to make a few bucks. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was also good for the planet, but now I see that was a formative experience. I’m trying to teach these Fortune 500 companies the same thing—you can profit while doing the right thing.
gb&d: So, in a way, your junior high dumpster dives are what led you to found Trident in 2010.
Linstroth: Yes. Prior to Trident, I was working in real estate development as director of sustainability. I had just gotten my master’s in environmental science, and I really got a lot of hands-on experience, coming from the owner/developer perspective for new construction as well as how to manage a real estate portfolio sustainably. I learned what worked and what didn’t work, and I’ve been able to leverage that at my consultancy.
gb&d: Where is most of your consultancy’s work focused right now?
Linstroth: Our work primarily focuses on sustainable design and building, which often means helping clients achieve LEED certification in cost-effective manners while building as sustainably as possible. But we also work with big and small organizations—from local groups in Savannah to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies—to help them develop competitive sustainability strategies and integrate those strategies into their greater business plans. A comprehensive sustainability strategy can help create new customers, open up markets, and differentiate brands.
gb&d: If we consider, say, waste as an example of a place for sustainability strategy to be implemented, how would you assess this strategy?
Linstroth: Rather than diverting or recycling waste, the first step should be eliminating waste. It’s most important to eliminate the processes that generate waste. It’s not just what you’re doing with the output. If you’re throwing it out or recycling it, you’ve already admitted that you have inefficiencies in your system. What we’re trying to do is change and correct the systems in place that lead to waste creation in the first place.
gb&d: What are some challenges you face when selling this idea of the importance of sustainability for a business?
Linstroth: On the building side, there are still challenges and education that needs to be done. People say they want a green building, but they often don’t want to change their design and protocol to make that happen. We want great integrated design and to work together to get as green of a building as possible. On the business and corporate side, people might address us skeptically at first, but by the end of the training that we offer—once we get people in a room and walk people through a process—they can start to see the value of sustainability efforts. We’re trying to work that up and down an organization so that it has a whole cadre of people that are truly open to the value of sustainability.
gb&d: As you said, you’re working with a wide variety of clients. Who do you see as having the most capability to lead the charge of sustainability?
Linstroth: The public sector can really drive some of these initiatives because they’re here to stay, and they’re doing this work to make their communities better. When Chatham County [Savannah] mandates that all of its buildings will be LEED certified, this really drives the market because all of a sudden, these folks who hadn’t done green building are forced to get up to speed, and it becomes common vocabulary. The private sector also has a lot of great corporate leaders who are doing a lot to drive sustainability forward. They’re touching tens of thousands of people in their own organizations. There is always work to be done.