By Tony Khing
STOCKTON — Laurel Harrop, the CEO of Laurel Environmental Group, has always been ecologically conscious. She was initially interested in environmentally responsible women’s clothing.
“I wanted to do clothing design. I wanted to sew,” she said. “I was really interested in green fashion. I’m very passionate about the environment. I wanted to get into recycling and do something that made a difference.”
The former University of San Francisco cross-country runner wanted to own a green business. So Harrop established a company which started with recycling scrap metal and interior lights and moved on to street lights. These days, Harrop’s San Diego-based company is helping PG&E with its supply chain sustainability goals by recycling their 170,000 street lights being converted to LEDs.
“Laurel Environmental has an effective and affordable solution,” said Joan Kerr, PG&E director of supply chain responsibility. “They brought to us a solution that utilizes almost every bit of the street light we want to recycle. Her commitment to sustainability matched PG&E’s and that was a big attraction.”
“We partner with different recycling companies,” said Harrop. “After we dismantle the lights here, the plastic and the glass go somewhere. The metal, of course, gets recycled. Everything that can stay out of landfill is out of the landfill.”
Harrop started her business with $6,000 she saved while working in retail and attending classes at USF.
Laurel Environmental’s initial base was out of a San Diego-area storage unit. Harrop’s days involved collecting and moving scrap metal and interior lights with the assistance of a $1,500 forklift her father got for her. Like any developing business, Harrop researched ways to help it grow. That’s how she learned that municipalities were converting their street lights to LEDs.
“I really didn’t know too much about it,” said Harrop about recycling street lights. “I really got a lot of help from recycling companies. They taught me a lot about the metals, the other components and how we could find somewhere for them to be recycled.”
Harrop’s big break came when she convinced a contractor she should be the one to recycle San Diego’s 35,000 street lights.
“When I got that project,” said Harrop, “I saw how big it was. And this was something new that cities were starting to do. There’s millions of street lights in the United States that haven’t been converted yet.”
Later, Harrop found out that PG&E was planning to replace 170,000 street lights in its service area with LEDs. After a year of emails, conversations and a site visit, Laurel Environmental got the job. The lights are being recycled in a Stockton warehouse.
“There’s a lot of hoops to jump through with PG&E. They make it difficult for a reason,” said Harrop. “They want to make sure you’re qualified. They want to make sure you can carry out the work you say you can do.”
The PG&E partnership has benefitted both parties. PG&E has a business partner that supports the company’s clean initiatives. Laurel Environmental got more exposure with potential clients. For example, they presented its business concept at last year’s Electric Utility Industry Sustainable Supply Chain Alliance’s conference.
“PG&E has doubled our volume of street lights,” said Harrop, whose company’s client list also includes CalTrans and the city of Fayetteville, N.C. “It’s helped us grow greatly. Aside from immediate growth, we’ve received more business because I can talk about our project we’re doing with PG&E.”
And there’s no doubt Laurel Environmental’s “all-in” approach to sustainability was very attractive to PG&E and now other companies.
“Our supply chain has a big impact on what we’re doing from an environmental perspective,” said Kerr. “Close to 80 percent of a company’s impact comes from the supply chain. PG&E is very committed to supply chain sustainability. Bringing on suppliers that are going to help us be environmental leaders is important to us.”
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.