Brett Graff’s Mixed Company

A shot of inspiration from a selection of Miami’s business leaders

This is a series of business interviews conducted by Brett Graff, a former U.S. government economist who today reports on money, power and the economic forces affecting real people. Dubbed “The Home Economist,” her work has appeared in The Miami Herald, Glamour, Maxim, Harper’s Bazaar, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Parents and Cosmopolitan. Online, she’s the financial expert for and writes for, Yahoo! finance, Fox Business News,, and more. She’s been quoted by Women’s Health, The New York Times, The Fiscal Policy Institute, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Wikipedia and has appeared on CNN, PBS, CNBC and Headline News.

Civil and environmental engineer Michael Laas, 30, has a goal of getting Miami’s businesses to be thinking about the green stuff. Not money – though he claims financial savings are a side effect – but rather the reduction of their carbon footprints in the local community.

“We need to reduce energy consumption and emissions,” he says. “And if the whole world comes on board we’ll slow down warming process. The longer we procrastinate, the worse it’s going to get.”

Working at Gannett Fleming Inc., Laas is part of the massive team that’s working on design and planning of the train – yes, we’re getting a train! – connecting downtown Miami to Jupiter and all the stops in between. He’s also set up his own consulting company, Environmental Creatives LLC, which will guide companies in becoming green – a move, he says, that boosts both budgets and images.

Michael Laas enjoying Johnnie Walker Green Label

We caught up after work with Laas for a glass of Johnnie Walker Green Label to talk about how Miami should move forward while scaling back on energy consumption – or else the region will wind up underwater. And also how shutting off our own lights will help keep us afloat.

How’s the Johnnie Walker Green Label — besides being appropriate for this discussion?

The Green Label is terrific. My friends and I used to discuss the different Johnnie Walker labels the way some people would discuss cars. You know, talk about which one we’d tried, which ones we wanted to try. Each label had an occasion. The Blue Label was for when you arrived.

Speaking of arriving, South Florida is getting a train running through it? What’s your role in the project?

I was part of the team that did the first two design phases. We looked at each alternative and qualified the impact each would have on the community in terms of noise and traffic flows. We recommended the train be built along the old Flagler Railway corridor, because it goes through the heart of every city — downtown Miami, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

It was the reason these cities actually blossomed back in the 1800s — that railway was the first conduit into this region. It was a wilderness but the railway brought people and goods into south Florida and cities sprang up around the train stations.

So when can we ride?

We’re projecting 12 years for now we’ll be sitting on a train. It takes that long to complete the design, buy the land, and get the cities to approve. It won’t happen all at once – we’re talking about 50 train stations and that requires an enormous amount of cooperation between local and federal governments.

And the energy efficiency?

It’s much more efficient to have 200 people on a train than each one in their own car. When you consume energy, you create carbon dioxide — it’s actually considered a pollutant by the EPA.

So can you give us a quick Global Warming 101?

Sure. Power grids – which provide you electricity when you turn on your lights – run on fossil fuels. When those burn, they emit carbon dioxide. It’s emitted into the atmosphere, where it traps solar energy – it absorbs that energy like a blanket — which builds up. That changes the weather patterns. You’re seeing massive ice melting in Greenland, which flows into the ocean. And when you heat up water, it expands. If we’re not careful, South Florida might be underwater in 150 years. Look at the flooding we have already.

You create Cos indirectly – such as when you watch tv and draw from the power grid. And directly, when you turn on your car.

So clearly the earth benefits when we reduce emissions. But you have a new company, Environmental Creatives. How does it help businesses?

I target product branded companies and manufacturers and I work with their existing missions and make sure that sustainability jives with what they’re doing.

They have to make a commitment to change, and allocate resources and money to have the shift occur. But ultimately, it saves money.

That’s because reducing the amount of energy you use directly reduces your operating expenses. The rest of it depends on your business — if you’re cutting down trees and don’t replant them, you’re reducing your own supply of materials, which increases costs ultimately. If you can use recycled materials, you’re also reducing costs.

But another trend — that might soon become a law — is that companies have begun tracking their carbon footprint. And when you’re branding, you can elevate yourself over your competition by simply producing a more sustainable product.

See the profiles for all of the young business leaders featured in Brett Graff”s Mixed Company Season 1.

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