Marty Matlock on How Small Business Can Save Money Without Expensive Energy Upgrades

Marty Matlock joined the University of Arkansas in 2001 as a professor of biological and agricultural engineering. He serves as executive director of the University of Arkansas Office for Sustainability, directs the Center for Rural & Agricultural Sustainability and is co-founder and a board member of BlueInGreen LLC, a water treatment company in Fayetteville.

Matlock has a doctorate in biosystems engineering from Oklahoma State University.

Q: What role does the Office for Sustainability play at the University of Arkansas?

A: We’re an administrative organization within the University of Arkansas System. Our goal, our responsibility, our mission is to enhance, promote and coordinate sustainable innovations within our campus community across the state.

What tips do you have for businesses that don’t have the means to invest in solar power or other upgrades to make their offices more sustainable and environmentally friendly?

Start with what your grandmother taught you: Turn out the lights when you leave the room. Unplug the coffee pot. Use Energy Star-rated equipment that turns itself off and doesn’t draw on your power supply when it’s not being used. Don’t leave charging devices plugged in all the time. If you don’t consume it, you’ve saved it. More importantly, what that culture creates is a sense of conservation that promotes simple awareness. Make sure your mechanicals are up to date, even if you’re leasing a facility. Put blinds over the windows to reduce radiant energy. And we presume that landscaping is either not interesting enough or too complicated to design and we just let it happen. We vaguely design for aesthetics and we end up with a dysfunctional landscape. It’s an opportunity loss. Linking those pieces together, you get aggregate benefits. All those things add up.

You’re a professor. You’re the director for UA sustainability. You recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify before a Senate committee on water quality. How do you juggle it all?

I work with really, really good people. It’s a collaborative effort and there’s not a single one of us who succeeds on our own. I play a role in this machine, this process, but I have really, really good people working with and around me. We communicate continuously. I have to be fully engaged in what we’re doing. If there is a challenge, it’s keeping track of everything. But I have people who keep me informed and keep me engaged. If I have a particular skill it’s recognizing the talents of others. Then we make sure everybody understands what their goals and objectives are and push hard to get the job done.

Delegating really is an underrated skill, right?

It’s a skill I learned from a lot of other businessmen and businesswomen and other leaders. [Former U.S. Secretary of State] Colin Powell talks extensively in his books about the value of delegating competently. I think competent delegation is a key. There’s almost some disdain for it. There’s an almost hero worship for the excessive micromanager. We elevate that personality to almost hero status, and in my opinion if you want a business or venture built around one personality, it works, but what happens when that personality is no longer in the picture? It can be catastrophic. I’m trying to build institutional capacity. You subvert your personality for the value of the institution. So maybe you don’t always agree with the path, but if it delivers the desirable outcome, that’s the path you take. You can do that when you have good people around you.