Green Giant - James Whittaker
James Whittaker, founder and CEO of GreenTech, is a man on a mission. His goal? To make Cayman a model for the Caribbean region of how sustainable building and renewable energy can, and should, be done.
Words By Natasha Were
Considering the rapid growth of his business since its inception just five years ago, it doesn’t seem an unreasonable objective. Even if some may think it a trifle ambitious, Whittaker is not a man to be easily defeated.
GreenTech – a portfolio of sustainability-driven ventures encompassing design-build services, renewable energy, green building supplies, educational programmes and more – is thriving. But rewind five years and few people believed there was a market for what he was doing.
It all began with the decision to build a home. Although he was no expert in architecture or construction, Whittaker had always been interested in renewable energy and knew he wanted to build a sustainable home. The problem was that at the time nobody in Cayman was doing anything of the kind.
“I spoke to a lot of builders and designers and the consensus feedback I got was ‘That whole green thing is a waste of time’,” he recalls. “The attitude was that it was just a marketing gimmick.”
Undeterred, he undertook his own research, learning about eco homes, climate-driven design and energy efficiency. Through this he connected with Stace McGee, an architect with a host of sustainable projects under his belt, and together they built his dream green home.
Back then, LEED® certification (a green building rating system developed by the US Green Building Council) was unavailable outside North America. Whittaker, however, lobbied the USGBC to extend the programme internationally. As a result, Cayman was one of four countries selected for the pilot international programme, and Sailfish Estate, his first design-build project, became the first private residence outside North America to receive LEED® certification. GreenTech remains the only LEED® for Homes provider in the Caribbean region.
It was at that point, in 2011, that Whittaker gave up an 18-year career in finance, to focus on designing and developing sustainable homes. And thus GreenTech was born.
In a few short years, the company has grown to accommodate other aspects of sustainability, from providing solar power systems to conducting energy audits and retrofits. A green building centre at A.L. Thompson’s, where consumers can see, learn about and purchase sustainable products and technologies opened in early 2016 and an off-grid financing programme will provide home owners with the equipment, expertise and capital they need to disconnect from the grid.
The greatest challenge, he admits, lies in changing prevailing attitudes and convincing the public of the value of going green. But selling sustainability to consumers need not mean converting them into eco-warriors. “In this day and age, you don’t have to choose to be green for purely environmental reasons. Green building is simply the most economical way to build. Everyone likes to save money, and if you can do that and do good for the environment, it’s a win-win.”
Whittaker is certainly a busy man with a lot of irons in the fire, but it’s not all about the bottom line. GreenTech has recently launched two linked non-profit programmes. The Island Offset Scheme, in partnership with the National Trust, enables corporations to purchase solar panels for which they can claim carbon credits. Part of the proceeds go towards funding the National Trust’s work, whilst the solar panels are installed at local schools, where they become part of the second programme, Project Green School. The idea behind this programme is that, in addition to reducing the school’s energy costs, children have the tools to experiment and learn how to create and run solar-powered systems – skills that will be essential in the future.
And that is what it is all ultimately about for Whittaker: adapting to a changing climate and a world powered by renewable energies. It’s about being ready for what the future brings, and about handing the next generation the tools and knowledge to do things in a greener, more sustainable way.
“When my children are my age, the world will be a very different place. If we can build better, and generate power better, my kids – and other people’s kids – can not only survive, they can thrive.”
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