Operating a business can be expensive, but one area businessman has found more than one way to save a little green.
Literally.

Steve Melink, owner and founder of Melink Corp. in Clermont County’s Union Township, is already saving green, and planning to save a lot more. The new corporate headquarters for his HVAC company was the first building in Ohio to be named a LEED Gold structure for energy efficiency by the U.S. Green Building Council, and remains a leader in conserving environmental resources and money.

“I attended a green building conference in Cleveland in 2004, and I just became captured by the passion that so many people have in this green building movement,” says Melink. “They were way ahead of me, and I sensed there was a movement under way and I had better get caught up so I wouldn’t be left behind. We were in the throes of designing our own building, so I thought let’s go ahead and become leaders and not regret a few years later that we didn’t seize the opportunity. It’s an opportunity to walk the talk. We’re in the business of selling energy-efficient products and services, so we should be working in a building that exemplifies that as a value.”

 
ROOTS IN SUSTAINABILITY

Melink, a Moeller High School graduate who lives in Loveland with his wife and four kids, founded his company in his basement in 1987. He had been an engineer for various HVAC companies, and realized all the customer complaints he received about product difficulties meant there was an unmet market demand staring him in the face.

“I was director of engineering where I was formerly employed, and getting calls every day from restaurants saying that their hoods weren’t working,” Melink says. “We were selling hoods, but there was no one to provide this after service. I saw the market need, and it was obviously a niche business.”

At first Melink Corp. was your everyday HVAC commissioning contractor, which Melink describes as “inspecting, checking and testing the HVAC system. ... We were hired to go out to these stores before they opened to make sure things are working properly. Invariably, there would be things wrong. Fans might be running backward, or thermostats not hooked up.”

In the company’s early days, Melink worked like any bare-knuckles entrepreneur would: long and hard. “I was still young and dumb, no kids or anything, so I decided to take some risks,” he says. “It was a one-man operation for some time. I was traveling around the country doing this HVAC commissioning work for companies like Wendy’s and Chili’s.”

As the company grew and Melink started adding employees, he noticed a problem in the HVAC systems he worked on: They wasted lots of energy and money. This led to his creating the Intelli-Hood control system for kitchen exhaust fans, which reduces the amount of air being sucked from buildings during nonpeak hours.

“Just imagine the opportunity to save energy in mid-morning or early afternoon when you don’t have a lot of customers dining,” Melink says. “These fans being used as kitchen hoods are running at full speed.”

Melink’s innovation, coupled with his early commitment to serve customers nationwide, has resulted in a company with multiple locations and more than 80 employees. Customers include Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse, Chili’s, Red Lobster, Bob Evans, Bed Bath and Beyond, Walgreens, Target, PetSmart, Kroger and others.

 
FOLLOWING HIS OWN EXAMPLE

Given this exposure to simple ways to save money — and the environment by extension — Melink says that it became a business model the company decided to incorporate into its new corporate headquarters.

“Our building is operating for quite a bit less than the average office building,” says Melink. “The average across the country is about $2 per square foot per year. We’re operating at about 60 cents per square foot per year.”

To achieve this, several concepts were incorporated into the building design. First, the building was laid out to take advantage of passive solar heating and day lighting, then a superinsulated envelope was installed between the inner structure and the roof and walls. A geothermal heating and cooling system saves on climate controls, and wall sensors detect when a room is empty and shut off the lights. Then, after the building opened in 2006, and again in 2007, two 10-kilowatt solar power systems were installed, providing for about 20 percent of the building’s daily power needs. And Melink plans to install a 10-kilowatt wind turbine to generate another 10 percent of its daily energy needs.

 
“We want to continue to reduce our energy usage,” says Melink. “This will complement what we have already done with our solar power systems, because, obviously, at night, we’re not able to generate electricity with the solar panels, but there may be wind blowing. It’s the same thing in the wintertime — there are usually cloudy conditions, but you may have great wind resources you can tap into.”

 
All of which has made Melink a source to tap into for local businesses. Melink, who usually gives one tour a week to people curious about the green building concept, says that he wants to continue promoting energy conservation as he improves the green rating on his corporate headquarters in hope of achieving the next and highest green level, LEED Platinum. He’ll explore additional solar and wind turbine upgrades, as well as ways to harness natural lighting and incorporate a solar water-heating system.

 
Hoping to give the consumer a chance to save some green, Melink says that his business will soon provide easily integrated solar energy products for the average consumer.

“We’re expanding into new businesses that include renewable-energy solutions, so we’re really focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy,” says Melink. “We’re developing a simple plug-and-play solar electric system that the average homeowner could basically buy and assemble themselves and plug into an outside outlet to generate electricity.”
 

 1) Perseverance. You can’t be successful if you’re not willing to stay in the game for any period of time. You may be an abject failure for the first six or 12 months, so you have to give it time.
 2) Identify a niche, a place where you can excel in the marketplace.
 3) Have a good capital base so you can endure those first months or years to get the business off the ground. That can be from savings or another revenue stream, such as from a spouse.
 4) Over time, it’s important to grow as a manager and leader. As you grow, you hire more people and you can’t operate as the lone entrepreneur you once were. You have to adjust to the growth of the business.
 5) It’s been very important to have integrity. That’s allowed us to succeed. When people know you’re the real deal, you’re committed to excellence and not trying to get rich quick, you’re bound to attract good customers and good employees. That’s important.