Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Focus on the Fellows: Henry Mouton

With over half of the Cleantech Fellows Institute curriculum completed, we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the Fellows and the progress they have made to date.  This first installment of our Focus on the Fellows looks at Henry Mouton, a successful Fort Collins businessman with 26 years of experience in the restaurant industry and a deep passion for sustainability. 

On track for an engineering career in the oil industry, Henry took a class his senior year called “Ethics of Engineering.”  This class illuminated the challenges between the oil companies and the environment and came to be the catalyst in his shift of focus away from traditional energy development and towards environmental stewardship.  The second career-altering event came soon after he graduated, with an invitation from his older twin brothers to move to Colorado to ski for a season and help out at their newly founded Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant.  Whether it was the great snow or the Rio’s impressive success, Henry stayed longer than a year, 26 to be precise, becoming the Chief Operating Officer and Director of Sustainability while the Rio grew to 8 locations, employing 575 Coloradans at its peak.  Having recently retired from the Rio, Henry notes only one regret - that he would have devoted even more of his efforts towards corporate sustainability earlier in his career.

The experienced restaurant businessman is now returning to technology, specifically to cleantech.  In this industry, he believes that determination is the key attribute for an individual to succeed and his environmental emphasis is Henry’s main motivator.  “For me, reducing my carbon footprint is critical, so I think that’s the biggest driver for me.  I think that can be my biggest contribution.”  Since being in the Cleantech Fellows Institute program, he views energy efficiency and building technologies as the most promising area in cleantech, short-term, because many of our buildings are at the age where retrofits are needed, regardless of whether clean technologies are integrated or not.  He cites notable examples such as the Empire State Building retrofit, and locally, the Byron Rogers Federal Building retrofit, which the Fellows Institute toured in late October.  In these cases, developers were able to take advantage of new financing strategies and better ROI’s to make energy efficiency plays attractive and economical.  Energy efficiency can also be increased by behavioral modifications, which companies such as Green Button and Tendril emphasize.  

Henry believes the nation is moving in the right direction in terms of accepting cleantech, but wishes the industry wasn’t labeled as a high-risk venture for investors.  He says, “The way I see it is, if it’s a great idea and if you have the right people at the table, then you’re going to end up with a successful company.  So whether it’s cleantech or not, the basic tenets apply.”

Henry’s capstone project for the Fellows Institute is a low energy, low water usage system for growing local, organic leafy microgreens, using LED’s as the main technology.  LED’s require little energy, they emit low amounts of heat, which helps with low water usage, and they only use blue and red frequencies, the two frequencies that plants need.  While short growth cycles for the targeted microgreens adhere to the low energy, low water goal, Henry hopes to eventually expand into larger greens as well. Henry has also gained building-technology inspiration from a tour of a near-zero energy greenhouse built by Boulder company, Synergistic Building Technologies.  By using concentrators to bring in and distribute heat and sunlight, the company created an extremely efficient building envelope while using minimal glazing.  Even when Colorado’s temperatures dip to below freezing, the greenhouse still measures 55°F.

Henry is well aware that the restaurant industry is one of the highest commercial energy users, in terms of energy density per square foot.  He has long-term goals in pursuing energy efficiency in the restaurant industry, and his current venture seems like a great starting place.

The Fort Collins native’s excitement for what he is pursuing and enjoyment of the industry is contagious.  “It is one of the things that I like about being in this space; I get to work with like-minded people and almost everybody that I run into is very passionate about what they’re doing.”  Henry is pleased that his involvement in the cleantech space has become an inspiration for others.  “Since I’ve been in this program, I’ve had at least 5 acquaintances, who have been executives in other businesses for a long time, hear what I’m doing and they say, ‘Yeah, I want to do that too; I want to figure out how I can play a bigger part in making a brighter future.’”  He also graciously gives credit to the Cleantech Fellows Institute saying, “We’ve been exposed to such great people, an amazing array of technologies and an incredible wealth information.  The quality of the presenters and the quality of the volunteers is just so critical to our success through the program.”

We’re glad to have him with us.

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