Frank Costanzo, Founder, Peerless Green Initiatives

1st Nov 2010
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PGI

In a world which needs Green living more then ever, Entrepreneur Frank Costanzo behind Peerless Green Initiatives (PGI) is pioneering Green endevours. YourStory learnt about his venture and got an inside view on how Mr. Costanzo plans to make the “Green” sustainable.PGI has a three fold mission : three “E”s. PGI offers a service concept of creating and facilitating sustainable business designs adopting practices that are sensitive to the environment (Environmentally Sound), responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large (Socially Equitable), and are economically feasible to implement and maintain (Economically Feasible).

Tell us more about yourself, your background.

I was born in U.S. and grew up working in my family's fourth generation hardware store. I'm pretty sure that experience infused business into my blood. I obtained my BS in psychology, BA Political Science from University of Pittsburgh. It was there that I had my first contact with Indian culture. My roommate was Nimesh Patel, a medical student. He and I on Saturdays would watch Indian movies on our VCR and eat eye-watering (for me) snacks. I was always socially inquisitive so I must have asked him a million questions about India, its culture, business and politics. Looking back it's amazing he was so patient answering all my inquiries. I attended Northern University law school and graduated with my doctorate of law in 1993. For the next 15 years I practiced law as a corporate litigation and business risk management attorney. If I could go back I'd have probably have stayed on in school to get an MBA. The 'double-whammy' of a JD and MBA probably would have accelerated my career, but at the same time, the 15 year school of real-life pays dividends every day. My first entrepreneurial venture was in 2001, the start of a boutique law firm to service the unique needs of international businesses. The business model was a cost effective representation of companies as an outsourced in-house counsel and that gave me a lot of exposure to international law and business.


PGI

In 2002 I was hired by a corporate conglomerate that had a back-office in India and that morphed into a niche at a time when outsourcing was in its infancy. Within a few years I had a large client base of U.S.-India companies that I would form and provide counsel. It was only a matter of time until I started traveling to India for business and pleasure and began to really 'understand' India as a society and business culture. I call it my 'India eyes' that to this day are always trying to focus. Ha. India is a tough place to understand fully unless you've lived here a long time. I've been in India exclusively since 2007...in Chennai...and I really enjoy my home in U.S. and Chennai equally. Chennai is my adopted Indian hometown.What does PGI do?

PGI was a product of re-defining myself after leaving the practice of law to start my second venture as a full time business consultant. As a lawyer, I really enjoyed the business development side U.S-India business development; so I decided to become a US-India business consultant exclusively in 2007. At some point I decided that if I wanted to really be personally satisfied with what I do for a living, I need to cater more to the part of me that has for my whole life been very conservation-minded and interested in environmental matters. Plus, the business side of my mind saw a huge niche that could be filled...thus Peerless Green Initiatives. I analyzed my contacts, created some strategic partnerships with some really talented people in the green-business sector and started marketing green-business solution consultation and facilitation.

Our approach tries to harmonize the three E's because by-and-large, any business that wants to 'go-green' is first concerned with the upfront cost of new infrastructure and processes. So we approach the last E first by creating models that offer true sustainability and will provide returns as predicted. This is the 'durable green business model' we market and it's been doing very well.

Also, my legal background - and my co-director's background in policy law- provided a great deal of experience in communicating with experts in a variety of fields. PGI uses a multidisciplinary approach that brings science and engineering know-how down to the business level for practical application. That sounds elementary but we really learned that in India particularly (and U.S. as well) there exists a wealth of practical environmentally sound practices and methods like 'traditional indigenous knowledge” (TIK) and available 'transfer of tech models' (TOTEMS) that are just waiting for businesses to pick up and use. So at the end of the day, PGI is a conduit. The “roots” are science; PGI is the trunk that connects the roots to the branches and leaves of business.

Why did you decide to work in India?

Well, it was really a professional and personal journey, some of which is outside the range of interest of anyone, let alone your readers. I had progressively been obtaining more and more clients in U.S. with India interests, and when the opportunity rose to be in India full time and work the paradigm from the other side, I jumped on it. It was an amazing challenge but I really enjoy the duality of working in the two largest democracies on Earth. This may be a self-serving observation, but my experience has been that U.S. and India business works well with each other because we have so many commonalities in our business practices and cultures. I'm a bit of a history buff, so I believe our common seed as colonial subjects of England had a lasting common effect on our respective business culture long after our independence. That's an unseen bond that links US and India business.

However, I think the perception of a foreigner doing business in India is often received with some pretext. An Indian client of mine told me an amusing business metaphor of the colonial hunter who comes to India to hunt big game and quickly realizes that he is the game hunted. And granted there are many overseas who see India's rise as an opportunity to exploit. On the other hand, I've had the advantage of working in U.S. companies who adopted a cooperative model of business with India. I maintain that the cooperative model is the only method of success in India; and that is the essence of being an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur doesn't force reality into the dream, he/she approaches business practically and recognizes limitations whether they be cultural or methodical. Without a deep understanding of what is important to Indians in their own market space is paramount. Being an eco-business consultant is no accident- India has a rich and vibrant history of working in harmony with nature, not against it. The price of rapid development has left many places in India spoiled -so like every other industrialized nation- it must now take steps to remediate its lost natural capital. That's my niche. Every entrepreneur, big or small, must determine their niche, and penetrate it like a wedge to create market-space. That and tuning to what will and will not work in the market is why PGI has become successful. Plus never under-estimate the power of failure. I failed -more than once- and those set-backs didn't lead to surrender, it provided valuable feedback. Any entrepreneur who says he/she never failed is lying. You must fail in order to learn, and analyzing ones failures is the key to re-tooling and re-inventing a plan that can succeed. Network is important also. My perceptions don't determine business plans, the sum of my whole core group at PGI- which is made up of Indian, American and others, are consulted and compelled to be bluntly honest in their assessment. I encourage straight talk and imagination...PGI has a 'no yes-man' policy. Now we have a new business venture that will run in tandem with PGI called Eco-Logical Fox (ELF) that will introduce a new model for the expansion of green business in the marketplace. We are growing and it'll be an exciting 2011 for us.

Tell us more about PGI Green Education Program

Even though we are an business eco-consultant group, we believe that we must also have an independent Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility agenda. Ours is green education. We foster, support and implement educational programs of all kinds in India so that the next generation will be prepared for what has become the mandatory requirement of conserving the planet's natural capital resources and reversing the effect that the present and previous generations have had on the climate, food and water security. PGI is also a partner organization of two United Nations programs so we have a duty of public awareness, and we choose that message to be transmitted to those who need it most- children. The amazing experience has been how aware school kids of all ages are...they are interested and informed on a wide range of environmental issues.

Practically, we try to set up our green education missions wherever we have a project. For example, here in Chennai we are presenting an award and grant to a group of 8th standard kids who on their own initiative started a biodiversity greenhouse for preserving traditional plants and herbs. In Kolkota we are assisting the organization of a UNEP Biodiversity symposium to be held at a micro-biology college. In Kodaikanal we have a project regarding application of the UNEP Mercury Program business model for mercury clean-up, so we conducted classes for local upper standard students; formed an eco-club and took lower standard students on an eco-hike so they could understand the importance of the local bio-diversity. We've also donated time and resources to a Dalit free school in Bangalore and a beautiful free school in the Western Ghats to assist raising funds and promoting their mission. We have assisted the Western Ghat school in refining their business plan and adding sustainable practices to their infra-structure and curriculum with the intention of it being a turn-key model for duplication in other rural areas of India. Everyone at PGI enjoys most this vertical in our business repertoire and we are passionate about its continued development and positive impact.

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