Marc Dreyfors loves talking to his customers, be it a just-married bride and groom in the back of the rickshaw hes pedaling away from a church, or a ready-to-party sorority crowded onto one of his buses.
He tries to quickly get his message across to sororities and fraternities. But when he announces Were powered by biodiesel, sometimes they erupt into cheers, and thats the end of that. He sends them on their way with a small sheet of paper with an ad for Greenway Transit Services printed on one side and the dos and donts of drinking on the other.
Dreyfors, who is passionate about environmental sustainability, started the green transit business about five years ago. Hes struggled to keep it going, although he says profits have grown each year.
Its hard work, he said. Right now were sucking air.
Greenway Transit collects used fryer oil from restaurants, sells it to a biodiesel producer and buys the finished product.
Many people wont pay extra for a sustainable product, so Dreyfors makes his prices competitive, he said. Weve got to be toe-to-toe with the guys who arent green, he said.
His fleet includes nine buses as well as a shuttle bus, van, limo, and two pedicabs, or rickshaws. Buying used vehicles including 1994 Orion buses from Duke University was one way Dreyfors kept costs down, and the older diesel engines tend to perform better with biodiesel.
Dreyfors wants to bring on more vehicles and employees but doesnt want to take on the necessary debt in a shaky economy.
Im being really, really risk averse, he said.
The Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill communities keep Greenway Transit going. In addition to business from sororities and fraternities, the universities rent buses when they host conferences and need transportation for visitors.
In addition to trying to build a thriving business, Dreyfors works to improve the community while promoting sustainability. Greenway Transit is a training site for Green Tracks, a green jobs training program. Green Tracks is a collaboration among Durham Economic Resource Center, the Black, Brown, Green Alliance and many organizations, businesses and individuals.
The program introduces low-income, ex-offender and underemployed people to the green economy and teaches them about energy efficiency, healthful living and community development.
Dreyfors also tries to hire teens who live in East Durham, where the business is.
Were trying to get kids here out of survival mode, he said.
He has a bachelors degree in environmental chemistry and a masters in resource economics, and he uses his business as a platform for advocacy work. He wants to educate people about how renewable energy fits into the big picture.
Ive found you cant talk about it without talking about everything else, like food security.
As oil becomes scarcer and prices increase, the cost of transporting food from across the country will skyrocket, and so will food costs, Dreyfors said. Trucking food from far away increases pollution, which creates health problems and accelerates climate change. Developing the local food system and green transportation is crucial.
Many companies have made sustainability a third leg of their business model behind the cost of their products and their performance, said Jay S. Golden, director of the Duke Center for Sustainability and Commerce. But Dreyfors passion and efforts to communicate his values to customers could give him a real advantage in the Triangles transit market, despite being a small company.
Thats the niche, Golden said. Thats the opportunity that he has.
We have evidence of this kind of passion in our area, he said, using Burts Bees as an example.
Dreyfors dreams of expanding his business to Washington, D.C., home to many environmental groups and universities.
As for now, it may be incremental, he said, but I think were making a difference.