Photographer: Kevin Riddell
Jun 7, 2010
Gordon "Gordy" Smith didn't spend much of his college career thinking in terms of sustainability or environmentally friendly initiatives, but now sustainability is the heart of his business.
Smith is co-owner and operator of Rain Brothers, a company in Columbus, Ohio, that specializes in sustainable irrigation systems. The company builds and installs everything from individual rain barrels to large multi-tank cisterns.
"It was always an interest and concern of mine, but as far as doing it as a career -- I was clueless," Smith said.
Smith, a philosophy major who enrolled on the Athens campus in 2002, is now earning his final credits at the Pickerington Center and will graduate this week.
And, though urban water management seems an unlikely path for this philosopher, social consciousness has always been a part of his career trajectory. Smith's first position out of college was working in rehabilitation for people with mental handicaps and developmental disabilities.
Rain Brothers developed after Smith met his current roommate and business partner through the online classifieds website, Craigslist.
"He was involved in the Four Season City Farm, and I ended up getting involved too," said Smith. "A year and a half later it came to our attention that they bought a rain barrel that was of poor quality and I thought, 'We can make these better for a better price.'"
A rain barrel is a large holding tank where downspout water is collected for later uses such as watering plants and gardens, drinking (after undergoing filtration) and many other in-home uses.
Rain Brothers began in the summer of 2007 and now employs three people, including Smith, though there are plans to expand.
The small company was thrust onto a statewide stage two years ago when it was selected to install a cistern system of irrigation for the governor's mansion. The business has been thriving ever since.
"I find what Gordy's doing so inspiring because he is tapping into this growing market for sustainable living tools and services in Ohio," said Sonya Marcus, director of the Ohio University Office of Sustainability. "People are increasingly seeking out opportunities to conserve and make better use of natural resources, and companies like Rain Brothers are really going to thrive in that environment."
Smith is also bucking the idea that irrigation is a concept only useful in rural areas by placing many of his systems in urban and suburban areas.
"This is an idea that’s catching on," he said. "When I’m driving on a rainy day I’ll try to estimate how many gallons over water are being conserved in light of how many rain barrels and cisterns we’ve sold. The rain barrels are especially useful in the city, where they have tons of concrete that causes run off and breakage."
That desire to have a career that makes cities greener and more economical is an idea that, like his rain barrels, is catching on.
"Gordy has a real passion for sustainability in practice, and that passion infuses his approach to his business and his life," said Marcus. "More and more Ohio University students are realizing that their commitment to sustainable living can be a real asset in their professional careers and Gordy is a prime example of that."
Smith's passion for sustainability has grown out of his commitment to social justice. Rain Brothers' storefront and offices are currently in a low-income neighborhood, and Smith hopes that the business continues to grow so he can extend jobs to the people in the community.
And, though seeing a philosopher collecting the rain and leading the charge to change urban irrigation may seem a bit off, Smith sees it as making perfect sense.
"I see that everything is adaptable,” he said. "There is rarely a problem that’s without a solution, and that is something that comes up all the time when I’m working in the field. It comes up with how you’re going to make something work."
Smith has found a home for his personal and professional philosophy in Rain Brothers, but like his sustainability work, even these last few college credits are being earned with others' interests at heart.
"I'm really doing this for my mom," Smith said. "It will make her so happy when I finish my degree officially."