Heroes of Marin 2016
Environmental Stewardship: Deanne Clough
By Nikki Silverstein
Deanne Clough built a name for herself in the construction industry in Marin—not a small accomplishment in a field where men comprise 90 percent of the labor force. For 23 years, she worked as a building contractor and partner in Clough Construction, a deck and fence company located in San Rafael. On a typical day, she ran seven crews and channeled her energy into production. She was content. Until she wasn’t.
During the economic downturn in 2011, Clough was reviewing a lumber invoice. The bill was within the usual $50,000 to $60,000 monthly budget, yet she suddenly felt nauseous.
“It wasn’t the money,” she says. “It hit me hard that I was contributing to and involved in killing trees. I decided that I couldn’t be a contractor anymore under those conditions.”
Her feelings were warranted. Worldwide, old growth forests are being decimated by clearcutting, the method of felling and removing all trees from an area of the forest. Virtually nothing is left behind, which has detrimental results to the environment, including the loss of animal habitats; drought and flood cycles; and the release of carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses.
The issue overwhelmed Clough; she was depressed and couldn’t move forward. Fortunately, her static state didn’t last long. She took a course from the Women’s Initiative and wrote a new business plan to align her company’s values with her personal values.
With sustainability as her new mantra, she discussed the plan with her business partner, Scott Clough, and he jumped onboard immediately. The first step for Deanne was to examine her company’s material sourcing. Before then, she didn’t pay attention to where the lumber came from or how it was harvested. That soon changed when Clough Construction’s new showroom was built in San Rafael. All materials were carefully considered prior to purchase and all were environmentally sustainable.
Deanne discovered resources close to home, such as the Mendocino Redwood Company and Humboldt Redwood Company, which collectively consist of 440,000 acres of redwood and Douglas-fir forestlands. She was on the first tour that the companies offered to consumers. Their commitment to high standards and independent certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) provided a sense of relief to Deanne and the belief that the industry was ripe for change.
She contacted the lumber vendors and contractors she worked with and expected them to buy into the sustainability model. They weren’t very interested. A second wave of disappointment struck, along with the realization that change would need to begin in the marketplace, with the end consumers.
“There’s a lack of education,” Deanne concluded. “We haven’t been talking about the severity of the problems associated with producing paper and lumber.”
Deanne started the conversation with anyone who would listen. She bought FSC-certified lumber in bulk, so that she could offer it to customers at the same price as lumber from clear-cut forests. Nevermind that she had to store it in a warehouse. Every presentation she made to a customer included a pitch for FSC-certified materials.
“We have this resource of sustainably harvested redwoods in our backyard,” Deanne explained. “If we’re not engaged in purchasing responsibly forested products, we are contributing to clear-cutting globally.”
Next, she took her message to Marin schools by giving presentations about responsible forestry. The students were open to learning. She found them to be passionate about caring for the planet, which drove her to expand her work with young people.
Clough Construction reallocated their advertising budget and donated the funds to local high schools. The company reclaimed wood from structures they replaced and gave it to schools to use in their woodshop classes. Initially, Deanne spent 10 hours a week educating students, but that increased quickly to 30 hours after she began working with two youth programs, the Global Student Embassy (GSE) and the Marin School of Environmental Leadership (MarinSEL) at Terra Linda High School.
It’s been five years since Deanne’s epiphany about her role as a contractor and the decision to uproot her company’s approach to lumber use. Clough Construction is a Certified Green Business for Marin County, and their list of awards and accolades continues to grow. Congressman Jared Huffman presented the company with the North Bay Sustainable Business Award. Because of Deanne’s efforts, Clough Construction earned the Forest Stewardship Council Leadership Award in the Uncommon Partnership category for ongoing education and commitment to sustainability. Pacific Sun readers have repeatedly cast their Best of Marin ballots for Clough Construction, naming them the Best Deck and Fence Contractor in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Some in the construction industry still call Deanne naïve. To them, she says that change will happen. It already is happening. During the month of April, Clough Construction’s two interns have the lofty goal of presenting the positive environmental effect of buying FSC-certified products to 1,000 people in Marin. Don’t be surprised if you’re soon speaking with a high school intern about sustainability and looking for the FSC logo on the bottom of a tissue box. That conversation started with Deanne Clough.