Charles Szoradi, holding a LED replacement light for fluorescent tube fixtures, stands with client David Braxton, of Braxton’s Animal Works. (Bob Williams / For The Inquirer)

Going green, environmentally and financially

If Charles Szoradi could figure out how to power a car or even a light bulb with his caffeine-free personal pep reservoir, he just might achieve his goal of ending America’s energy-hogging ways.

by By Diane Mastrull, Inquirer Staff Writer

Published Dec. 25, 2009

If Charles Szoradi could figure out how to power a car or even a light bulb with his caffeine-free personal pep reservoir, he just might achieve his goal of ending America’s energy-hogging ways.

But for now, the 43-year-old Main Line environmental entrepreneur is gaining widespread acclaim and recognition as he presses the case for going green in more conventional ways. In the process, he’s trying to make some money.

His delivery is breathless, his enthusiasm seductive. But don’t mistake for an over-the-top idealist this man who is perpetually strategizing, teaching, selling, researching, and inventing. (An architect by education, Szoradi designed the system that heats, cools, runs the electric, and heats the water for his 4,800-square-foot ultra-green house in Wayne, all from renewable sources. It earned him a cover profile in Inventor’s Digest magazine in 2008.)

His sales pitch is grounded in what Szoradi contends is an incontrovertible premise – that unless going green makes financial sense, it will not be embraced by anyone other than the most enthusiastic of environmentalists.

The soon-to-expire utility rate caps in Pennsylvania are expected to serve as a mighty effective motivator, Szoradi contends.

“When people open that utility bill,” he said, “it will be like being hit by a brick.”

But in these pre-rate-increase days, Szoradi said, “the [going-green] chatter is 10 times the action.”

Much of that talk is coming from Szoradi himself.

He is, as he put it, on an “all-out sprint” to promote what he contends are the economic and environmental virtues of the latest generation of conservation lighting – LEDs, or light-emitting diodes. For that, the father of two young children has formed LED Saving Solutions.

It is a division of his better-known GreenandSave L.L.C. Founded in 2006, GreenandSave is believed to be the first public resource on green initiatives to provide return-on-investment data for homeowners and businesses wondering what sorts of conversions to higher-efficiency lighting, appliances, and heating and cooling systems, if any, they should make, and how soon to expect a payback. The Web site is and evolved from Szoradi’s desire to share what he learned as he retrofitted his home.

GreenandSave also offers continuing education and retraining for new careers in the green economy, as well as energy auditing and retrofits – all of which constitute Szoradi’s business and source of income. But for now, the focus is on retrofitting businesses with LEDs. (The technology is considered too cost-prohibitive to realistically push for residential use, where lights simply do not stay on as long as they do in the workplace.)

“This is a three-year run,” he said of his LED undertaking. “And I’ll tell you why: Vinyl records switched to CDs in three years.”

In other words, the world of green technology is a work in progress. Blades for wind turbines are getting longer and lighter. On the lighting front, compact fluorescents are ceding ground to LEDs.

Szoradi’s goal is to have sold $1 billion in LED lighting by the end of his sprint. So far, active accounts and proposals total $5 million, he said.

With the urgency of a doctor handling a trauma code, he speaks of the importance – as much to the business world as to his own bottom line – in reaching that $1 billion sales goal.

“Our current lighting is, in effect, bleeding,” Szoradi said. “We’re wasting dollars in not acting.”

Among his early converts is Braxton’s Animal Works, a third-generation pet-supply business in Wayne. More than a year ago, co-owner David Braxton had persuaded Szoradi to join the Main Line Chamber of Commerce. That was after Braxton had toured Szoradi’s house and came away convinced that Szoradi’s vast knowledge would be an invaluable asset to the chamber’s new “Go Green” committee.

Earlier this year, Szoradi turned the tables with an LED-lighting sales pitch to Braxton.

“The estimates on savings I thought were a stretch,” Braxton said in an interview this week.

Turns out they weren’t. His nearly $19,000 investment in LED lighting has yielded an 80 percent reduction on electrical consumption each of the last two billing cycles, for a total savings of $1,400, Braxton said.

“He’s a salesman, absolutely,” Braxton said of Szoradi. “But he believes so much in what he’s selling that that sincerity comes through as well.”

On a trip to Washington this year, Szoradi joined 16 other delegates from the Greater Philadelphia Sustainable Business Network in lobbying members of Congress to include $500 million in the stimulus package for green-jobs training. What was obvious, said Leanne Krueger-Braneky, the network’s executive director, is that Szoradi never stops pressing for a more energy-efficient way of life.

“He would walk into the congressional offices and say, ‘If you change that light bulb right there, this is how much money you could save,’ ” Braneky recalled.

Hanley Bodek, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s department of city and regional planning, has gotten to know Szoradi the last few years by leading students on tours of Szoradi’s house.

“He’s advocating a lifestyle that isn’t so much frugal as rather smart,” Bodek said. “I think Charlie clearly has figured out how to use the capitalistic system to do good while doing well.”

For that, Szoradi gets the last laugh. He is fond of noting that when he wrote a master’s thesis at Penn in 1993 on eco-humanism “no one cared.”

Now his green work is referenced on Google News, and the National Realtors Association is using it as part of its green curriculum for sales agents.

Cisco Systems, supplier of Internet networking equipment, this year selected Szoradi for its “One Million Acts of Green” campaign – a program, said spokesman Marc Musgrove, that is intended to show “the power of the human network.”