I usually don’t write about large corporations, the kind traded on stock exchanges, their executives far from Savannah, their press focused on earnings, growth and fiscal analysis.
But I like writing about passionate people trying to change the world. And after talking with Laura Lee Bocade of DIRTT, I’m convinced the company is trying to do just that.
“We believe we’re changing the way people are trying to do things,” says Bocade, who holds no title other than DIRTTbag. “We need to let go of behaviors that don’t work.”
I first heard about DIRTT (they manufacture building interiors here and their name stands for Doing It Right This Time) when Bocade spoke at one of my Rotary Club meetings.
The Canadian company is reinventing the construction business. They make architectural stuff for inside buildings. So think walls, doors, millwork and power infrastructure.
But they’re doing it in a disruptive, constantly-changing, environmentally-sustainable, technologically-enhanced, community-oriented and employee-empowering way.
“Commercial construction contributes a huge percentage to our landfills every year,” she says of what DIRTT is working to avoid. “We’re not contributing to that landfill waste.”
The company wants people to look at building differently. Instead of hiring people to construct interiors on-site, with hauls of trash, why not go pre-fabricated and tilt it up?
It doesn’t work for everybody. But “pre-fab” (they don’t like the word “modular”) is definitely a construction industry trend as clients look to cut costs and save the planet.
But all right, lots of companies are doing this. What makes DIRTT different? Well, their technology for one thing. Their design file integrates blueprint, billing and assembly line.
“It becomes not only the design file, it becomes the bill of materials, which is a set-in-stone price for clients,” she says. “It then becomes the manufacturing specs. So that file is what’s feeding the building, the construction. And that’s not ever happened before.”
Less waste, cool product. It sounds like a great sales pitch. But I’m betting you’re not a potential client, someone with a hospital, school or company headquarters “to let for bid.”
I’m betting you just live here and care about the community. Well, DIRTT employs about 100 area residents. And their company ethos is a strange Kool Aid for many corporations.
They are organizationally flat. They have no standardized training. They are committed to no layoffs. If they have downtime, they pay their employees to work in the community.
“We believe in individual empowerment,” she says. “To be as innovative and disruptive internally as we have to be to continually evolve, we have to have individual freedom.”
Bocade describes a boss-free assembly line where workers do their thing. They all get free lunch. And don’t get her started on other companies that trash the local workforce.
“We’re giving a workplace home to individuals in this community who need work stability,” she says. “They need an employer who doesn’t just pay the bare minimum.”
DIRTT employees have partnered with Emergent Structures, Whole Foods, America’s Second Harvest, Senior Citizens, Habitat for Humanity and others to better Savannah.
“It’s really easy to mail a check,” she says of community spirit. “What’s more difficult is finding the time, the compassion, the hands and the feet to do the work out in the field.”
For these reasons and many others, DIRTT has received many national recognitions for their innovations and in 2013 won the title of Georgia Small Manufacturer of the Year.
Small? Maybe compared with Gulfstream. But not with my usual subjects. I guess “creativity, passion and change” (this podcast’s tagline) can come in larger packages, too.
Perhaps the world would be a better place if more large companies had DIRTTy minds!