Just a few steps inside the doors of the offices at Murphy Warehouse Co., a visitor promptly notices the rock 'n' roll memorabilia that fills the hallways of the 110-year-old company.
The items include platinum records, autographed 45s and fan letters from the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
Those monuments to baby boomer music are the passion of company president and CEO Richard Murphy Jr., the fourth generation of Murphys to run the logistics giant.
But the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame touches only add to Murphy's personal portfolio, which includes landscape architect and advocate of environmentally sustainable business practices that reduce a business' carbon footprint.
With 11 warehouses in the Twin Cities and two in Kansas City, the Murphy company manages 2.8 million square feet of space that provides storage and logistics operations for 250 corporate customers.
Under Murphy's direction, his family warehouse business has become a laboratory of sorts for going green, from waste recycling to native prairies landscapes around his buildings to solar panels on his warehouse roofs that feed the power needs inside.
Indeed, the company achieved an Energy Star rating of 94 on a scale of 1 to 100, placing its warehouses among the top 6 percent most efficient warehouses in the United States.
Murphy, who has been an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota College of Design for 25 years, sat down in his rock-star studded offices in southeast Minneapolis recently and discussed the company's efforts at achieving environmental efficiency.
Q: Why did you go into landscape architecture in the first place?
A: That is one of the great mysteries in my life. My family was in trucking, but I remember seeing this book on landscape architecture on my uncle's book shelf, and then he took me to see the chairman of the architecture department at the U when I was in high school. It just sounded interesting, and I liked working outdoors. I turned Notre Dame down to play hockey in order to become a landscape architect. My first job after graduation was building sound walls along I-694 in Brooklyn Park.
Q: Why did you enter the warehouse business?
A: I always thought a midcareer shift would be healthy for the brain and for life's experience, so I decided to come back to Minnesota and go into the family business. It was always there, but I was never pressured to join the business. I started at the bottom. In those days, the family flagship was the trucking company but after deregulation, dad closed that and the warehouse business was still there.
Q: When did you start applying landscape architectural principles to warehousing?
A: A designer is trained to think outside the box. You go all over the place to get from point A to point B. I can look holistically at a problem, I can look at it from different perspectives. I'm used to that. I'd always dreamed of finding a client that wanted a prairie landscape.
We had this building up in Fridley, and it dawned on me that I'm a client so let's do a prairie arrangement. I always wanted prairie for aesthetic reasons and economical reasons. Then we went to stormwater management because prairie grass roots are deeper than regular grass and are better for handling stormwater. When I started looking at the numbers, it blew me away. It was 7.3 times more expensive to have manicured grass. At the Fridley campus, the annual maintenance cost of the prairie was $4,350 while the annual maintenance cost of cut grass was $21,651, including sprinkling and fertilizing.
At the Minneapolis warehouse, we received a stormwater runoff fee from the city for $58,000. After we put in holding ponds, we became the largest landowner in Minneapolis that doesn't pay a wastewater fee. We purchased a tired building in Eagan in 2012 and spent $4 million to make it 100 percent LED lit. We put all the lights, including the exterior ones, on motion sensors. We also started putting in solar panels. We have a lot of flat roofs just sitting there. We're now the fifth-largest solar generator in the state.
Q: How do you weigh the cost-benefit ratio of these initiatives?
A: Solar power without grants is a 20-year payback to justify the cost. I won't do that. But there are federal and state and utility grants and made-in-Minnesota grants, and when you add them together it becomes a four to 4½ year payback and that's an easy decision. You can do a lot with a little. In Fridley, 40 percent of our power from solar and solar panels cover only 2 percent of the roof.
Q: You published your second annual corporate sustainability report this year. What is the significance of that document?
A: Bottom line is we do many sustainability activities and wanted to be sure our client partners saw this annually. We also want them and prospects to know our activities can help them meet their green corporate goals.