The Go-To Guy Gets the Job Done

May 1, 2010

Whether it’s a client searching for a solution to a perplexing sediment control problem, or IECA seeking innovative ideas for recruiting new members, IECA corporate member Chris Marr, CPESC, has established a reputation among those familiar with his work as someone who can get the job done.

He accomplishes that by drawing on his knack for looking at common problems in uncommon ways and the lengthy list of contacts from around the world that he’s developed over the past three decades who can supply innovative materials for landscaping and controlling erosion and sediment. What’s more, he capitalized on this knowledge and experience to invent or co-invent more than a dozen products, ranging from netting that protects fruit orchards from hail damage to the Snake Bag, a reuseable gravel-filled geotextile bag that is now specified in at least 26 states as a BMP to limit the amount of sediment washing into storm-drain inlets.

“You may not have heard of me, but chances are you’ve seen or heard about one of my products,” Marr says.

Marr’s first experience in tackling a tough environmental challenge dates back to the early 1970s as a graduate student at Oregon State University, where he earned a B.S. degree in zoology with a strong interest in botany. There, Marr studied the impact of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on mussels, clams, sand shrimp, and other invertebrates in Pacific Coast estuaries. These organic compounds were once widely used in transformers, capacitors, coolants, and many other applications. These studies were part of a large body of research that helped lead to the ban on  production of these toxic substances in the United States in 1976

Following his graduate studies, Marr went to work for a $3 billion retail chain, where he became the company’s import buyer, dealing with suppliers in many different countries. His career then took him into the landscape construction field where he was purchasing manager for a regional contractor and then into manufacturing as purchasing manager for a geotextile maker. Later, he served as environmental, erosion and sediment control manager and general manager with several other construction and supply companies.

In 2007, Marr went into business for himself, establishing ESI Resource Services, a consulting and manufacturing representative firm in Rancho Cordova, California.

Playing Ball
“I was tired of being the best baseball player on the football team and decided to do what I do best and had been doing for 28 years—help large companies make money by procuring merchandise and developing products,” he says. “Over the years I’ve bought a lot of different materials, and I know the people who supply them. If you can’t find what you’re looking for or need something out of the ordinary researched and developed for controlling erosion and sediment control, I’m probably the guy you’re going to call.”

That’s just what two California erosion control professionals did when they needed help preventing a heavy sediment load in fast-flowing artesian waters at a construction site from polluting a stream. Marr’s solution was to combine a long, narrow filter bag to remove larger particles, with a discharge tube made of a particular type of spun-bound polyester geotextile to filter out very small particles.

“A normal geotube would not have provided fine enough filtration and water-volume flow,” Marr says. “Only a few companies in the world can produce the special type of geotextile. I was able to find someone who could provide material that was thin enough to handle the high flow rates and strong enough to withstand the force of the water flowing through it. This product reduced NTUs at the site to acceptable levels. Called the Snake Bag, it is now being sold throughout the western US.”

Relying on word-of-mouth advertising, he reports, his phone rings regularly as callers seek his assistance. Recently, for example, he helped a client from Florida find naturally colored sand fencing that met very specific and unusual characteristics when no one else could. Also, he has been working on a new filtering product to control some of the finest clay particles in the world under the impact of heavy rains in Hawaii. And, he’s developing another sediment control product for a project in Idaho. “I’ve got all kinds of do-hickeys to keep my mind going,” Marr says.

Keeping in Touch
When he’s not solving problems for clients or conducting erosion and sediment control training for contractors and government agencies, Marr is lending a helping hand to IECA. A member of three US chapters—Western, which he serves as secretary; Pacific Northwest; and Mountain States—he joined IECA in 1999. For the past several years, he has participated actively on the association’s Membership Team and Chapter Advisory Committee.

“I felt that I could use my experience in different industries and working with various government agencies to contribute something worthwhile to IECA,” says Marr, explaining his decision to serve on these committees.

He’s done just that, reports Meg Tully, association development director for IECA. “He is one of the only ones who participates in all of our conference calls with these committees,” she says. “He is always very enthusiastic, very engaged, and very willing to provide input.”

For example, the Chapter Aisle, one of the attractions in the exhibit hall at IECA’s annual EC conference, was suggested by Marr. Introduced at EC09 in Reno, Nevada, it features one area where all chapter booths are grouped together. In the past, the various chapter booths had been spaced throughout the exhibit area. “Placing them in one location makes a bigger impact on attendees and shows just how many chapters we have,” Marr says. “Also, it makes it much easier for people to visit different chapters and learn about their activities and share ideas and experiences.”

One reason Marr volunteers his time with IECA and its chapters is to stay on top of the latest industry developments. “I don’t get to travel like I used to,” he says. “So, serving IECA keeps me in touch with what people around the country are doing and how they are doing it. Clients expect me to know what’s going on throughout the industry. Serving IECA keeps me in touch with what erosion control professionals around the country are doing and the latest industry trends.”

The economic downturn has reduced the amount of time many IECA members have to participate in IECA programs as volunteers, Marr admits. “We’ve all been struggling with the slow economy and banging on more doors to drum up business,” he says. “But, if we’re to have a strong association that can help strengthen our industry, we have to find a way to work around these time demands and contribute our skills to IECA as best as we can.”

Adding Value
One strong interest that Marr has pursued in his committee work is that of increasing membership. For example, as a result of his encouragement, IECA is currently reviewing the benefits offered by similar organizations. “We plan to take the best ideas and implement them for IECA members,” Tully adds.

In addition to encouraging more participation by current members, improving the benefits of membership in IECA can also help attract new members, Marr explains. That can strengthen the ability of the association to promote the role of erosion and sediment control professionals in protecting the environment. “Such support can help expand the overall market for the products and services provided by IECA members,” he adds.

Increasing cooperation with other organizations that share IECA’s commitment to protecting the environment could also increase awareness of the role of IECA and attract new members, he says.

Another possibility, he notes, would be to establish a purchasing cooperative for IECA members. In fact, he has already proposed that the Western Chapter consider the idea. “I’ve been involved with successful regional supply co-ops in the past,” he says. “The ability for members to enjoy reduced prices on the products they buy could also attract more members.”