November 20, 2015

Rochester Business Journal (RBJ) on Impact Earth Inc, members of the 2016 Fast Forward Roc advisory committee.


Impact Earth sets sights on zero waste

Rochester Business Journal
November 20, 2015

Impact Earth Inc., a fledgling firm in its first of three years with the Venture Creations business incubator at Rochester Institute of Technology, wants to expand its mission of zero waste across Monroe County by 2020. The waste will be diverted from landfills either by composting materials or recycling them.Leaders at the incubator believe the company is off to a good start and it has made inroads with local restaurants, caterers and festival organizers.Co-owners Elizabeth Carey and Robert Putney founded the company in January and are developing four main segments of its business model. Those segments are:

Working with special events such as community festivals;
Manufacturing businesses; and
Residents in neighborhoods.

In each area the goal is to reduce waste and divert as much trash as possible from landfills, the leaders said.

“We focus on three of five things in zero waste: resources, production and products, and life cycle,” CEO Putney said. The other two components of the five are emissions and toxics, which the company does not deal with directly.

The company designs products and services and manages material to reduce the volume and toxicity of landfills. The products it distributes, such as napkins and cutlery, are 100 percent recycled content or compostable

The company so far is self-funded; it is not yet reporting revenues.

Putney spent 17 years working in the packaging industry before joining Impact Earth. His knowledge of product development and commercialization helped develop the line of completely compostable products Impact Earth carries, he said.

“We work with government, higher education, corporations—any segment there is with the exception of the military,” Putney said.

Farmers markets have been a great customer with Brighton and Pittsford markets on board last summer, he said. Putney plans to expand across the state in 2016. He attended the New York State Farmers Market Managers Conference at SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill on Nov. 10 to attract more business.

“Restaurants and education tend to jump right on board. In both of those, there is a lot of waste,” said Carey, the firm’s chief operating officer.

Carey is a Nazareth College graduate with a background in education. She consults with schools, such as the Brighton Central School District, on ways to reduce waste.

One of the company’s earliest customers was Pittsford restaurant Label 7.

“Once I got the composting bins in, I wanted to do more,” owner Ross Mueller said. “We’ve made minimal changes and already reduced half what goes in the dumpster.”

Mueller admits that at first, he was skeptical about how much waste he would be able to divert from his dumpster to the Impact Earth compost bins.

“I laugh now, because when we started I said give us just one bin, we probably won’t have much compost,” Mue-ller said. “Elizabeth said, ‘If your staff cares, you will need more.’ She was right. We’re using four bins now.”

Mueller started small by diverting food waste and recyclables. Then he decided to convert some of his products to the Impact Earth products such as stir sticks, straws and take-out containers that are made of more compostable materials.

“It was an eye-opener. Instead of everything going in a black bin now it goes in a green bin, so easy,” Mueller said. “Our materials are 85 percent compostable.”

As far as cost savings, Mueller is still adding that up.

“If I compost more I can get rid of my garbage bins, that’s $200 a month,” he said. “But the point is the impact I make on the other end. It’s keeping waste out of landfills and that benefits everybody.”

He also notes the impact the zero-waste plan has made on his staff.

“I have 17-year old kids as busers and hosts and they go through the bins and yell at others for throwing things in the trash by mistake,” Mueller said with a laugh. “We’re making a positive change here that will follow them the rest of their lives.”

Education is a key component of the work Carey and Putney do at Impact Earth. They take that work on the road to festivals across the region, setting up educational kiosks with student volunteers from local colleges and high schools. In 2015, Impact Earth was on location at festivals such as Imagine RIT, the Fairport Music Festival and the Finger Lakes Celtic Festival.

The work extends beyond education and into putting the teaching into practice, said Rebecca Delaney, festival director of the Fast Forward Film Festival held in April at the George Eastman Museum.

The festival encourages film makers, amateur or professional, to submit local entries designed to raise environmental awareness.

Impact Earth consulted with Delaney from the start on ways to make the event more environmentally friendly.

“They advised us on every aspect, from what we order to where we put lighting to the carpet we use, and how we could divert waste,” Delaney said. “They even went into the kitchen and worked with our catering staff from Max of Eastman. It was wonderful proof of their capability to collaborate with multiple partners for a large-scale event.”

Volunteers from the student environmental action league from RIT were brought in to work at educational booths set up around the festival, Delaney said. Attendees saw bins with signage and icons directing them where to toss certain items.

At the end of the event, 393 pounds of waste had been diverted from landfills.

“We saw 98.1 percent waste diversion,” Delaney said. “The only thing we couldn’t control was gum wrappers—the things people brought in. It’s exciting. You see people notice it. And the thing is, this was affordable. We’re a non-profit. This can be done, and we’ve gotten a great reputation from doing this.”

Impact Earth has six full-time employees. Carey and Putney think that product development will drive company growth.

William Jones, director of Venture Creations, said there could be opportunities for a partnership between Impact Earth and another company at the incubator.

“I haven’t yet put the two together, but I see some synergy there,” Jones said. “That is a benefit of being in the incubator.”

Venture Creations works with fledgling companies, typically with a technology focus, by helping them bolster their business plans.

“Typically they are weak on sales,” Jones said. “Or they need help developing an investor presentation.”

The service Jones provided Impact Earth was in narrowing its focus.

“They are two founders who had five lines of business. We narrowed it for them to zero waste consulting and packaging sales,” Jones explained. “We put the other lines on the shelf.”

After narrowing the focus, the work moved to setting up the process for establishing separate streams for waste collection.

“It has been a game changer,” Jones said. “Taking everything in garbage at social events such as festivals and getting people to change their behaviors—a lot of people are ready for this.”

Venture Creations is going to become a customer of Impact Earth, Jones said.

As his consultation continues, the next phase in 2016 will be further development of the business model.

“Now that they are out there and getting the word out, how will they make money? That’s part of what we will be working on,” Jones said.

Carey and Putney are moving forward on that, with plans in 2016 to hire a product development engineer and waste audit staff, they said. Meanwhile, they are happy to continue booking events with corporate and non-profit clients.

“In 2015 we did 60 events, including farmers markets,” Putney said. “With the education piece next year we plan to do 150 events. We would love to see Monroe County zero waste by 2020.”