Full Circle: Lisa Curll, Business Analyst at Dominion Energy

Lisa Curll, Business Analyst at Dominion Energy

Lisa Curll, Business Analyst at Dominion Energy

I don’t know about you, but generally the only time Dominion Energy enters my consciousness is when my gas bill comes in the mail. Yet another giant corporation that wants my money every month, right? Or at least that’s what I thought before I sat down with Lisa Curll, Senior Business Performance Analyst for Dominion Energy.

Yes, Dominion Energy is a large corporation. Over 21,000 employees working at over 250 office buildings in 18 states to be exact. “We do electric and natural gas, we do transmission and distribution, and we do renewable electricity and natural gas.  We have hydro, we have solar, we have wind; we are just starting the first off-shore wind in the mid-Atlantic. So we're really on the forefront of being more sustainable and more renewable,” Lisa says.

Lisa works with Dominion Energy’s Facilities Management Group, which oversees the office buildings where employees work every day. “I love workplace development, and I'm focusing on office sustainability right now,” she says. Generally, office sustainability initiatives have aimed to incorporate more energy efficiency into their office buildings: think LEED-certified buildings, with LED lights and low flow faucets to reduce water use.

But Lisa noticed that they were “still generating a lot of office waste that goes to landfills that doesn't have to. Last year, we began expanding our office recycling programs. And I thought, if we're already working on recycling programs, why don't we look at organic waste, like food waste, too,” she said. At that point, Lisa had already known the guys from Rust Belt Riders for a few years, and wanted to find a way to work with them. “I had a chance to catch the ear of some high-level executives, and I told them, ‘I have these friends who do commercial composting, so we could pilot the program here in Cleveland.’ We started the program here last year, and it’s just really grown since then.”

She’s not kidding. Lisa worked with her on-site Cafeteria Manager, Al Gron, to get their initial pilot off the ground, which launched in April 2018 and included waste generated from the back-of-the-house. Not long after, they expanded the composting operation to include all of their coffee stations, and by August they added front-of-the-house composting in their cafeteria. This was the first time Rust Belt Riders had worked with a company to engage a whole workforce, and so minimizing contamination was a serious concern.

“Most of our coffee waste was already compostable.  Obviously the coffee grounds would be, but we also switched to compostable cups and wooden stirrers. We're currently in the middle of transitioning to all compostable packaging in the cafeteria.  Many people who get their food in the cafeteria will take it and eat at their desk, so we're adding centralized places on each floor where employees can come and throw away their organic scraps.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Rust Belt Riders recently launched a new soil line, Tilth, that is made using the food scraps that they collect from Dominion Energy and other clients. One of RBR’s employees, Jeff Thaler, also happens to be busy launching his own aquaponics business called Lettuce Tree Farms, and he uses Tilth Soil to grow beautiful microgreens. One of Lettuce Tree’s first clients was, yep, you guessed it, Dominion Energy’s cafeteria. They also purchased order number “001” of Lettuce Tree’s vertical plant systems for their cafeteria, which in addition to being pleasing to the eyes, also helps to purify the air and is grown in Tilth soil. “We’re really passionate about supporting innovation, and aligning Jeff’s innovative plant system with our sustainability program just makes sense,” Lisa explains.

Lettuce Tree Farm’s Microgreens

Lettuce Tree Farm’s Microgreens

These are exactly the types of cycles we would love to see more of in our food system. The good thing about Dominion Energy having  offices in a number of states is that people like Lisa Curll, who push these ideas forward in their home offices, also have opportunities to scale them nationally. Through her position in the company-wide Facilities Management Group, Lisa has been able to establish similar programs with Dominion Energy employees in other cities.

“We launched at our headquarters site in Virginia in October of last year,” Lisa explains.  “And then in Salt Lake City this spring, we'll be launching a relationship with a biodigester facility. Their cycle is really cool: They're capturing the methane from the food waste as well.  Natural gas is mostly methane, so after some additional processing, that product will flow through our Dominion Energy Utah pipelines as renewable natural gas,” she says. “I’m really fascinated by our renewable natural gas initiatives – I love that we’re not only helping to divert methane from entering the atmosphere, where it’s a harmful greenhouse gas, but we’re also converting it to a useful product that can be reused to heat homes or fuel stoves.”

“By midway through this year, we should have organic recycling programs in five different offices, touching over 3000 employees, and diverting, hopefully, somewhere around 50,000 pounds of food waste a year or more. And it all started from this tiny little account with Rust Belt Riders.”

Just for the record, I no longer resent receiving my gas bill.

Full Circle with: John Guzik, Director of Sustainability at Bialosky Cleveland

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When you think of businesses that would incorporate composting into their operations, what types of businesses come to mind? Restaurants? Of course. Grocery stores? Sounds right. Architecture firm? Huh?  

 

But according to John Guzik, Director of Sustainability for Bialosky Cleveland, composting actually makes a lot of sense for their firm. “As architects, we're always looking to improve things, but sometimes some of our practices and processes are harmful for the environment,” he says. “We've looked at sustainability as a firm for a long time, specifically about the construction of buildings and making things as efficient as possible and yet we still recognize that there's waste. And any way that we can cut down on that is good.”

 

Their composting journey, or at least the idea of it, actually began several years ago when their offices were in Shaker Square. They conducted an office-wide waste audit in an effort to reduce the amount of energy they used, and were surprised to find out that food accounted for a considerable percentage of their total waste.

 

That realization sparked a discussion about incorporating composting into their waste reduction strategy. But after much deliberation, it proved to be far more complicated than anyone expected. “Who's going to be responsible for it, who's going to collect the stuff, how is it going to get done in the winter when the weather is not conducive to it,” John says. “There were so many hurdles to it, that while it was good intentioned, it never really took off because of all the complications.”

 

At that time, Rust Belt Riders was a mere idea in the minds of founders Dan Brown and Michael Robinson. But Bialosky’s issues are the perfect example of why a reliable composting service was needed in Cleveland. Let’s fast forward a few years….

 

John was approached one day by a younger staff member named Emma Kurfis, who knew of Rust Belt Riders. “She had come to me as the Director of Sustainability and said, is this something that we would consider? I said, absolutely! Not only is it a great idea it was actually one that we had a long time ago,” John recalls. “We're very receptive to ideas of the younger people in our office because we recognize that they’ve got the boots on the street and they’re more in tune to what's up and coming.”

 

Bialosky had since moved their offices from Shaker Square to their current MidTown location. The renovation of their new office space presented them with the perfect opportunity to incorporate composting as part of their trash disposal, and the rollout turned out to be a great team building exercise.

 

“We integrated the compost bin into our counter tops when we renovated this space,” he said. “One of our staff members is a wood worker, and we fabricated a wooden cover and then used our laser cutter to etch into to. We got a couple people involved to make it fun and cool. We're designers so we like doing that kind of stuff. But it was also a way to engage more people, to get that sense of ownership.”

 

But their composting initiative goes beyond just engaging their own staff members. As an architecture firm with a diverse portfolio of clients, it’s critical for Bialosky to have expertise on a broad range of subjects so they can educate their clients around designing spaces with a positive environmental impact.

 

“To a great extent our mission is not just to do good, but to encourage other people to do good as well, and you can't do that without education. We spend a lot of time as a firm, as professionals, trying to educate our clients. But in order to do that we needed to educate ourselves first,” he says. “With us doing more with the composting, it's something we've been able to speak to clients about as well. So it’s met our mission from a sustainability stand point, but also it was an opportunity to learn more about it ourselves.”

The Path Ahead: Reflections on 2018 and a look at 2019

As years end and new ones begin, we often find ourselves in a fairly reflective place. We’d like to take a moment to reflect on 2018 and share with you some of our plans for 2019.

As anyone who has started an organization themself will know, this journey comes with lots of highs, lots of lows, and very little in between. 2018 was no different for us. We had lots of success and learned from lots of failures. That’s just the way things go! We’d like to share some of our successes with you, and the things that we are a looking back on as a team with our heads held high as 2018 has come to a close!

By the numbers:

  • We now serve over 100 clients across Northeast Ohio

  • We are collecting and diverting over 32,000 pounds of food scraps each week from landfills as of December, 2018. This is an increase from 18,000 pounds per week just a year earlier.  

  • We launched our Community Supported Composting program and have over 80 active members!

  • We fully transitioned away from plastics and now only use compostable bags and liners.

  • Inside Baseball Disclosure: We successfully lobbied the Ohio EPA to adopt a rule change to support community composting efforts like ours. Each parcel in Ohio can now have up to 500 square feet of active compost at any one time, an increase of 200 square feet!

What these numbers don’t capture is the massive growth we’ve made internally as an organization. We’ve made huge strides in process improvement, operational sophistication, and communications. As a team, we read the book Traction, by Gino Wickman (highly recommended!) and have put together clear, measurable, and time-bound goals for all members of our team. These goals are rooted in core company values that are informed by our mission and vision as an organization. These efforts have made the growth we have experienced, and plan to experience in the future, possible in the first place. We now have a road map, process indicators, and are running more like a fine-tuned machine than ever before.

Photo from ILSR

Photo from ILSR

It’s because of this progress that we are so excited to share with you some of our goals for the new year. 2019 is going to make the progress we made in 2018 look like a snail’s pace. Here is some of what’s in store:

  • Residential Composting is coming to Cleveland in the Summer of 2019!

    • This subscription service will bring the services our business and organizational partners have enjoyed for years to residents.

      • If you haven’t yet completed out survey, please do so HERE!

    • We will have two subscription options: To-your-door weekly pick up and multiple community-based drop-off locations.

      • If you know of a great location for a drop point in your community, let us know!

      • Our existing Community Supported Composting membership payment option has also been upgraded to make joining the fight against food waste easier. Now, you can elect a monthly subscription option rather than the one-time annual payment option.

Garbage to Garden in Portland, Maine: Community Compost Drop Site!

Garbage to Garden in Portland, Maine: Community Compost Drop Site!

  • New Product Launch. We have spent the past year improving and refining our soil blends to better serve you. We are thrilled to be launching our new product line: ‘tilth’. Tilth will provide the home gardener, urban farmer, and houseplant enthusiast with the highest quality planting mediums available, each with a base of high-quality compost created from the food waste we collect and divert from landfills.

    • Our first products will include:

      • Potting Mix: Sprout

      • Compost: Grow

      • Mulch: Base

    • More details coming soon!

      • Tell us where you get your soil blends: online, retail, home and garden stores? We want to put our products where you can access them! Let us know in the comments below!

  • We are planning to triple the number of businesses and organizations we serve so if your place of work wants to join the fight against food waste, reach out today!

  • We are going to formally become a B-Corp.

    • We got into this business to show that social enterprises can make a meaningful impact on a social ill and make some money while doing it. As we continue to grow we want to ensure that we can invest in the things that keep people and the planet central to our mission.

  • Carbon Neutrality Commitment.

    • We are committing ourselves to being at worst carbon neutral and at best, carbon negative by the end of 2019. This means all emissions we produce through daily operations will be offset or avoided in some way.

Like we said, there is a lot we have in store for you this year. We hope you will stick around and join us for the journey. We are so excited about what the future holds and hope you are too!

We would also like to thank each and every one of our clients, advisers, and families.

Here is to 2019!


Full Circle with: Brett Sawyer of The Plum

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As Clevelanders, we are lucky to have a dedicated group of professionals here that work hard to build and promote a better food system. The Plum is one local business that is doing just that, and Chef Brett Sawyer is the driving force behind the mission. He opened The Plum with partner Jonah Oryszak in 2016, and his dedication to supporting local farms and reducing food waste is nothing short of impressive.  

Here’s the lowdown on Brett’s journey: He spent some time in college, both at Ohio State and the University of Akron, often not attending class (we’ve all been there) and working at restaurants in various front-of-the-house positions. He eventually moved to France, where, not surprisingly, he became more interested in cooking. After returning home from France, Brett was contemplating a career as a chef. He moved back to Akron and worked as a bartender at Chrissie Hynde’s former restaurant VegiTerranean, but ultimately Brett had his eyes set on the kitchen. Then low and behold, one day a line cook job opened up and he took it. From that moment on Brett’s love for cooking was solidified.  

After working as a line cook at a few spots around Akron, Brett decided to move to Chicago, and it was there that he got into working with local farms. “It was very much the beginning of places like Chicago, New York, San Francisco getting into the locavore and sustainable movements. The first place I worked in Chicago was called Three Aces, and I was one of the opening line cooks. It was the first place I ever worked that we were using local farms for most of our meat, produce, cheeses and charcuterie. Everything was completely hand made in house, I mean everything. It was a very big deal for me because I had never seen anything like that.”

After three years in Chicago, Brett came back to Cleveland with a vision to eventually open his own place. He worked at the Greenhouse Tavern and Trentina while working on his concept and began building relationships with farmers in the region. “When I was working for [Jonathan] Sawyer, he was a big proponent of local farms and sustainability. Composting was a huge thing and that was really where I learned about it. So when we opened The Plum, we knew we were definitely gonna compost. I mean, why wouldn’t we?”

When we opened The Plum, we knew we were definitely gonna compost. I mean, why wouldn’t we? - Brett Sawyer

That last statement says it all. It’s a philosophy Brett is carrying over to a new concept he’s about to launch, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Brett takes this ethos to heart because it’s simply second nature to him, and it’s precisely why he chose to work with Rust Belt Riders. “They’re great people. Not only are we stoked to be working with them, but they do a great job of keeping up with everything, they’re always on top of it.”

Often we assume that restaurants prioritize sourcing from local farms and incorporating sustainable practices like composting and reducing food waste because it’s a good thing to do. While that’s absolutely true, it’s not the only reason. “We don’t de-stem herbs, the whole herb goes right into the dish. We use the leaves and tops of vegetables as much as we can by incorporating them into purees and mixing them into our salad greens. So the whole vegetable is a very important aspect, not just from a sustainability perspective, but from a cost perspective. If we’re paying by the pound for something, and we’re throwing away a half of it because it’s excess, then we’re literally throwing money into the trash. So it’s important to us to use as much of the vegetable as we possibly can.”

It’s important to us to use as much of the vegetable as we possibly can - Brett Sawyer

As consumers and food lovers that are concerned about climate change, many of us make it a priority to support businesses that build their operation on sustainable practices. It’s our way of voting with our dollars, and it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle. But in the grand scheme of things, supporting those businesses is just one step in the process. Ultimately if we want to make an impact, we have to learn from their example and implement those practices at home by making it a part of our daily lives. We’re lucky to have chefs like Brett who show us that reducing food waste and supporting local farms is totally possible, and most importantly, that it’s not hard.

Ok, enough preaching. Remember that new concept I mentioned…..Brett and the rest of the gang are set to open up a new spot in mid-January. The new Battery Park location is called Good Company and will be more of a modern, hip sports bar with a menu reflects the concept. Think burgers, fries, wings, potato skins, and all that but with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options too.

Good Company Interior

Good Company Interior

“We're using Certified Angus Beef for steaks and our burger grind. We actually went to Wooster and spent seven hours grinding in different cuts of meat to come up with a signature grind for our restaurant, so nobody else will have this burger. All that meat will come from Boliantz in Ashland. The vegetarian option will be a mushroom terrine that we'll slice into patties and we’ll have a vegan version of our burger too. We're also making chicken patties in house, and we're gonna do our own housemade vegan chickpea patties. So food wise it will be what you know of a sports bar, but we'll have a lot more options for vegetarians and vegans.”

While Good Company’s menu won’t be quite as seasonal as The Plum’s, Brett is still emphasizing locally sourced ingredients when possible and incorporating sustainability practices and composting into the operation. “It's what we believe in, creating as less of a carbon footprint as much as we possibly can. If we're still bringing in imported foods in the winter time and we're still getting vegetables and fruit from other states, to us we should at least be composting and lessening our carbon footprint if we can't order as much locally.”

Thanksgiving, Not Thanks Wasting

Thanksgiving is a holiday centered around food, mounds and mounds of food! Whether you are celebrating with family, loved ones, at home or in a restaurant you undoubtedly will be having your fill of some of your favorite fall foods.

This holiday, filled with its generally seasonal ingredients; root vegetables, gourdes, and brassicas connect us to a time and place at the dinner table. What we gain in seasonality we often lose in perspective. Thanksgiving, a holiday of harvest, abundance and more-often-than-not, gluttony can blind us to the sad state of affairs our food system is in.

This Thanksgiving one in six people across the United States face hunger and in Northeast Ohio 20% of children live in a food insecure household.   We may sound like a broken record but these facts remain at the same time that our nation is literally throwing away as much as 40% of all the food we grow. So what do we do in light of these circumstances?

For one, you can make an effort to support those organizations working to improve food security across our city. The Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland is a fantastic resources with a number of amazing programs that advance food security. One program we are particularly excited about is their forthcoming Food Rescue program which will capture perfectly edible food and direct it to their network of food pantries for those in need. Other organizations whose praise we cannot sing loudly enough are:

·         Catholic Charities Services of Cuyahoga County

·         The Center for Children and Families

·         City Fresh

·         Cleveland Food Not Bombs

·         Perfectly Imperfect

·         Stone Soup Cleveland

·         St. Luke’s Episcopal

·         West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church

Many of the organizations above, notably Cleveland Food Not Bombs, Perfectly Imperfect, Stone Soup, St. Luke’s and West Shore UUC in addition to their efforts of advancing food security are also taking their work a step further and diverting all their scraps from landfills by partnering with us through our collections services. These organizations are deeply committed to combating hunger in the here and now while simultaneously creating the conditions to fully eradicate it.

Today, however, I want to invite you to look into a specific resource in advance of your Thanksgiving meal. If you are anything like me or the family I grew up in, the day before Thanksgiving as well as the day-of Thanksgiving are some of the best days of the year. You cloister yourself in a kitchen, cook nostalgic foods with loved ones, and smell all the smells you haven’t smelled in almost a year. (Sidebar: why do we only eat turkey and stuffing around Thanksgiving? I feel that this needs to change urgently… its so good!) One inevitable outcome of this work is that all-too-often we overcook, we make way too much food for not nearly enough people, and before you tell me ‘but, Dan, the leftovers as the best part about Thanksgiving!’ I won’t argue that. Instead, I will point to some numbers. For all those leftovers we plan on eating, a lot of them end up in the back of our refrigerator uneaten and then pitched days later. An estimated $277 million worth of turkey, for example, ends up in the trash after Thanksgiving. All said, we will waste about 172 million pounds of turkey, 14 million pounds of dinner rolls, 29 million pounds of vegetables, 30 million pounds of gravy, 40 million pounds of mashed potatoes, 35 million pound of cranberry sauce and 38 million pounds of stuffing… on Thanksgiving alone!

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I say this not to shame you or make you feel bad. This problem is avoidable with the right planning which is why I want to introduce to you the Guestimator! This amazing tool developed by the team at Save The Food will help you in your quest for minimizing food waste at Thanksgiving, simply enter the number of small, average, and big eaters you expect to be feeding, the number of leftovers you want – because lets be honest, leftovers are almost even better than the Thanksgiving meal itself – if any, the kind of menu you plan to make – classic, veggie focused, or a mixed bag, and BOOM, it generates exactly how many servings you will need to satisfy your Thanksgiving needs!

 

So yeah, eat until your hearts content, enjoy your food, because you should, just don’t waste it. If you do have left overs, eat them, and if you can’t pop by our facility and have the composted.

Full Circle with: Dave Kocab of the Black Pig

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Sometimes you stumble upon your passion by accident. Such was the case for David Kocab, Head Chef at The Black Pig in Ohio City, who up until he started working in kitchens didn’t really have any idea what he wanted to do. “I just kind of haphazardly found myself in kitchens, and I liked it, it was really comfortable for me. I ended up just being naturally good at it when I hadn't really found anything like that in my life before.”

Once David made the decision that he wanted to pursue a career as a chef, culinary school seemed like the logical next step. About a month later he moved to Portland to do just that. “It was great cause I finally found schooling that I liked. I felt like that annoying 5th grade kid that's like "oh, I love school, I'm here to learn today", but I felt like that! Finally! It was really nice! I lived out there for three years. It was really cool because you see how integrated food and agriculture is into society, into the communities and everything. And up until I left Cleveland, there was no emphasis on supporting local agriculture. Maybe Karen [Small] was the only person doing it before I left.”

Eventually, Cleveland was calling out to David, and he was listening. He moved back in 2013 after a brief stint in LA, and started working with Karen Small at The Flying Fig, then The Greenhouse Tavern and a string of other places until he eventually landed his first job as Head Chef at Trentina. His time there really allowed him to hone in on his farm to table passion. “It’s a small restaurant with 35 seats and a tasting menu, so I was able to focus on quality over quantity. It was great, I got to work with whoever I wanted to work with locally. And it introduced me to so many more people locally that have an appreciation for that kind of thing.”

Over the years, educating people through food has become super important to David and he’s made it the cornerstone of his mission since he started as Head Chef at The Black Pig a little over a year ago. Those of us who are involved in food systems work recognize the need to create engaging conversations with consumers to help them understand the intricacies the food system and how it affects them. That is particularly true when it comes to food waste, which could possibly be the least understood part of the food system and is also an integral part of David’s mission.

“Locally food waste is not talked about enough. I think it's talked about nationally but I think it's talked about in a way that is not receptive for people to care. Cause it's always shaming us, and people do not respond well to that. It’s great to have a partner like Rust Belt Riders because they're bringing up a topic of conversation and changing a social norm essentially. They influence it to the point where we're all thinking about food waste now, whether it's actively thinking about it or subconsciously thinking about it. It's got to start somewhere.”

While the farm to table movement has made a lot of progress over the last several years, we still have a long way to go. Creating an atmosphere that is built on responsible sourcing and solid sustainability practices is no easy feat, and it requires real dedication. “As a chef you know that you could put lobster mac or a caprese salad on the menu in February and it'll sell out. But even though this is a business, it's not all about that. I like the path that I've chosen, the people I've chosen to put myself around. We don't play that way because we don't have to. We're a small independent restaurant, we have certain ethos and beliefs and we can push those out there because we know enough people will support us. After seeing how food can affect a society and a community, as I did in Portland, I feel like there's a lot of societal correlations that can be applied here. For me, I'm always trying to make Cleveland better. And right now, a huge way to make Cleveland better is to strengthen the community.”