Food Waste

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



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!