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Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Power of Tours

Tour group shot @ a
Charlotte MRF
Throughout Elemental Impact's (Ei) eight-year history, tours played an integral role in educating the Ei Team on current scenarios and creative solutions to challenging situations.

In the early Zero Waste Zones days, tours centered around MRFs (material recovery facilities), recycling centers, manufacturers where recyclable items are raw materials, and generators with successful source-separated material systems in place. As Ei work segued to Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) Pilots, tours focused on large generators where the consumer is responsible for material disposal. 


As the SFCI-Airport Pilot, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, hosted the SFCI Team on International Terminal tours during construction and post-opening. The ZWA Blog article, SFCI Team Tours New ATL Airport Int'l Concourse, chronicles the during construction tour; the SFCI Atlanta Airport Pilot: ACTION Resumes article showcases the post-opening tour.


Tim with post-game collected
food waste & packaging 
At the SFCI-Event Venue Pilot, the Georgia Dome hosted several Falcons games tours to understand post-consumer food waste and packaging generated by the concessionaire and disposed of by the fans. The ZWA Blog article, Winning Recycling Seasons: Team Work Required!, provides a recap of the 2013 game day recycling tour with the Mercedes Benz Stadium architects.

The Ei Tours website page details the many Ei-hosted tours, segregated by Farm, Industry, Partner, and SFCI Tours. Each tour is supported by a blog article and Ei FB album.

In July 2017, Ei shifted gears within the spiral of humanity's environmental impact. Ei evolved from a focus on Recycling Refinement and Post-Consumer Food Waste to Soil Health, regenerating the foundation of life. The ZWA Blog article, Soil Health: regenerating the foundation of life, announces the new platform and showcases the powerful foundation built within the Recycling Refinement platform and Post-Consumer Food waste focus area.

In preparation for the official Soil Health platform announcement, Ei embarked on a Farm Tour series in early 2017 with Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer. Ei Farm Tours are focused on farms following regenerative agricultural practices, with a strong emphasis on rebuilding healthy soils. In addition, Tim stepped into his new Ei Leadership role as the SFCI Chair.


David educates Tim on the food
waste composting windrows
First on the tour agenda was the February tour of the King of Crops Farm, located 25 minutes from downtown Atlanta. King of Pops, a popular hand-crafted popsicle company, purchased the farm to source locally grown organic ingredients nurtured within regenerative agriculture practices. Farm Manager Russell Hondered treated the group to a thorough farm tour including a narrative on its history as a well-established nursery. Remnants from the past are evident throughout the land adding character to the farm.

In addition to farming, King of Crops is a state-permitted food waste compost site. Commercial and residential food waste hauler Compost Wheels delivers their material to the farm. Compost Wheels CEO David Paull joined the tour and educated on the farm food waste composting practices.

Hickory Grove Farm entrance
Next on the agenda was a Kennesaw State University (KSU) Hickory Grove Farm tour. Kim Charick with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 (Southeast Region) joined Tim and Ei Founder Holly Elmore. Farm Operations Manager Michael Blackwell and KSU Professor Jorge Perez gave a thorough farm tour, along with details on the land history.

In 2013 the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) leased the 26-acre tract of land to KSU for farm use. Formally, the site was the GDOT cement mixing site for nearby I-75 construction. Though not toxic, the soil was severely compacted and devoid of necessary minerals to sustain a healthy soil ecosystem. In addition, storm water flowed off the property, rather than hydrate the "dead soil."

Natural farm retention pond
With patience, tenacity and a strategic plan, the KSU Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality restored the land through regenerative agriculture practices. Simple, effective storm water management techniques retain water on the property, including a vibrant natural retention pond. Soil restoration is a partnership with the land; continued nurturing through compost use, crop rotation and other regenerative applications are necessary to maintain and improve soil health.

In addition to serving as a laboratory for the Leven School and other departments, the farm supplies produce for The Commons, KSU's Gold LEED Certified dining hall. The farm's happy hens often supply 100% of the dining service's egg demand!

Student farm worker with
the happy hens
Within the farm operations is the state-of-the-art Hydroponic Lab where tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are grown year round. Student volunteers stamp out soil blocks for seed planting in the Propagation Lab. Once germinated, the seedling soil blocks are planted in the High Tunnel and tended through harvest. By using soil blocks, the use of small plastic containers to grow saplings is eliminated.

Inspired by the farm tours, Tim teamed with Levy Restaurants Executive Chef Matt Roach and GWCC Grounds Operation Manager Steve Ware to identify an on-campus mini-farm area. The intent is to use regenerative agriculture practices at the on-campus mini-farm to produce food for the employee dining facility. 

In late July, Ei hosted the GWCC Team at Hickory Grove Farm where Michael & Jorge educated on regenerative agriculture practices along with crop choice advice; Steve shared his extensive horticulture expertise, especially pertaining to plant | tree identification in the farm's old growth forest areas.


Tour group shot within one of
the American Chesnut sprouts.
In the farm's old growth forest, there are two healthy shoots from former magnificent American Chestnuts killed by the chestnut blight. It is estimated 3 - 4 billion American Chestnuts were killed by the blight in the first half of the 20th century. Though healthy in appearance, the shoots remain vulnerable to the blight.

The GWCC team departed in high spirits, thrilled with on-campus farming opportunities and new friends at a fellow state-owned Institute.

For a pictorial recount of the Hickory Grove Farm tours, visit the Holly Elmore Images FB album, KSU Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality. The Ei FB album, Ei Connects, includes a section on the King of Crops Farm Tour.


Beyond their educational value, tours build strong bonds among industry colleagues and inspire new, innovative projects. Ei is excited to embark on a Farm Tour series filled with new discoveries, inspiration, and empowerment within the Soil Health platform.


The potential GWCC on-campus mini-farm is a prime example of The Power of Tours! 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Building a Zero Waste Economy, one step, one city at a time

In late July, Elemental Impact (Ei) hosted U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Global Zero Waste Director Stephanie Barger on a whirlwind Atlanta zero waste-focused visit. For three days, Stephanie met with Atlanta's sustainability leadership to educate on the USGBC Zero Waste Certification (ZWC) and their commitment to building a Zero Waste Economy.

Stephane presenting at the 2016
Annual Ei Partner Meeting
As the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) Founder & Executive Director, Stephanie and Ei Founder Holly Elmore forged a strong, long-term partnership, with Ei serving as the USZWBC and National Zero Waste Business Conference (NZWBC) media partner. The partnership expanded beyond media relations via Ei-hosted NZWBC industry panels, Stephanie presenting at Annual Ei Partner Meetings, and much more.

On October 5, 2016, the USZWBC joined forces with the USGBC. The prominent USZWBC Zero Waste Facility Certification was integrated into the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), a USGBC organization that drives sustainability across all sectors. The ZWA Blog article, USGBC Empowers Zero Waste Industry: USGBC & USZWBC join forces, announces the powerful union.

Stephanie with keynote presenter
Laura Turner Seydel @ 2014 NZWBC
With USZWBC | USGBC | GBCI integration nearing completion, Stephanie steps into her new role transforming markets to embrace zero waste practices and building a Zero Waste Economy. The whirlwind Atlanta visit was designed to reconnect with Atlanta sustainability leadership and educate the Georgia USGBC community on the ZWC.

Atlanta hosted the stellar 2014 NZWBC. Thus, Stephanie is well acquainted with Atlanta's zero waste leaders in the private sector, non-profit realm, and local, state and federal government. It makes good sense to build off the powerful foundation and establish Atlanta as a USGBC zero waste community pillar city.

The meeting marathon began with a multi-billion dollar manufacturing company enthusiastic to understand zero waste in concept and practice. Customer demand for manufacturing sustainability, including zero waste, was the impetus for taking first steps. One of the parting comments was a common Ei zero waste phrase, 
Take Baby Steps, lots & lots of baby steps!
The Epsten Group 
In the afternoon, The Epsten Group hosted Stephanie for a two-hour education session beginning with general zero waste information and finishing with a ZWC overview. Intertwined within Stephanie's presentation, Holly educated on Recycling Refinement, moving beyond landfill diversion, using the Sustainable Food Court Initiative Pilots as prominent examples. It was empowering to showcase Atlanta's pioneers and leadership status. Holly's PPT presentation is available for download on the Ei Speaking Engagements page.

The day finished with a light dinner at an eclectic restaurant nestled in Cabbagetown, a neighborhood originally built for the nearby cotton mill workers. Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer joined Stephanie and Holly for a fun, relaxed catch-up. 

Under Tim's leadership, the GWCC achieved LEED Silver Certification and is the world's largest LEED Certified conference center. In 2009, the GWCC hosted the prominent Zero Waste Zones' launch press conference, culminating in a CNN Story and a front-page New York Times article. The GWCC is an early zero waste pioneer and hero!

Rubicon condiment station in
employee break area
On the second day, Rubicon hosted Stephanie and Holly for a breakfast meeting in their amazing new offices. As a founding USZWBC member, Rubicon was interested in a leadership role within the USGBC zero waste community. In addition, Rubicon VP Investor Relations Elizabeth Montoya shared the impressive new high tech, app-oriented Rubicon service designed to maximize material collections, enhance route efficiency, and report community observations, such as pot holes in roadways. 

It was a pleasure to witness zero waste practices in action within Rubicon's offices. In the employee break area, beverage condiments are dispersed in individual servings, creating no packaging waste. Honey & blue agave are available in bulk, recyclable packaging. Landfill and recycling bins use Ei Strategic Ally Recycle Across America's standard labeling. ... and Rubicon contracts with close Ei pal Compost Wheels for commercial food waste collection!

Meredith. Laurene & Stephanie
with AJC ZW sign in Cox lobby.
Next on the meeting agenda was a visit to Cox Enterprises (Cox), a long-time Rubicon client. Cox Recycling & Waste Diversion Manager Meredith Brown gave an overview of zero waste initiatives in-place and planned. In addition, Meredith inquired on the leadership opportunities within the USGBC zero waste community. Owned by Cox, the Atlanta Journal & Constitution is the nation's first zero waste-certified newspaper.

Afternoon meetings included visits at Ernst & Young and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Airport), the busiest airport in the world. Airport Senior Sustainability Leader Liza Milagro updated on the concessionaire contract compostable packaging provision implementation. In 2011, Ei worked closely with the Airport on the contract provision and issued the Compostable Packaging Info Packet on behalf of the Airport. The Atlanta Airport Compostable Foodservice Ware Packet page details the ground-breaking contract provision.

The day ended with a casual, yet powerful, meeting with Mercedes Benz Stadium (MBS) General Manager Scott Jenkins. Only weeks into his new position, Scott delivered his first presentation as MBS General Manager at the 2014 NZWBC. During the design and construction phase, Scott ensured the stadium was built for zero waste success. In a few short weeks, the stadium is slated to host its first game! In his role as the Green Sports Council Chair, Scott and Stephanie strategized on complementary programs in place and how the two organizations may work together. 

USGBC-GA meeting
On the final day, USGBC-GA Director Shelby Buso hosted a meeting to educate the Georgia community on the ZWC. Meeting participants were eager to learn about the USGBC zero waste commitment and share their zero waste challenges, lessons learned, and successes. The City of Atlanta, Office of Resilience Senior Policy Advisor Boyd Leake stayed after the morning meeting to meet privately with Stephanie and Holly. The conversation topic centered on Atlanta serving as a USGBC zero waste pillar city.

Shelby joined Stephanie and Holly for a mid-morning meeting with Tim at his GWCC offices. Tim gave an awesome update on the Georgia Dome decommissioning, GWCC remodeling, and Olympic Centennial Park redesign. Under the GWCC umbrella, the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center is in the LEED Certification application process.

Shelby, Paula & Stephanie
after a fun, inspiring lunch
A fun, productive lunch with Ted's Montana Grill Purchasing & Sustainability Manager Paula Owens was the perfect final meeting on Stephanie's whirlwind Atlanta visit. After meeting Paula at an Annual Ei Partner Meeting, Stephanie invited Paula to present on a food waste-focused plenary panel at the 2016 NZWBC in Austin.

The Ei FB Album, USGBC Zero Waste Certification and Education, includes a pictorial recap of Stephanie's Atlanta visit.

Similar to creating a successful facility zero waste program, a Zero Waste Economy requires a methodical process filled with a multitude of consecutive, small steps. Essential to success is a template where businesses, the local community, and the environment benefit. 

USGBC Global Zero Waste Director Stephanie Barger's July Atlanta visit was a strong step in building a Zero Waste Economy, one step, one city at a time!