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Friday, February 2, 2018

GAME WON: 2018 composting conference breaks records

On January 22 - 25, 2018 Atlanta hosted the 26th Annual U.S. Composting Council (USCC) Conference & Tradeshow at the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel. As a pioneer in the commercial collection of food waste for compost via the 2009 Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) launch, Atlanta was an ideal host for the empowering conference. 

The Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, a Founding ZWZ Participant, boasts an embedded sustainability culture, including their food waste collection for compost program. 

SUCCESS: the 2018 USCC Conference was record-breaking on many levels! Conference attendees topped 1100 registrants and the post-conference equipment manufacturing demonstration boasted 550 attendees; 2018 stats are an impressive 10% increase over the 2017 conference hosted in Los Angeles!

Attendees traveled to Atlanta from 43 states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.  From an international perspective, every continent except Antartica was represented at the conference. 

The Composting Council Research and Education Foundation raised $63,000 at the conference for compost research. 

Conference success was the result of a growing compost manufacturing industry and team effort. According to USCC Executive Director Frank Franciosi:
“Atlanta is our most successful conference to date. We could not have done this without the help from our staff, exhibitors, sponsors, volunteers, media partners and the boots on the ground in Atlanta. A special thanks to Scott Jenkins, Doug Kunnemann, Gloria Hardegree, Boyd Leake, Wayne King, Laura Turner Seydel, Liza Milagro and Holly Elmore.”
Opening Plenary
Joe Lamp'l @ podium
After Frank's opening remarks, Atlanta's own Joe Lamp'l of Growing a Growing a Greener World welcomed the international audience to the conference. Following Joe, Kiss the Ground's The Compost Story video, launched in May 2017, was shared with the audience. 

The Compost Story funding was secured during the 2017 USCC Conference; thus, the 2018 screening validates the powerful USCC network. Kiss the Ground Co-Founder Finian Makepeace thanked those who supported the video launch with funds and in-kind donations. Within his closing comments, Finian announced the fall 2018 Kiss the Ground, the book publication along with a documentary under development.

During the plenary session, the first four Certified Compost Operation Managers (CCOM) were honored: Anthony Teachey (McGill), Nick Kranz (McGill), Erik Martig (LA Compost), and Denise Philips Winter (Synagro). In October 2016, the Certification Commission of the USCC formally launched the CCOM. 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MBS) General Manager and Green Sports Alliance Chair Scott Jenkins gave an excellent plenary keynote presentation, What do Sports Have to do with Composting?

Within his remarks, Scott expressed the potential to educate millions of fans at sporting events on sustainability and shared impressive stats:
  • 81% of sports fans express concern about the environment.
  • Environmentally concerned fans spend 20% more on tickets; less concerned fans spend $340 annually while fans more concerned about the environment spend $403 annually.
  • Scott Jenkins @ podium
  • 58% of the fans expect teams to use environmentally-friendly practices while 50% expect teams to operate LEED-certified facilities
Additionally, Scott shared alarming waste-related facts: 
  • 500 million - the number of plastic straws consumed daily in the U.S., enough to circle the Earth 2.5 times.
  • 100 billion - the number of plastic shopping bags used per year in the U.S.
  • 2.5 million - the number of plastic bottles discarded per hour in the U.S.
  • $165 billion - the value of food thrown out annually in the U.S.
  • 14% - the volume of plastic recycled in the U.S. 
  • $11 billion - the value of recyclable materials landfilled annually in the U.S. 
  • $306 billion - the 2017 record-breaking cost of climate and weather disasters in the U.S.
From a sports team | facility viewpoint, sustainability practices are excellent opportunities for bottom-line savings, partnership revenue, and increased brand value. In addition, a sustainability commitment fulfills social responsibilities and improves environmental performance. Scott emphasized owners may leverage brands to raise consumer awareness and drive change.

Throughout his presentation, Scott used examples from his tenure at Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, and the MBS, home of the Atlanta Falcons, to showcase successful implementation of zero waste and other sustainability practices.

Certified Compost Operation Mgrs
Scott ended his presentation by answering the presentation's title, What do Sports Have to do with Composting? According to Scott: 1> composting is key within the path to zero waste and 2> we can leverage the cultural and market influence of sports and entertainment to promote healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play.

Pre-conference, MBS hosted morning and afternoon tours at the only LEED Platinum Certified professional sports stadium in the world.

Compost's Empowering Role in Sustainable Soils
Atlanta-based Elemental Impact (Ei), a conference media partner, hosted the popular panel, Compost's Empowering Role in Sustainable Soils, to a near room capacity audience. Per the program, the following is the panel description:
Soil is the foundation of life. Healthy, vibrant soil eco-systems are the building blocks for healthy communities with effective stormwater management programs, solid erosion control systems, and nutritious urban food production. … and compost feeds the soil eco-systems!
Industry experts shared about compost’s empowering role in carbon sequestration / climate change, soil management systems grounded in solid economics, and green urban infrastructure.
In her panel introduction, Ei Founder Holly Elmore educated on the oxygen deficiency and desertification pending crisis. Though the situation is tragic, Holly explained the panel topics abounded in optimism with regenerative solutions for restoring the out-of-balance carbon cycles. The ZWA Blog article, Beyond Sustainability: Regenerative Solutions, mirrors the panel intention.

Frank Franciosi & Finian
Kiss the Ground Co-Founder Finian Makepeace began the panel presentations with New View, a perspective of the past environmental destruction, the current "sustainable" focus, and a regenerative future filled with the promise of ecosystem restoration. 

On his The Great Exchange slide, Finian gave a high-level synopsis of how soil is built from the air and the integrated roles photosynthesis, plant roots, soil microbes & enzymes, and mycorrhizal fungi play in a balanced, healthy environment. Introduced by Finian, increasing water infiltration rates in soils was a common topic thread within each presentation.

Next, Kellogg Garden Products (KGP) Director of Sustainability & Chairperson of the Board Kathy Kellogg Johnson grounded Finian's "big picture" with her Soil Life, beyond dirt! presentation. Kathy described compost as the Swiss army knife for environmental solutions, ranging from air pollution, ocean acidification, desertification, drought, floods, food shortages and many more.

Kathy Kellogg Johnson
As an almost century old, family-owned company, KGP is a pioneer in organic gardening, farming, landscape practices and grounds maintenance. Taking a holistic approach, KGP ensures their zero waste facilities operate with a minimum carbon footprint; in fact, KGP facilities operate at a negative Carbon Equivalent, taking into consideration energy savings (including solar power installations), buying RECYCLED, water conservation, waste recovery, displacement of chemical fertilizers, and water-savings with the use of organics in soil.

Kathy concluded her presentation with the four main organisms who provide nutrients and protection for maximum, healthy plant growth: bacteria, nematodes, fungi, and protozoa.

Industry icon and Ei Advisor Wayne King of ERTH Products followed Kathy with his Soil Strategies for the Urban Environment presentation. Highlights from Wayne's presentation were 1> Importance of an urban soil strategy, 2> the soil and water connection, 3> managing soil organic matter, 4>  engineered soils and landscape systems, and 5> examples of sustainable soil projects.

Further enforcing prominent points in Finian and Kathy's presentations, Wayne shared a quote from the National Resources Conservation Services, Managing Soil Organic Matter, The Key to Air & Water Quality, Technical Note 5:
“Managing for soil carbon can reduce the severity and costs of natural phenomena, such as drought, flood, and disease. 
In addition, increasing soil organic matter levels can reduce atmospheric CO2 levels  that contribute to climate change.”
Cory Rayburn & Holly Elmore
City of Atlanta, Watershed Manager II Cory Rayburn completed the panel with his impressive Building Green: Atlanta’s Green Infrastructure Approach presentation. In his opening topic, Cory educated on how urbanization causes flooding. Prevalent impervious surfaces result in low shallow stormwater infiltration and minimal deep infiltration. Thus, flooding may occur in stormy weather.

In 2017, the Watershed Management Green Infrastructure Task Force released the City of Atlanta Green Infrastructure Strategic Action Plan with a goal to reduce annual runoff by 225 million gallons. Beyond working with various City of Atlanta departments, the task force partners with an array of local non-profits and organizations including the Atlanta Beltline, the Conservation Fund, American Rivers, Invest Atlanta, Park Pride and others.

Throughout his impressive presentation, Cory gave visual examples of green infrastructure replacing gray infrastructure, which consists of pipes and relies on stormwater runoff versus infiltration. Cory showcased the Historic Fourth Ward green infrastructure project with stunning before | after images; photos from an April 2017 flooding event demonstrated the project's success. In addition, the project spurred $500 million in neighborhood redevelopment including apartments, condos and Ponce City Market.

Panel Q&A
Almost half of the audience remained post-panel for a question & answer session. 

Ei Supporter NaturTec sponsored the important panel - THANK YOU, Rick Lombardo, Vineet Dalal, and Miran Saric!

The panel PPT presentations are available for download on the Ei-Hosted Conference Panels page.

Awards Ceremony
The Annual Awards Ceremony was integrated within the closing plenary session and included USCC awards as well as other industry-related honors. The U.S. EPA Region 4 honored their Food Recovery Challenge award recipients during the session: Clemson University, Food Lion, and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority.

Emerging Composter Challenge
The University of Florida (UF) was the recipient of two prominent awards. Dr. Monica Ozores-Hampton, UF associate professor, Horticultural Sciences Department, received the 2017 Rufus Chaney Award for excellence in compost research and outstanding contribution to furthering the science of compost. The 2017 Composter of the Year award recipient was the UF Gainesville Student Compost Cooperative; Dr. Ann Wilkie, Professor, Bioenergy and Sustainable Technology at UF accepted the award on behalf of the cooperative.

Organized by the USCC Young Professionals, the Emerging Composter Challenge award winners were announced as the conference closed. The Younge Professionals is a group formed in 2013 to support composters under 40 years old and/or with less than five years of industry experience, 

Nine emerging composters competed in the challenge; the three finalists "pitched" their business at the beginning of the closing plenary session. As the conference closed, the winners were announced:
  • First Place ($5000) - Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli (Common Ground Compost)
  • Second Place ($1,500) - Kristen Baskin (Let Us Compost)
  • Third Place ($750) - Joel & Roo White (White's Environmental Services)
Wayne King with his family
Wayne King of ERTH Products received the Hi Kellogg Award for Outstanding Service to the Composting Industry. Over the decades, Wayne's unwavering commitment to compost manufacturing was a strong force in building a  substantial industry and establishing the USCC as a global leader. In the past, Wayne served as USCC President, USCC Board Member and in many other industry-related positions. Hi Kellogg's daughter Kathy Kellogg Johnson was in the audience to congratulate her close friend and award recipient. 

Closing Plenary Keynotes
Kathy Kellogg Johnson introduced her dear friend Laura Turner Seydel, Captain Planet Foundation Chair and Ted Turner's dynamic daughter, and joined Laura on stage for a conversation on an array of topics. 

Importance of school gardens:
Captain Planet Foundation's Project Learning Garden provides schools with outdoor learning laboratories. Gardens in the schoolyard are effective outdoor learning spaces for students to engage in inquiry-driven, project-based learning across all disciplines. Pollinator gardens accompany each of Project Learning Gardens.

Atlanta's commitment to urban agriculture
Kathy Kellogg Johnson &
Laura Turner Seydel
In 2016, the City of Atlanta was named a 100 Resilient Cities member, a program pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. Subsequently, the Office of Sustainability evolved into the Office of Resilience. Understanding the imperative role food access plays in a resilient city, the Director of Urban Agriculture position was created to support urban food production, assist with brownfield redevelopment, and help community members seeking to establish and sustain community gardens, farmers markets, and food hubs.

Impact of Turner Ranches on ecosystem regeneration
With approximately two million acres of personal and ranch land, Ted Turner is the second largest individual landholder in North America. Turner Enterprises manages over 51,000 bison across the various Turner ranches. By restoring bison to their native lands, Turner ranches actively regenerate the soils and related ecosystems.

The soil regeneration movement
In her closing remarks, Laura endorsed two books driving the regeneration movement including Kiss the Ground, the book mentioned in the opening plenary section. Additionally, Laura showcased Paul Hawkin's Draw Down,  a comprehensive plan proposed to reverse global warming. ... and Paul Hawkins sits on Kiss the Ground's Board of Directors.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Senior Sustainability Planner Liza Milagro closed the conference with a comprehensive overview of the busiest airport in the world's sustainability commitment, programs in-place and future plans.

For a pictorial conference recap, visit the Ei FB album, 2018 USCC Conference.

The record-breaking 2018 U.S. Composting Council Conference set the stage for an encore performance in Phoenix, AZ January 27 - 30, 2019 with the perfect theme: Renew & Regenerate!

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