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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Decade of Impact: History & Background

The first in a three-article series celebrating Ei's ten-year anniversary.

On February 5 Elemental Impact (Ei) celebrated ten years of making an impact in an array of industries and communities. In 2010 Ei was incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit to serve as the home for the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ.)

Beginning with the ZWZ, Ei initiatives epitomized the following mantra:

Ei is a creator, an incubator. 
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done. 
Ei brings the possible out of impossible. 
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

Ei Founder Holly Elmore's eclectic career path was at the foundation of the successful 2009 ZWZ launch by the Green Foodservice Alliance (GFA.) Holly founded the GFA in 2008 within the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) umbrella.

A valuable, eclectic career path
After nearly seven years in the corporate arena as an auditor and CPA at Arthur Andersen followed by Controller for the Southeast Division at Trammell Crow Residential, Holly followed her entrepreneurial spirit. In late 1988 Holly created Executive Catering & Events (EC&E), a prominent corporate-catering company, and later operated two restaurants.

For eight years, EC&E was the exclusive caterer for the Atlanta German Consul General and catered 100% of the German dignitary events during the 1996 Centennial Olympics hosted in Atlanta. Additionally, EC&E was the preferred caterer for the Canadian Consul General for six years, the French American Chamber for five years, and many other international government offices and organizations. Beyond the international market, EC&E maintained a high-profile corporate clientele.

In the early 1990's Holly served on the inaugural Atlanta Restaurant Council (ARC) Board; the ARC eventually segued into the GRA, a state affiliate of the National Restaurant Association (NRA.) Holly's in-depth foodservice-industry connections and expertise were instrumental to the successful ZWZ launch as well as the Chefs' Tour & Dinner Series.

Holly & Will at WOP
Once EC&E's fifteen-year tenure was complete, Holly made a commitment to create a flexible and fluid lifestyle where she worked from home on humanitarian-focused endeavors with reasonable travel. As a subcontractor, Holly served as the Wine South Sales & Marketing Director. Wine South was the premier wine event in the Southeast and owned by The Wine Report.

While at Wine South, Holly met Will Harris, fifth-generation proprietor of White Oak Pasture (WOP). During this time frame, Will was transforming his South Georgia cattle ranch into a regenerative agribusiness with numerous livestock species raised holistically and harvested respectfully on the farm.

The 2011 IMPACT Magazine article, White Oak Pastures - Dignity & Respect @ Its Core, articulates WOP's history and transformation into an impressive regenerative agribusiness. Holly's close relationship with WOP was instrumental in numerous GFA and Ei successes.

Post-Wine South, Holly served as the Director of Sales for several years at Restaurant Forum, the official publication for the GRA. The Restaurant Forum affiliation led to Holly working as a GRA subcontractor. During her GRA tenure, Holly created the North Georgia Chapter and the Off-Premises Catering, the Chefs, and the Local Sustainable & Green (LS&G) Round Tables. Additionally, Holly served as the official liaison between the GRA and the Atlanta Chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ATL ACF.)

The LS&G Round Table was the precursor to the GFA.

From Round Table to Movement
In 2006 - 2008, the local, sustainable food movement was in its infancy. For the second LS&G Round Table meeting hosted at the Four Seasons a crowd of 100+ guests attended, including prominent chefs, local farmers, then Deputy Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture Terry Coleman, and associates from Emory, the Center for Disease Control and the City of Atlanta.

As the meeting closed, GRA CEO Ron Wolf announced the LS&G Round Table was more than a round table; it was a movement. Within weeks, the GFA was formed under Holly's leadership.

Dept of Ag Commissioner Tommy Irwin,
Chef Michael Deihl, Governor Sonny
Perdue, Deputy Commissioner
Terry Coleman @ luncheon
With her strong chef connections, Holly assisted with the inaugural Georgia Grown Show hosted by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. For several years, Holly worked closely with Terry and his team on building the Georgia Grown program along with other endeavors. During this time frame, Holly introduced the Georgia Organics team to Terry and his associates.

In recognition of the Georgia State Legislature Resolution honoring the joint accomplishments of the GFA | GRA, Georgia Organics, and the ATL ACF, the Georgia Department of Agriculture hosted a meet and greet luncheon for state legislatures on March 20, 2008. In addition to a strong legislature attendance, Governor Sonny Perdue joined the festivities. Currently, Sonny Perdue is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

In his then capacity as President of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, current Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black was an active member of the GFA Producers Task Force Advisory Council. Thus, Ei maintains a strong connection to the Department of Agriculture, which is beneficial to Ei Era of Regeneration projects.

Mere weeks after forming, the Green Foodservice Alliance co-hosted the inaugural Green Restaurant Revolution - A Conversation with Ted Turner event at the The Carter Center. From the official  press release:
Teed Turner a
On Monday, March 31, over 130 chefs, restaurateurs and industry partners attended the Green Restaurant Revolution – A Conversation with Ted Turner, hosted by the Georgia Restaurant Association and the new Green Foodservice Alliance. This special breakfast featured Ted Turner - environmentalist, media entrepreneur, and the founder and chairman of Ted's Montana Grill, as well as his business partner, George McKerrow, founder, president and CEO of Ted’s Montana Grill.
The discussion was moderated by 11Alive News reporter Denis O’Hayer and focused on ways members of the hospitality industry can work together to impact the future through environmental stewardship and local sustainability. Proceeds from the event benefit the new Georgia Restaurant Association Scholarship for Georgia State University's Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality.
March 2008 was an empowering month for the newly formed GFA. 

Chef s' Tours & Dinners
In July 2008 the GFA embarked on orchestrating the Chefs' Tours of local farms, dairies and fisheries. The tours were in partnership with the ATL ACF. As the tours aligned with the recently launched Georgia Grown program, the Georgia Department of Agriculture was supportive of and participated in the tours.

As the local & sustainable movement was in its infancy, the tours were novel and a treat for all involved. ... and what a lovely avenue to celebrate Atlanta Chefs as well as local cuisine!

White Oak Pastures
The July 29, 2008 WOP Chefs' Tour was the first tour and celebrated the new onsite abattoir (slaughterhouse). WOP cattle are bred, born, live and gift their lives on the farm without the stressful transport to a USDA-approved slaughterhouse.

WOP Chefs' Tour group photo
Photo credit: Christy Cook
Along with his daughter Jenni Harris, Will was the most gracious host. After an overview tour of the fields to understand the farm practices and meet the cattle, the chefs witnessed the humane-slaughter process. No cameras were permitted during the slaughter.

Afterwards, Buckhead Beef master butcher Manny Vizcaino, along with WOP staff, broke down a side of beef into usable cuts. The chefs were enthralled with the process.

Will treated the chefs to a wonderful lunch where stellar hamburgers were the star and ample beer and other adult beverages flowed.

After a series of group photos, the chefs boarded the bus for the infamous return ride to Atlanta. What happened on the bus stayed on the bus! Yet the photo section gives a glimpse of the fun times enjoyed by all!

Manny breaking down
a side of beef
Photo credit: Christy Cook
Holly's FB album, Chefs' Farm Tours: White Oak Pastures, gives a pictorial recap of the fabulous day. Photos are compliments of Christy Cook.

When the FB album published recently, Lanier Islands Senior Food & Beverage Director Michael Klein validated the important role the GFA played in the Chefs' Tours with his comment:
"That was a great day, Holly! Just a perfect melding of chefs, restaurateurs, advocates, enthusiasts and farmers. Thanks for all you continue to do to support all of us."
Following the WOP Chef's Tour in July, the chefs reunited in the fall for an amazing dinner hosted at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts (LCB) facility in Atlanta. The dinner was presented by Restaurant Forum, the ATL ACF, and the GFA.

Chefs Mihoko Obunai | Joe Truex (repast), Robert Gerstenecker (Four Seasons) and Michael Diehl (East Lake Golf Club) collaborated on a phenomenal menu sourced with local produce and protein.

To celebrate the summer tour, Robert prepared WOP beef cheeks braised in Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon - it was Divine!

Diners included over 30 prominent chefs and a guest along with sponsor and host representatives. Culinary students assisted the chefs in kitchen prep, entree plating, and serving the prestigious crowd.

Produced by Restaurant Forum, the 2008 Chefs' Dinner - WOP Tour video is an excellent pictorial recap of the amazing dinner.

Sweet Grass Dairy
For the 2009 farm tour, the chefs chose to visit Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, GA where the livestock gifted their milk, versus their lives, for the farm's superb Georgia Grown products.

Sweet Grass Dairy is a South Georgia award-winning dairy where cheeses are handcrafted and distributed nationally.

Chef Micah Willex
with goats
Photo credit: Suzanne Welander
After meeting the friendly, free-ranging goats, owners Jessica and Jeremy Little treated the chefs to an educational tour of the dairy operations and cheese-making process. Other South Georgia farmers who provide various products and protein for the chefs joined the day's festivities.

Prior to departing back to Atlanta, the chefs enjoyed a lovely lunch made with local ingredients, including ultra-local cheese.

The Chefs' Sweet Grass Dairy Tour was a fantastic day of education, fun and simple joy. Holly's FB album, 2009 Chefs' Tour: Sweet Grass Dairy, gives a pictorial recap of the fabulous day. Photos are compliments of Rachel Keller and Suzanne Welander.

Following the spring Chefs' Tour of Sweet Grass Dairy, the chefs along with friends and sponsors reunited at LCB for a festive Chefs' Dinner featuring local food sources, amazing wine, and perfect camaraderie. The dinner format was similar to the 2008 dinner.

Another stellar team of chefs collaborated on a five-course dinner plus appetizers hosted at LCB and presented by Restaurant Forum, the ATL ACF, and the GFA. The team included Hector Santiago (Pura Vida), Gerry Klaskala (Aria), Kevin Rathbun (Kevin Rathbun Steak), and Thomas Numprasong (Canoe.)

In honor of the spring Chefs' Farm Tour, Sweet Grass Dairy donated a variety of their lovely cheeses for a delightful dinner course.

Chefs Michael Deihl &
Kevin Rathbun
Photo credit: Leonardo Ruscitto
During the closing remarks with the culinary students, the brave student Karie Brown Weinreich​ BUSTED Kevin for breaking his sauce. It was perfect and delivered with superb humor! Thomas was impressed with Karie and subsequently hired her as a pastry chef at Canoe!

Holly's FB album, 2009 Chefs' Dinner, gives a pictorial recount of the dinner compliments of event photographer Leonardo Ruscitto.

The Restaurant Forum video, 2009 Chefs' Dinner, celebrates the spectacular event.

Savannah
In April 2010, Ei continued the GFA Chefs' Tour & Dinner Series with a final event in Savannah, GA. Rather than a one-day tour followed by a dinner several months later, the Savannah event was a two-night affair filled with a day of tours and dinner at a local restaurant.

University of Georgia (UGA) Marine Extension Service Seafood Specialist Tori Stivers inspired the Savannah tour in her conversations with Holly regarding oyster-shell recycling. From these conversations, the Savannah Chefs' Tours & Dinner was created with strong support by the UGA Marine Extension Services.

Chefs digging for clams
Photo credit: Leonardo Ruscitto
In the morning, UGA marine biologists hosted the chefs on the Bulldog Research Vessel where the chefs trawled for shrimp and other marine wildlife. Later in the day, the chefs got "down & dirty" as they dug for clams on the Savannah Clam Company's leased mud flats. Harvested clams, as well as shrimp from the morning adventure, were served at an astounding evening dinner hosted at Local 11Ten.

Holly's FB album, 2010 Savannah Chefs' Tours & Dinner, gives a pictorial recount of the dinner compliments of event photographer Leonardo Ruscitto.

The Chefs' Dinner & Tour Series was integral to the GFA's many successes and accomplishments. Relationships made while working closely with the chefs was key to the February 2009 ZWZ launch as well as to important work within the Ei Era of Regeneration.

Green Foodservice Alliance
While projects within the GFA Producers Task Force partnered with Georgia Organics, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and/or ATL ACF, seminars, pilots, and initiatives within the Green Task Force were in partnership with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Sustainability Division (GDNR SD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 (EPA R4). Additionally, the GFA worked closely with the Georgia Recycling Coalition (GRC) and Atlanta Recycles (AR.)

In March 2009 Gas South validated the GFA's important work with a $10,000 Sapling sponsorship. Additionally, Gas South General Manager Business & Government Markets Chris Coan chaired the Energy & Technology Committee.

Website
Via Coca-Cola's sponsorship and a powerful team of in-kind partners, a simply gorgeous, highly functioning website was launched to document and showcase GFA's important work. Lee Thompson with Thompson Creative spearheaded the image design and creative component. While Maurgood crafted the content strategy, Holly wrote the site copy and navigation outline.

The site's main components were Water, Energy Efficiency, and Recycling. The ZWZ as well as the GFA Green Certification program were housed in their own site sections. It was truly a magnificent website that was ahead of its time.

Seminars
Throughout 2009 U.S. Foodservice and Royal Cup Coffee sponsored a series of three GFA seminars introducing new-found sustainability topics within the hospitality industry. The seminars were in partnership with the GDNR SD and EPA R4 and supported by the City of Atlanta, Atlanta Conventions & Visitors Bureau, Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, GRA, GRC and AR.

Seminars were hosted at the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) and the cost was a donation to the ACFB. The three seminars were well attended with a strong cross section of industries represented. Below are the three seminars:
Stimulate Energy Savings
Seminar invitation
  • Waste or Product, February 24, 2009: With a permitted food-composting facility in Georgia, composting of organic residuals is now a viable option for the foodservice industry.  Attend the seminar and learn from the experts the options available to compost food residuals.
  • CARBON WHAT?, June 17, 2009: Learn from the experts the answers to these questions: What is carbon's impact on the environment? How is carbon generated? What is a carbon footprint? How do I calculate my carbon footprint? What are carbon credits? How do I generate carbon credits? Should I purchase carbon credits?
  • Stimulate Energy Savings, October 29, 2009: Energy Savings Abound. What tax advantages and other benefits are available to your business for green efforts? How can energy-efficient design help you save on BOTH utility bills and tax bills? How to design a plan to exchange into energy-efficient buildings, equipment and fixtures? What state and federal grants are available based on the ARRA? Learn the answers to these questions and much more!
GFA Green Certification
Working closely with GFA Board member Debby Cannon, Georgia State University School of Hospitality Director, along with program manager Marina Bryant and Ted's Montana Grill, the GFA Green Restaurant Certification was launched in the fall of 2009.

Fifth Group's ECCO restaurant located in Midtown was the first restaurant to receive the green certification. As a strong GFA supporter, ECCO hosted the ZWZ-formation meetings in their dining room prior to service hours.

ZWZ Launch
In February 2009, the ZWZ launched in Atlanta at a press conference lead by Stanley Meiburg, Acting Regional Director of the EPA R4. With impressive media responses, Atlanta received national recognition as a pioneer city in sustainability. The Ei Media page details the many press listings, including a CNN story and New York Times front-page article.

The story begins in the summer of 2008 when Atlanta lost a convention to another city as the client perceived the other city “greener.” A convention-driven city, Atlanta was ready to embrace “green practices” in the downtown-convention district; businesses pledged to implement zero-waste initiatives. Working in collaboration with AR, the GRC, the GDNR SD and the EPA R4, the ZWZ Criteria was developed, participants recruited, and the ZWZ-Downtown Atlanta launched. Laura Turner Seydel was the ZWZ Chair.

The formal ZWZ definition: a collective gathering of community working together on changing current disposal methods of consumed products.

ZWZ Team at the
ZWZ-Buckhead launch
A zone was a defined geographic area or a foodservice category with unique characteristics impacting ZWZ Criteria. Territory zones partnered with a local business association and mirrored the association’s district; territory zones created route density for ZWZ suppliers. A category example was the Off-Premises Caterers zone where food is transported to an off-site location.

The foodservice industry, the second largest private-sector industry, served as a catalyst for change in standard corporate-operating practices. Government, non-profit, trade association and private-enterprise stakeholders developed an ACTION plan that made good business sense for the entire value chain, including the community and the environment.

The ZWZ goal was to divert the maximum amount of recyclable items and organic matter from landfills and back into the production cycle.

ZWZ Participants pledged to implement and maintain the following criteria:
  • Spent grease collection for the production of bio-fuel.
  • Common recyclables (cardboard, paper, glass, plastic, and metals) collection for recycling.
  • Excess food donation in accordance with the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.
  • Food residuals from preparation | service and excess food not compliant with the Food Donation Act collection for composting or other state-permitted destinations.
In addition to the inaugural downtown zone, in 2009 ZWZ were launched in the Midtown and Buckhead business districts as well as with Off-Premises Caterers.

The Turner Foundation funded the ZWZ with a $10,000 grant in the fall 2009.

Awards
As an industry forerunner with the ZWZ launch, the GFA received numerous awards in 2009 including Atlanta Business Chronicle Environmental Awards Finalist, Industry Honoree at the Bauder Black Tie Design Show and Portfolio Exposition, and ATL ACF Chapter Recognition at the annual gala.


Strengthening OSWER Partnership Award
The U.S. EPA presented the ZWZ Atlanta Team with the Strengthening OSWER Partnership Award at a September 30, 2009 joint EPA and U.S. Composting Council luncheon. OSWER stands for The Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

The award was for demonstrating extraordinary cooperation, collaboration and support in strengthening a public/private partnership that is diverting a tremendous amount of recoverable products from landfills and supports the city of Atlanta in developing marketing edge for future convention business.

Plaques and certifications were presented at the luncheon. 

2009 GRACE Innovator of the Year Award
GFA General Counsel Charles Hoff &
Holly at the GRACE Awards
Photo credit: Leonardo Ruscitto
On November 30, 2009 Holly was honored at the 2009 GRACE Gala with the Innovator of the Year Award. GRACE Awards are the GRA Crystal of Excellence Awards.

The Innovator of the Year is selected by industry peers and is a visionary leader who demonstrates exemplary talent and promise for the future in the foodservice industry. The ZWZ as well as the Chefs' Tour & Dinner Series were major contributors to Holly’s prestigious award.

Restaurant Forum featured full-page articles on each GRACE Award category winners, including the 2009 Innovator of the Year Award. Filmed by Leonardo Ruscitto, Holly's acceptance speech is recorded in the 2009 GRACE Awards video.

New Beginnings
On December 23, 2009, Holly was informed that the GRA Board found great value in the GFA and would continue to support the organization. Yet, the ZWZ did not align within the GRA parameters; Holly could take the ZWZ and depart the GRA. 

Thus, the doorway opened for the formation of Elemental Impact, a 501(c)3 non-profit independent of the GRA. Thought startling as the time, the GRA's decision proved highly beneficial and maximized the ZWZ impact.

While compiling FB albums to document GFA activities for this article, Holly shared memorable images on social media.  Contributors to the many GFA successes shared powerful commentary via post comments.

Suzanne Welander, Georgia Organics Marketing Director during the GFA days, wrote, 
Great to see Ei owning all of that excellent groundwork that's benefited so many.
The Ei FB album, A Decade of Impact: history & background, gives a pictorial recount of the empowering GFA work and events that built a solid foundation for Ei's formation.

The two sequel articles, A Decade of Impact: Era of Recycling Refinement and A Decade of Impact: Era of Regeneration & Beyond continue the Ei ten-year anniversary celebration by chronicling Ei successes, triumphs, and accomplishments.

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