Editorial: Getting It

Nora Goldstein, BioCycle

Nora Goldstein
BioCycle May 2013, Vol. 54, No. 5, p.4

The journey to achieving permanent sustainability — where adoption of sustainable practices is not done on a whim and subject to a return to the old ways — is both exciting and frustrating. Every issue of BioCycle, starting with the very first one in Spring of 1960, has featured the exciting parts of this long journey. Our editorial mission is to showcase programs, projects, policies, technologies and more that provide tools to achieve permanent sustainability. And there is never a shortage of examples to showcase!

Articles and news items in this May issue of BioCycle are cases in point. The Community Kitchen Academy in Burlington, Vermont, started by the Vermont Foodbank, utilizes highly perishable donated foods to create meals for area food pantries and teach culinary skills that result in foodservice jobs and college credits. Michigan State University is developing an integrated biorefinery) that is using campus food waste diversion, anaerobic digestion, algae cultivation and eventually production of cellulosic ethanol to enhance the economic and environmental performance of organic waste management.  In the United Kingdom, in the last year alone, over 30 nonwater industry AD plants have started operating, processing a wide range of source separated organic residuals.

A lead news item in BioCycle World highlights a just-released study from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) — “Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs, & Protect the Bay” — which found that 1,400 new full-time jobs could be supported in the state for every million tons of yard trimmings and food scraps converted into compost that is used locally.  “On a dollar-per-capital-investment basis, the number of jobs supported by composting versus disposal options was even more striking — 3 times more than landfills, and 17 times more than incinerators,” says Brenda Platt, lead author of Pay Dirt and director of ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e project.

In Anaerobic Digest, we report that the Board of Commissioners of Dane County, Wisconsin approved the final agreements needed to proceed with a second community anaerobic digester in the county (the first began operating in 2011). The new digester will take manure from three farms — a total of about 2,400 to 2,500 cows — and convert it into a 2 MW project with the electricity sold to Madison Gas and Electric. The agreements also formalize private ownership and operations of the facility with Gundersen Health System, which set a corporate sustainability goal of being 100 percent energy independent by 2014. This includes renewable energy from biogas. Why is Dane County so involved? Because dairy farming is a $700-million a year industry in the county that supports 4,000 jobs, and nutrient runoff from dairy farms is a major contributor to growth of green algae and other weeds in Dane County’s many lakes.

Taken together, these examples illustrate that people are “getting it” — getting that the environment, the economy and communities grow stronger together. If the highly perishable food weren’t rescued through the Community Kitchen Academy, it would end up in the landfill generating methane. Gundersen Health Care can achieve its sustainability commitment, and Dane County can achieve its goals of sustaining the dairy industry and improving water quality at the same time. This is permanent sustainability. This is exciting!

So what is frustrating on this journey? That too many people aren’t getting it, especially our elected officials at the national level. As a nation, we continue to give lip service to sustainability, but take minimal substantive action to make it permanent. The solution? Keep making these exciting things happen, keep generating the buzz and, of course, make sure we are tracking what you do in BioCycle!

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