November 18, 2011 | General

Editorial: Transformation In Action

BioCycle November 2011, Vol. 52, No. 11, p. 4

BioCycle just held its 11th Annual Conference on Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling in Madison, Wisconsin. The Opening Plenary featured Ben Brancel, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; Joe Parisi, County Executive of Dane County (WI); and Carol and Eddie Sturman, founders of Sturman Industries. As moderator of the plenary, I wanted to prepare a few opening remarks that linked together what each speaker would be addressing. After a bit of pondering, the links became obvious.
The State of Wisconsin has been an early adopter and advocate of utilizing anaerobic digestion as a way to manage agricultural, industrial and municipal organic waste streams through supportive policies, funding and thinking outside of the box when it comes to stimulating biogas markets and technology development. In a nutshell, the state has helped to create a landscape for innovation and change.
Dane County is a living example of tapping renewable energy from organics recycling to help solve an environmental challenge (excess nutrients in the watershed) that was posing a threat to one of the county’s largest industries – dairy farming. Working in partnership with the private sector, Dane County is now home to a community anaerobic digestion facility that is processing manure from three dairy farms. A second community digester is in development. In a nutshell, the county represents the critical ‘boots-on-the ground’ role (i.e., making it happen) that local government plays in the transition to sustainability.
Sturman Industries’ smart engine technologies – described during Carol and Eddie Sturman’s keynote address – represent the market transformation that needs to, and will, happen to ensure sustainable management of natural resources. Their smart engines do not require a wholesale change in mobility and stationary power generation (see “Making The World A Smarter Engine,” September 2011). The Sturmans have figured out how to modify the internal combustion engine to run efficiently and cleanly using a wide spectrum of alternative fuels, including biogas. In a nutshell, Sturman Industries has transformational technologies that are market-ready (and already widely used in diesel engines).
The link between our opening plenary speakers is “transformation” – in public policies, infrastructure and goods and services. And over the several days of the conference -during presentations, conversations with participants and trade show exhibitors, and on the tours – we were witnessing transformation in action. And we didn’t get the sense that these transformations were putting people out of work, prohibitively costly or requiring major changes in how we live and conduct business. Too often, we hear that a step in an environmentally positive and sustainable direction is a surefire way to kill jobs and enterprise. If anything, the opposite is true. Almost every project described has a measurable payback on the investment and a reduction in operating costs – while meeting regulatory requirements. And what is incredibly cool are all the education and job training opportunities related to this transformation – and the creation of jobs and profits across all sectors of the industry.
When we got back from Madison, we immediately went into final production of this November issue. Over and over, working on articles and news items we are seeing transformation in action – from food recovery and composting in San Diego (page 18) to Salish Soils in Sechelt, British Columbia (p. 33) to the East Bay Municipal Utilities District’s expansion of its food waste codigestion program (p. 39).

Yes, transformation is happening. And it is very exciting to witness.

Nora Goldstein

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