I first met Janice Sitton during my tour of the San Francisco recycling center and transfer station, aka The Dump. Janice was one of the attendees, but she also seemed to know an awful lot about recycling and garbage already. She explained to me that she was a member of the Northern California Recycling Association and, like Doug Farquhar of Renovos, she had started her own consulting business, Good Green Graces, helping businesses and events become “green.”
A month after that tour, Janice arranged another tour, this time of the Jepson Prairie compost facility in Vacaville, California, and invited me along. I was happy to trudge with her, as well as a couple of employees from San Francisco Department of Environment, through the muck and mud to learn how the waste that’s discarded into the green bins in San Francisco is transformed into compost material for home gardens as well as commercial operations like local vineyards.
I’m always interested in idealistic people who are making a living doing what they love, so I asked Janice to share how she got started in environmental consulting work. She told me that she first got involved with the green movement in Asheville, NC while working for a green event production company called Seven-Star, Inc., which handles the operations and booth sales for large events like Green Festivals and the Green Business Conference. She says that working for this company
opened up a whole new world for me. Although I had recycled since my college days, I had no idea there was a green movement, or what being sustainable meant. I learned quickly, and soon started incorporating sustainable practices into my own life.
Eventually, she tired of event work and moved to San Francisco to be at the forefront of recycling and resource management. Unfortunately,
I soon found I had vastly underestimated this field and how I could contribute to it with relatively very little knowledge of how the industry worked. When I was not able to get a job in the industry, I volunteered as a board member for NCRA, the Northern California Recycling Association.
Through my work with NCRA, I got involved in researching a story about bottle bill legislation in Connecticut. The politics of the industry were fascinating. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about bottle bills (redemption programs for bottles & cans) and recycling. The more I read, the more I realized just how many materials were not being recycled, but wasted instead. I started having dreams every night of piles and piles of waste, of blue bins and green bins. After a few weeks of these dreams and the fact that my interest was still growing versus waning, I realized I had found my passion in life. All I wanted to do was reduce waste.
Janice started her own business, Good Green Graces, so she could devote all her time and energy toward reducing waste. She’s helped the Craigslist Foundation Nonprofit Boot Camp event at UC Berkeley (2007) achieve an 85% diversion rate; achieved a 69% diversion rate at a Bluegrass event that was a true learning experience; is currently assisting the SF Farmers Market (CUESA), which will launch their Waste Wise program (collecting compost and recycling at their Tues & Sat markets) during the week of Earth Day; and also works as an intern for StopWaste.Org (the organization that coordinates Oakland’s recycling and waste diversion programs) helping out with market development and learning a lot in the process.
Almost seven months later, I am still as passionate about waste reduction, and now waste prevention, as I was when I started my business. I have expanded my services, and now help businesses and special events prevent and divert waste through strategic purchasing and planning, and through composting and recycling collection. I especially enjoy the training and education part of what I do. I find people are much more likely to recycle and compost once they understand why materials go where they do.
There is a huge demand for recycling and composting, but even in California, we are still landfilling roughly 50% of our discards, which are really our resources. Even when we recycle, the majority of our materials are shipped overseas to be reprocessed because we don’t have enough infrastructure locally to convert the materials here. So, I am also turning my attention toward market development of recycling based businesses. In addition to preventing waste, I want to ensure the US has the means to reuse its own resources rather than shipping them away.
The enthusiasm of people like Janice is infectious to me and leaves me with a sense of hope for our planet’s future. Of course, regardless of whether or not the activists and green business people of this world are ultimately successful in restoring the health of our Earth, the fact that they are willing to dive into life and follow their passions in the present moment is what’s truly important.
Vanessa Farquharson, in the final post of her year-long Green As A Thistle project wrote, “A lot of greenies take themselves way too seriously. There is so much doomsday talk out there, so much arguing about whose fault global warming is, and so much repressed hostility between tree-huggers and car-drivers, it’s ridiculous.” That may be the case, but not with the folks I’ve written about this week: Benn from ChicoBags, Doug from Renovos and BuyGreen, and Janice of Good Green Graces. They are showing that green can be fun and effective and profitable and sometimes have a sense of humor.
There are a couple more green business people I want to write about next week, particularly a woman in Canada who has one of the best business practices I’ve ever heard of. Stay tuned.