Jeremy Kranowitz is dedicated to making the country’s food and transportation systems more sustainable.
Kranowitz is the executive director of Sustainable America, a nonprofit with a mission to make the nation’s food and fuel systems more efficient and resilient. It was founded in 2012 by Nick Tiller and since its creation has launched initiatives encouraging energy conservation, food waste reduction and sustainable gardening and farming.
Before joining the Sustainable America team in 2012, Kranowitz worked at management consultancy McKinsey and Co. and The Keystone Center where he focused on energy, environmental and education issues.
Kranowitz also helped start Forest Trends, an international sustainable forestry nonprofit.
Kranowitz will be speaking about ending food waste at large venues at WasteExpo this June as part of the Food Recovery Forum, and Waste360 recently spoke with him about his role at Sustainable America and the organization’s food and fuel waste efforts.
Waste360: Can you give a little bit of background on Sustainable America and your role within the organization?
Jeremy Kranowitz: We do a lot of public education efforts, which is done through on–the-ground efforts to engage with the public and different types of media efforts like websites.
The other thing we do is very unusual for a nonprofit: We find hundreds of early-stage companies that are innovating in either food or fuel sustainability, and we invest equity in a handful of them each year to support the ecosystems for entrepreneurs and to encourage the marketplace to innovate and find big solutions.
I have been the executive director since the beginning, and I am responsible for our overall strategic efforts and direction. Sustainable America was founded in 2012, and we received our nonprofit status from the IRS in 2013. We are fairly young, but we have already done a number of different efforts around the country that have been fairly significant. We have worked with big events, for example, and I think the work that we have done with NASCAR around fan engagement and waste diversion at big events is going to be the topic for the expo in June.
Waste360: How does Sustainable America find the companies that it invests equity in?
Jeremy Kranowitz: We have people who are coming to us, but a much larger number of companies that we find come from efforts that we’re doing at university accelerators where there are early-stage companies that are just launching. Many of those companies often have some help from or influence from a local university. We also go to entrepreneur conferences and events where there are a lot of these folks coming together for a variety of reasons.
We also have sessions with other investors. I hate to use “Shark Tank” as a reference, but there are “Shark Tank-y” types of events where there are a number of potential investors sitting around a table and one to five companies pitching their ideas. It’s never something where at the end of it all one lucky investor gets to walk away and marry the company that is pitching. There are instances where we will find an interesting company at one of those sessions and follow up with them to learn more.
There are also a number of different databases that are attracting different early-stage companies that are trying to raise funds to advance its product or company. Last year, we looked at about 200 early-stage companies and we invested in five.
Waste360: What resources does the organization provide for people both in the industry and outside the industry?
Jeremy Kranowitz: For the people who are in it, we have found that if you go to a big event there are folks who know that throwing everything into the trash isn’t ideal and that there are alternatives, but they really don’t even know how to begin. We help them think about a holistic picture to make their food operations more sustainable, which could start with figuring out some source production opportunities. We get them thinking about ways they can optimize food that can be donated and what their composting opportunities are.
We have also found that there have been a lot of opportunities to enhance recycling efforts that might already be underway. Whether those efforts are for cans, bottles or cardboard, there is always room for improvement.
A large event can generate tons and tons of organic waste that can be diverted from the landfill, but on a smaller scale we have also done work with a hedge fund in Connecticut that has several hundred employees at its own foodservice. More recently, we have been in deep discussion with a law firm in Washington, D.C., that has 1,000 employees. The firm has compostable cups, plates, silverware and trays, but it isn’t separating the items and sending it to a compost facility. The company also has refrigerated drawers filled with 4-oz. water bottles in every conference room, but it is doing a poor job recycling them. We have found that there are a lot of opportunities there for people to improve their efforts.
Waste 360: Can you talk a little bit about Sustainable America’s idling and food waste campaigns?
Jeremy Kranowitz: We think a lot about things that we throw away, but we also think about waste on the transportation side. We try to figure out ways that we can reduce fuel waste and by looking at statistics from the department of energy and some other sources, it’s clear that Americans waste about 12 million gallons of fuel a day. A lot of that comes from trucks idling throughout the workday at a loading dock or a black car that’s idling waiting to pick someone up at an airport, for example. Even with gas at $2 a gallon, we are still talking about $24 million that we are burning out of our pockets.
We’ve worked with organizations that have fleets to help identify what the opportunities are for fuel savings. For example, we worked with a company that was delivering linens and uniforms. The company had about 75 trucks in its fleet, and we monitored the driving habits of its drivers for a little while and quickly determined that there were huge opportunities. At each restaurant where linens and uniforms were being delivered, the drivers would leave the truck running while they ran into the restaurant. By providing some driver education and incentives and helping drivers use advanced GPS devices, we were able to identify $1,000 in savings per truck per year. With 75 trucks in the fleet, we helped them find $75,000 in fuel savings in one year. That’s real money! For a for-profit company, the incentive was really quite clear that they could hire another full-time employee or two, add more money in the manager’s pocket, add incentives for the drivers or a combo of all the above to make everybody better off.
We think there are actually even bigger opportunities in some other places. For example, food banks are running refrigerated trucks around town all day picking up and delivering food. This is a place where some of the investments that we have made cross over into some of the education work that we can do.
One of the companies that we invested in puts solar panels on the roof of a truck to help power things like emergency lights and refrigeration. We’re now trying to work in conjunction with a number of food banks around the country to help get these solar panels installed on trucks so that the food banks can be more efficient at their main mission, which is feeding the hungry. We would love to help Feeding America become more operationally efficient so the organization can feed more people. If we could do that, we could help reduce fuel waste.
We also created a website called SharedEarth.com, which is a way of matching people who have wasted space, such as a backyard garden area, with people who may lack access to land and want to farm or grow food.
In addition to those campaigns, we have IValueFood.com, which looks at food waste from a consumer education perspective. The website informs people about how much food gets wasted and what they can do to take action to reduce the amount of food that they are throwing away.
Waste360: What are the organization’s food and fuel sustainability goals for 2016?
Jeremy Kranowitz: One of the things that we started to do last year was really focus on some big sporting events. There are some arenas and sports teams that do a good job around food waste and recycling efforts, but many still do not. There’s a lot more attention on food waste issues these days, and we are helping these arenas and teams get on the path to have a more sustainable system. We want to expand some of the work that we started to do last year.
From a media and awareness perspective, there is a lot of attention on these issues that we have found on both the east coast and the west coast. There are people who are passionate about sustainability and food issues in particular. That choir is primarily made up of women between the ages of 25 and 44. A lot of the efforts being done are targeted to that choir to get them smarter and more engaged. I think that is good and important, but we are really trying to reach other audiences.
We are starting to create what I am hoping will be a series of mini documentaries around food waste in 2016. The documentaries would look at food wasted on the farm, on transit, in grocery stores, in restaurants, in our refrigerators at home, etc. They would focus ultimately on what happens when we throw it all away.
The idea is to bring together athletes, singers, comics and other entertainers who have different audiences than just the celebrity chef and people who watch the Food Network. We filmed the first documentary a couple weeks ago in Hawaii with Jack Johnson, a singer and avid composter who teaches classes on composting at local elementary schools in Hawaii.
The second video that I have lined up in terms of stars but not funding is with Pepa from Salt- N-Pepa about food that goes bad in your refrigerator. I was at a dinner party last year and met Sandra Denton (Pepa). We started talking about food waste and she got into an argument with her husband about when to throw milk away. I asked if I could bring a film crew and chef to their house to go through their refrigerator to explain the great stuff you can make before just tossing things in the trash. She agreed so I hope we can get that in the works next.
Those are two big efforts that we want to do on the education side that could potentially reach hundreds of thousands of people. These efforts will make people more aware of these issues and give them tools through the websites that we have developed to take action and make a difference.