From Waste to Value — Flip our Thinking

When we can “Flip our Thinking” and turn things, that were once considered waste, into something of value, we can quite literally change our world for the better.

A great example that I’ve been sharing with people lately is the thinking around Garbage trucks. Have you ever been awaken by the squeaking brakes of a garbage truck early in the morning?

According to this article: garbage trucks: “They are burning 14,000 gallons a year, and chewing up their brakes every three months. Doing on average of 130 miles day with 1,000 hard stops, drivers are going full throttle, full brakes 1,000 times a day.”

At first glance, this is WASTE, pure and simple. And yet, Ian Wright, CEO of California-based Wrightspeed, and one of the original co-founders of Tesla, flipped his thinking and instead saw VALUE.

What the heck am I talking about? Well, when you look at this more closely and read the article, every time the truck stops, it has tons of kinetic energy that could be used in a beneficial way . . . like charging a battery. So, what Ian and Wrightspeed has done is design/develop an electric battery powered Garbage truck that recaptures the energy of each stop back into the battery.

It’s really brilliant thinking and here’s a photo of their new truck during production:

Image: Wrightspeed — cleaner and greener garbage collection

Where else do you think we have opportunities to turn waste into value?

A 4000 mile journey to ReThink how we drive

Stephen Szucs is no “average Joe”, in fact he has branded himself as a Sustainable Joe and ridden his ELF more than 4000 miles from Ontario, Canada to Key West, Florida to wake people up to the possibilities of a 1 Human + Sun powered vehicle and everything it represents to rethink how we drive.  I recently had the opportunity to meet Stephen and learn more about his amazing North American trek.

Sustainable Joes #ReThink Tour
Sustainable Joes #ReThink Tour


 1 + Sun: Tell us about your Canada to Key West trek and what challenges you faced?

Stephen: The unexpected happens. Here are two simple examples from a rather sizable list of challenges I encountered with the ELF on the #RETHINK Tour.  First, I never imagined my ELF would break down on Day 1. I had to personally install a new motor on #RETHINK Rita (what I named my pedal car) within the first month of having her. My rear axle broke before I could even get out of Canada, [even though my combined] weight was well under the 350 pound payload limit. Fasteners worked themselves lose, and many other things had to be replaced along the way.

All that being said, again I want to reiterate, the unexpected happens and as we move our world in a sustainable direction we will need to be adaptable. I simply underestimated the level of adaptation necessary to travel in a brand new ELF.  I am so lucky to have had NoCommissionAnnuity as my primary sponsor for leg one, they were always there, especially when times were tough. When looking forward to leg two, I will plan more. I will vet partners and products I choose to include in the #RETHINK tour with a much stronger lens.

Warren Buffett once said: “Look for three things – intelligence, energy & integrity If they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.”

“As we move our world in a sustainable direction we will need to be adaptable.”

 1 + Sun: You mentioned the generosity of many people you met on your Canada to Key West trek.  Please share some of those more memorable stories?

Stephen: I struggle to explain how fortunate I feel to have experienced something so beautiful, pure generosity. Countless times I was broken down and absolute strangers stepped up in special ways. From the side of many roads to the opening up of numerous garages, Rita has been loaded onto trailers and placed in trucks. I have entered many homes as a stranger and left as a friend. The hugs, thanks, and well wishes kept me going during the difficult and often disappointing times on the road…the “figurative bumps”.


Some of the awesome people I met along the way.
Some of the awesome people I met along the way.

 1 + Sun: If you could do a TED talk, what would your topic be, what would be your goal?

Stephen: I would hate to ruin the surprise. I love giving presentations and have always wanted to give a TED talk. I started Sustainable Joes with a year living off the electrical grid and followed it up with the #RETHINK Tour. If I ever have the opportunity to give a TED talk, sustainability, social capital, #RETHINKing, and kindness will certainly be involved.

 1 + Sun: Where do you plan to go next?  Please talk about your next Trek, your goals, etc.?

Stephen: The goal is always the same . . . To steward our world in a sustainable manner in service of all future generations.  To accomplish this goal I believe we need to engage as many people as possible and make sustainability easy for all “everyday Joes.” Where do I plan to go next? I want to take #RETHINK around the world. Leg two will depend on partnerships, community engagement opportunities, and funding. Excluding NoCommissionAnnuity’s sponsorship of #RETHINK Rita, up until this point I have personally funded SustainableJoes. However, Joes is now in a value added position to start soliciting and accepting large sponsorship.

We want to thank Stephen for his time and we look forward to partnering with him on his Around the World Trek II!


Empowered to Make A Difference in the World

As I continue on my journey to find natural, renewable, human powered and cradle-to-cradle influenced changes for the world, I decided it was time to Walk My Talk, or perhaps more accurately, Peddle My Commute.

Now, its no secret that thousands of people already commute to work each day via bicycle; I too had joined the ranks of these Bike-to-Work athletes for many years.  In the early 2000’s, my commute was Sammamish to Seattle, about 19 miles one-way.  It took me the better part of 2 hours to make this distance.  (Needless to say, the Tour de France riders had no fear of competition from me.)

Add time to shower, eat breakfast and its easy to see the exorbitant daily time commitment commuting by bicycle poses.  I endured and it was fun to see my mileage quickly grow over the course of a summer . . . but then some incidents happened that changed my thinking.

One morning on my commute in to work, a car took a right-turn directly in front of me, hit me and my bike.  I crashed off his front side panel, nearly propelling over his hood before hitting the pavement.  I was shaken-up to say the least.  I looked up to see who it was but, too late . . . the driver had sped away up a steep Seattle hill and there was no way I could catch him in my dazed condition.

Another time I was commuting home late, crossing a ped/bike bridge over I-90, hit a patch of frosty leaves and BOOM, 9.8 m/sec2 kicked in (gravity) and I was down on the ground.  Initially, I could only think about the sickening sound of my backpack (laptop inside) bouncing off the concrete pavement, but soon the pain in my shoulder and hip pulled my attention their way.

I realized, “Okay, this commuting by bike-thing is important to me, but if I’m run over by a car, or seriously injured in a crash and can no longer take care of my family, what’s the point?”  So, I compromised and bought a bus pass.  My commuting bike hung in the garage for the next several years.

Fast-forward ten years and my work at Microsoft is much closer to home,  about 9 miles one-way and almost all of it is bike path.  This seems doable, so I take down my bike and try commuting into Redmond every day.

My job at Microsoft  requires me to pretty much carry my office with me everywhere I go.  My bag easily weighs 20  lbs with laptop, power supply, water, books, etc. The nine miles includes one major hill; okay, I’m not a hill climber, I hate hills unless I’m going down.  :-)

I persevere and climb the hill for several days in a row, realizing immediately that there’s no way I’m getting to work without taking a shower and changing clothes once I arrive.  This is really inconvenient, plus it means I’m carrying even more weight every day in a backpack (because I don’t have the fancy bike packs).

Then, I started research electric-assist bikes, but then there’s the rain.  Did you know it rains here in the Pacific Northwest . . . like pretty much every day except in the summer.  I mean we even have the northern-most rainforest less than 80 miles away.  []

My perseverance quickly faded and I hung up my bike once again.  “There’s got to be a better way,” I thought to myself.

I’d almost given up when I happen to be out on, listening to a number of speakers; and I come across a talk by Rob Cotter, CEO and founder of Organic Transit.  “I’d bike to work, if only.”  And I thought, “THIS GUY GETS IT!!!”

Organic Transit clearly understands the barriers we all face with our human-power commutes.  Their Electric-Lightweight-Fun (ELF) vehicle looks like it will solve all my challenges.

Fast-forward six months and I find myself ordering my first ELF.  It’s an investment, to be sure, but I’ve made up my mind it’s time to “Peddle My Commute”, with Lithium Ion battery – electric motor assist, a recumbent seat, and a carbon-fiber enhanced shell around me to protect me from the elements.  Hey, who says you can’t save the planet IN STYLE!

[Next Time: One Human Power + The Sun = Nearly Infinite MPG.] It’s time to start a new movement!!

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