Leor Rotchild is rethinking refuse.
Ever since the president and co-founder of Do It Green (DIG) made his first foray into sustainable event management at the Calgary Folk Music Festival, he and his company have been turning the simple act of throwing something away into an opportunity for education and engagement.
DIG grew out of Rotchild’s work to bring sustainable waste, compost and recycling services to the folk festival. That project, which began five years ago, was a resounding success, prompting Rotchild to consider the possibility of making the work his full-time job.
“I just jumped and decided, ‘Let’s see where I land,’ ” says Rotchild, whose company is nominated for a 2015 Emerald Award in the small business category. The awards, administered by the Alberta Emerald Foundation, honour achievements across the province in environmental excellence.
DIG’s first client? The 2013 Alberta Flood Aid concert at McMahon Stadium.
“I thought, ‘My first event being a 30,000-person event at McMahon Stadium? That’s a big jump. Let’s do it,’ ” Rotchild recalls. “And so we did and it was just a huge success. It was an unforgettable experience.”
Since 2013, Rotchild and the team at DIG have been “greening” events across Calgary, including the Calgary Stampede, Scotiabank Calgary Marathon, and the recent Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.
At each event, DIG’s environmental educators station themselves at garbage and recycling stations, assisting attendees in disposing of their food, waste and recycling.
It can be confusing for people to attempt to navigate the various bins and signage, but DIG’s educators guide the process. Often, Rotchild has observed people then turning around to help someone else recycle and compost their waste.
“(People) feel empowered by this,” he says. “It’s like knowledge that they feel is important, but it wasn’t made super easy before. There’s too many things to know. We make it really simple for people.”
“Because you’re at a public event, you’re going to be producing some kind of waste,” Rotchild adds. “The opportunity to empower yourself and walk away having learned something at these events is enormous.”
It’s working. Last year, DIG collected 12,179 kilograms of waste from more than 50 events. Three-quarters of that was diverted into recycling and compost.
For event co-ordinators, going green pays off in a big way, Rotchild says.
“It’s a new and unique way to engage your audience,” he explains.
“When you talk to people on an environmental level, they instantly connect with it. It’s an untapped market.”
And with the City of Calgary moving toward banning all paper products in its landfills, sustainable waste management will become increasingly important for businesses.
“It does affect people’s bottom lines and it will affect their bottom lines going forward, especially as the city starts to implement these new rules,” he says.
By 2020, DIG hopes to reach 16 million people with its education plan and divert 100 tonnes of waste from the landfill.
“We have a very ambitious goal,” Rotchild says. “That’s all consistent with the strategy that the City of Calgary has set, where they want to divert 80 per cent of all waste that is going in the landfill by that same year.”
But Rotchild hopes the education doesn’t end as soon as something is thrown into the trash. Rather, he sees that very action as a starting point for encouraging people to think critically about how they can “green” other aspects of their lives.
“I feel that in reality, waste is not really the place we need to end,” he says. “I think it’s a good starting point. But I think that when you start to get people to realize how much waste they’re actually sending to the landfill and how much can actually be diverted, then the next question seems to be, ‘How can I avoid producing any waste?’
“When you recycle, it’s kind of like that first step toward really being conscious of your impact,” Rotchild continues. “You can’t help but start thinking about things differently.”