Just imagine: enough fuel to drive a fleet of 4,700 cars around the Earth, enough energy to power nearly 1,200 households for an entire year, enough displaced carbon dioxide to equal 1,400 vehicles taken off the road. Now just imagine this all produced in just one year because you ordered french fries at your local diner. In New York City, a bustling metropolis of chronic outsourcing, one activist-turned-entrepreneur is making this pipe-dream a reality. CEO Brent Baker of Tri-State Biodiesel (seen above with Willie Nelson), LLC has pioneered a new approach to biodiesel production that is now on the cutting-edge of national prominence.
In lieu of using traditional biofuel feedstock, typically virgin seeds that are high in sugar or oil content, Baker has built his company around the use of second-generation biofuels, produced exclusively from locally sourced used oils from the urban waste-stream. By using what would otherwise be discarded as a waste product to create energy, the TSB model effectively circumvents further natural resource expenditure and drastically cuts the carbon footprint of biodiesel production.
An environmental activist since high school, Baker’s early work focused on public education about organic food and vegetarianism, along with natural building. So how did this youth with a passion for green issues become a national spokesman for biodiesel? In 1995, while on a national environmental education and performance tour, Baker met a couple who had just completed the first cross-country journey on biodiesel. Once aware of the benefits of biodiesel, he quickly made it the focus of his ongoing environmental activism and became an avid promoter of the fuel. In 2002, he founded “Biotour.org”, a non-profit tour bus that drove across the country in a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness of alternative energy sources. With the acceleration of the grassroots biodiesel movement, Baker saw a powerful advantage of this new fuel: decentralization of power. Biodiesel takes fuel out of the hands of the likes of Exxon and puts it in the hands of hard-working, do-it-yourself Americans. A shift to biodiesel would mean a shift toward American energy independence.
Thus Baker, with no formal business training, taught himself how to put together a business plan and financial projections and went on to form New York City’s first biodiesel company, Tri-State Biodiesel. Incorporated in June of 2004, the company finally launched its waste oil collection service in the autumn of 2006. By summer of 2007, the company had become the first to sell biodiesel to private trucking fleets in New York City.
To date, Tri-State Biodiesel has recycled over two million gallons of waste cooking oil, displacing over 35 million pounds of global warming gases. Use of TSB’s biodiesel has also drastically reduced acid rain-causing sulfur, lung disease-causing particulate matter, and carbon monoxide. These reductions have helped to significantly improve the quality of life in a city so plagued with diesel-related asthma rates, with even the most affluent neighborhoods suffering from appalling concentrations of air pollutants.
A recent Health Department report identified the Upper East Side as home to some of the City’s most dangerous air pollutants, citing the area’s boilers and hot water heaters as principal sources of pollution. Tri-State Biodiesel has partnered with local environmental and civic organization the Upper Green Side Community to get the word out to landlords. “This report should serve as a lightening rod for community action,” said Baker. “Our campaign with the Upper Green Side represents a chance to make a concentrated impact on an area of need,” he added, “and we owe it to our kids who breathe the polluted air.”
Recognizing the improvements wrought by the adoption of biodiesel, New York City’s legislative officials have largely embraced Tri-State Biodiesel’s locally established waste cooking oil recycling system. They are now considering both a bioheat bill and a restaurant mandate, both of which would stimulate the creation of a permanent biodiesel market in the city.
For his work at Tri-State Biodiesel, Baker was awarded with the Social Venture Network’s (SVN) 2009 Innovation Award. Now as a prominent representative of the biodiesel industry, Brent has been actively dispelling the “myths” created by certain lobbying groups meant to confuse the public about the characteristics of biodiesel. “It’s been particularly bad the past two years,” he says, “One [myth] is that biodiesel production and use is worse for the environment, and takes more energy than petroleum – that simply is not true.”
Now, through education, outreach, and activism, TSB is working tirelessly toward shifting the public mentality about biodiesel industry, while never ceasing to improve upon the health and environmentally beneficial aspects of a locally sustainable waste-to-fuel system. Through Baker’s work, the grade-school mantra of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” has come to pragmatic and accessible fruition, burgeoning with hopes for a more sustainable New York City and a greener future.
Brent Baker is a winner of the 2009 SVN Innovation Award which recognizes the work of cutting-edge social entrepreneurs. Are you an innovative social entrepreneur? SVN is now accepting applications for the 2010 SVN Innovation Awards. Click here to apply
from Social Ventures Network
by Yiyi Zhang