Waste Not Opportunity

by RaeAnne Marsh

BlueBridge is the wastewater industry’s only provider of cooperative resource recovery solutions for the management of fats, oils and grease (FOG), which make up the No. 1 cause of sewer overflows in the United States. Founded in 2018, BlueBridge is developing and implementing collaborative business models between municipalities, restaurants and organics recovery companies to reliably collect waste products and turn them into renewable energy, saving money for all parties.

In his 25 years in the water and sewer industry, overseeing regulatory compliance, BlueBridge founder and CEO David McNeil came to recognize that the innovative and collaborative partnership structures long used in the private sector could be used in public sector to support sustainability initiatives. He tested his theory while at the city of Tempe when he discovered how faulty the current FOG management system was, with restaurants paying haulers to safely dispose of FOGs but municipalities having very little insight into whether it was being done in a compliant manner. That was his impetus to create the nation’s first compliance and resource recovery cooperative in which municipal utilities partnered with restaurants to establish a purchasing cooperative and repurpose the FOGs as a feedstock for the city’s future renewable energy.

“For an innovative startup like BlueBridge, the challenge is patience and controlled growth. It would be easy to take on a number of municipal clients and drown in the volume of work at the expense of details and quality, while also losing focus on product quality in the face of corporate growth. BlueBridge is being deliberate and selective about early deployment, selecting only one or two municipal clients in the company’s infancy. The idea is to develop and deploy product success before marketing that success prematurely,” McNeil says.

To grow the company, McNeil believes the most important and overlooked corporate strategy is branding the product to appeal to and attract future talent. “In 10 years, 50 percent of our workforce will be millennials, caring most about change-making, global stewardship, meaningful work and progressive work environments,” he observes. “The successful startup companies of our era will be deliberate about communicating the global difference that employees are making on a daily basis.”

He points out that, for FOG, the 20th century corporate culture required restaurants to spend money on FOG management as a necessary inconvenience and business expense, then notes, “For BlueBridge in the 21st century, a participating restaurant can offset the annual carbon footprint of seven gas-powered automobiles, and deserves to be rewarded and celebrated for that contribution.”

Taking to heart advice he’d been given to care less about company success and more about product quality and corporate culture, McNeil says BlueBridge throws industry norms out the window. “As a basic tenet, BlueBridge refuses to sell infrastructure in an industry that is heavy on engineering and technology solutions, but instead insists that there is huge potential in simply re-evaluating and changing the way services are structured and delivered.”

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