What inspired you to begin PLAN (Post-Landfill Action Network)?
At the end of my freshman year at UNH my friends and I saw dumpsters overflowing with usable materials. It bothered the hell out of me. Furniture, electronics, clothing, dishware, decorations, school supplies, food and so much more were being sent to the landfill, and the impact of all of that material totally blew me away. When you think about the value of all of those materials: the labor and the energy that is involved in extracting the raw materials from the earth, shipping them to production factories and refineries, and then shipping them again to be made into goods, and then shipping them again to be packaged and sent to stores, to be purchased and consumed and then discarded in a matter of months. And when you think of all the negative externalities of those processes: the chemicals, and the dyes, and the carbon and waste footprints. This linear consumptive model of extraction, processing, production, shipping, consumption and disposal – to return all the way back to square one and start all over again – doesn’t make any sense. I learned that 42% of our total global greenhouse gas output comes from the consumption economy and that there are an estimated 5.2 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. I started PLAN because I believe that these problems are solvable. I started PLAN because I believe that institutions of higher education have a huge role to play in moving us towards a zero waste society, and I started PLAN because I believe that students realize their role in this global cycle and they want to be a part of the solution.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow as an entrepreneur?
I believe that entrepreneurship is about solving problems. It’s about dreaming big, creating a new pathway or product. Most entrepreneurs have the dream, but they may lack the skills to bring that dream to fruition. In order to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be able to wear many hats, and utilize a wide variety of skills. In the beginning you have to know how to give a pitch, how to attract investors and raise money. You have to know how to be personable, and professional, and network effectively. You have to know how to be a leader, how to respond to the needs of your team, how to hold people accountable while also making their experience enjoyable. You have to know how to manage your funds effectively, how to build a budget, how to stay in compliance with state and federal laws and tax codes. Etc – the list goes on and on. I would say that I grow everyday because I am constantly learning new things and surrounding myself with the right professionals and advisers to help me through the challenges ahead. I never had any formal business background or experience (I graduated UNH with a dual major in Political Science and Philosophy). I grow daily as an entrepreneur by constantly learning and re-evaluating what it means to be an entrepreneur, and always asking the tough questions of my advisers to make sure that we are on the right path.
What words of advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in New Hampshire?
I always give the same three pieces of advice to any young person looking to do something meaningful with their life, or to any entrepreneur embarking on a new project:
Do What You Love
What makes you come alive? Think hard about what you would enjoy spending the rest of your life doing and how you can do that while having an impact on the world, on the people and places around you. There are plenty of things in this world that need fixing, and there are plenty of gaps that are waiting to be filled by someone like you.
Build Your Network
It really is all about who you know. New Hampshire is FULL of wonderful people, and most of them would be happy to meet with you for an hour over a cup of coffee. Find the people in your life who will give you that time and don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Tell them about your ideas, your dreams, your hopes and your fears. Ask for their advice, their connections to the people they know, learn from their experiences. It’s amazing how far you can build your network by doing this, and how much people are willing to believe in you and support you if you show them that you’re serious.
Don’t Give Up!
“The problems of this world won’t be solved by the people who created them.” (Einstein). The world needs dreamers and change makers right now. Don’t let the naysayers get you down, and try to prepare for the emotional rollercoaster ahead. In the world of fast-paced entrepreneurship, it’s easy to experience the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. Sometimes in the same day. Try to work towards finding a balance, try to find happiness both within your work and outside of your work. Stay focused on the long-term vision, and don’t give up!
If you could give your younger self words of wisdom, what would they be?
Life is a marathon, not a sprint. I probably wouldn’t have listened, but I think I get it now. I wouldn’t take back any of the things I’ve done – but I have definitely enjoyed learning to appreciate slowing down, enjoying the beauty of the world around me and the little things in life, and attempting to strike a balance between when to step back and take a deep breath, and when to push forward.
In the last two years, you’ve worked with over 40 member campuses across the country. What is your favorite part about visiting these campuses?
This is a tough question and I enjoyed thinking about it to come up with an answer. There’s so much to love! I love meeting all of the young and passionate people out there who see the same dream that we see, and are excited to work with us to make it happen. I love being able to travel the country and see all of these cool places! I think for me one of the coolest experiences is when we get to tour the sustainability efforts happening on each campus. Many of the campuses we visit have incredible and unique initiatives, led by inspiring and motivated students and staff. Whether it’s new research being conducted on a different method of “anaerobic digestion” (composting), or innovative apps being created for the sharing and reuse of goods within a campus community, or large and well-organized sorting facilities to recycle hundreds of different types of unusual materials like old floppy disks, petri dishes, and sand. Campuses are incredible hubs of knowledge, research, innovation and inspiration – and it’s been a pleasure to document our experiences and share them with the students we work with on campuses across the country.
Describe your ultimate vision for PLAN.
The ultimate vision for PLAN is multi-faceted. First – I see a robust network of student leaders on hundreds of campuses across the country working towards zero waste from the perspective of a grassroots, student-led movement. I see those students working together, sharing ideas, best-practices and inspiration – and I see campuses understanding the need to support student leaders in this quest and developing the infrastructure, tools and resources, to advance and sustain those efforts. Second – I see hundreds of companies supporting that movement. I see them understanding that young people are demanding a more sustainable future, and I see them responding to that demand. I see companies self-reporting the impact of their products, from extraction, to production, to disposal, and working hard to grab the attention of their new consumers to prove that their products are worth the money that we are spending on them. I see companies empowering their consumers to be “owners” of their products – providing repair manuals and instructions for long-term care. I see companies removing disposable packaging and building products that will last. I see the abolition of the planned obsolescence economy. And finally I see PLAN sitting in the middle of both of those visions, helping ease the transition and acting as a liaison to facilitate the process. We provide the tools, resources, training and support to students to help them with their projects and communicate with each other, and we provide the audience to the companies to help them see that their is a market demand for their transition to more durable and socially and environmentally responsible products. There are a lot of places we can go from there, with the kind of audience, and I’m excited to see what kinds of changes and innovation that will lead to in the future.
We know you love the Granite State, so tell us:
What’s your favorite “hidden gem?”
This is hard to choose. I love exploring Fort Stark in New Castle, NH. I also love swimming at Mendums Pond in Barrington, NH. There are a few other hidden gems I love but they’re so hidden I don’t want to share them publicly 😉
What’s your favorite local watering hole?
7th Settlement in Dover, NH.
Where’s your favorite place to get away for the weekend?
Camping and hiking in the White Mountains, and cliff jumping into the waterfall at Upper Ammonoosuc Falls in Crawford’s Purchase.
Which is the best season and why?
Summer. I’ve always been a fan of warm weather and being able to swim in the lakes and rivers.
Which city/town have you yet to visit but look forward to once time presents itself? What would you want to do once you got there?
I’ve always wanted to take a trip north of the White Mountains, drive through Moose Alley, visit Berlin, maybe explore some of the more abandoned areas up there.
Do you prefer the sunrise of the sunset? And where in NH do you catch the best?
The sunset is almost always enjoyable but I think the sunrise is a little more rewarding, in part because of the effort it takes to get up that early. This summer a group of friends and I did a full moon hike up Mt. Madison and watched the sun rise over Mt. Washington. It was beautiful! (see below)