Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Earthmaker

A local entrepreneur shows how to make a buck while making a difference with his innovative composting business.

Tim Bennett
Tim Bennett is a shrewd businessman. His schooling and work with Temple's Fox School of Business added to his natural propensity for success. But to him, developing a good business meant going a step beyond just monetary gain. He also wanted a company with redeeming social value. With a recent honorary business award under his belt, and presentations at local enterprise forums, he's sharing his knowledge of what it takes to build a sustainable business in Philadelphia. Home Science caught up for a quick word from him as well:
Tell us about Bennett Compost. How long have you been in operation and how did you get your start? And what services do you offer?

I started Bennett Compost in summer of 2009. We started with a focus on residential composting. It was a needed solution because if you live in a city with limited space, it's difficult to find an easy way to compost. And we wanted to help people do that.

I was doing the business part time, while working full time. After about 10 months, I was able to leave my full time job and do Bennett Compost full time. At that point we started to add commercial business as well, not just helping residents compost but helping businesses, restaurants, supermarkets, grocery stores, coffee shops - anyone who was producing food - to compost their food waist as well.

What is the general process involved in composting. Where does it go? And what does the customer get back in return?

Composting is a very natural process where you're combining nitrogen rich organic food waste with carbon rich organic waste such as leaves or wood wastes, saw dust - anything like that.

We do our composting in a couple of different ways. What we collect from our customers in the residential stuff, we compost ourselves and through a network of community gardens that are established in the city, mostly in South Philadelphia, but one or two in North Philadelphia as well.

For most of the commercial stuff we work with a farm in Montgomery County, and also a commercial composting facility in Wilmington Delaware to handle that material. So we take the material there and they compost it for us.

Industrial compost facility, Wilmington, Delaware

Our commercial customers don't get compost back, but our residential can get back a certain amount each year, depending on how much we produce. This year we'll be giving interested customers about ten gallons of compost back.

Is it stinky working with compost? Is it a job for everyone?

I don't think anything's a job for everyone. Anytime you're talking about food waste you're talking about, you know, garbage, and there's certainly gonna be smells involved with that. But the finished product isn't really stinky. It has sort of a natural earthy smell, like a a good forest soil smell if you were walking through a forest. But in order for it to get to that point it has to go through a phase.

When you're actually doing the composting, if you're doing it right, you shouldn't have a lot of smells. As long as you're getting enough oxygen in there, the breakdown should be aerobic as opposed to anaerobic. So it shouldn't be producing methane as a by product, and methane is what you're smelling when you're smelling rotting garbage.

And other things... Moving along, you recently won an award from the Fox School of Business and you gave a presentation at Ignite Philly. Tell us about those situations, and what role do such enterprise support groups have in helping your business?

Well, the award from Temple was part of their annual business competition, and it's open to anyone with an affiliation with Temple. Since I'm an alumni, I was open to that. I won first prize in their social entrepreneurship category. That was great because we got exposure to different kinds of people who may not have been aware of what we were doing. And also it came with some cash and other prizes that were helpful for building the business.

In terms of Ignite Philly, that was a little bit different, a different type of crowd - a less corporate and kind of a young, hipper crowd. The event really highlighted some of the interesting things going on in Philadelphia neighborhoods. So that was another good venue to get out there and promote what we're doing. I think either of those types of events where you can highlight some of the interesting stuff, the cool stuff, is helpful for all businesses. But it's also helpful for the city to show some of the positive things that are coming out.

Speaking of positive things, compost companies are seen as sustainable businesses. How do you see the outlook for sustainable businesses and green jobs in Philadelphia?

I think there's a lot of optimism around sustainable businesses and green jobs in Philadelphia. There's a lot of interesting things going on. But any business needs to be run like a business, so you need to make sure that you have a market, and that you're reaching that market, and that you're keeping your costs under control. If you don't treat it like a business, I don't think it'll be good. There is a receptive clientele and you need to demonstrate the value in it for them, whether that value is monetary savings or other kind of value. If you can show that value, people will respond to that.

There's no magic bullet - green jobs aren't going to replace all the manufacturing jobs that were lost. There's no single simple solution like that. It's all a part of it. I think there's a growing awareness of the importance of sustainability and the growing benefits both monetary and non-monetary that it can bring.

Great. Very informative. Thanks for your time.

You're welcome.

More info about Bennett Compost and the services offered can be found at www.bennettcompost.com.

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