Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Transforming urban waste into a healthy food source

This article is one of a series featuring finalists from World Challenge 09 - a global competition seeking to identify and reward projects and businesses which bring economic, social and environmental benefits to local communities through grassroots solutions. World Challenge 09 is run by BBC World News and Newsweek, in association with Shell.

World Challenge ’09 finalist – BTTR Ventures
The BTTR Ventures project (pronounced better) was launched to transform an urban waste stream into a healthy food for local consumers and a job-creating enterprise. BTTR stands for ‘Back to the Roots’, a phrase that encompasses the idea sustainability, progress, and social responsibility. BTTR Ventures, founded by two business majors from the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley aims to turn one of the largest waste streams in America – the tons of coffee ground waste generated daily – into a highly-demanded, nutritious, and valuable food product for local consumers: speciality mushrooms such as oyster and shiitake. This project has already launched in the San Francisco area, sold mushrooms to local campus food services at UC Berkeley and local chefs, established relationships with over a dozen local coffee stores, and partnered with Whole Foods, a large socially and environmentally conscious regional grocery chain, to distribute the mushrooms at 26 of their Bay Area stores. Beyond the unique approach of using waste to produce a valuable product, the group is focused on using this idea to change the way business is done. Not only will this initiative create a healthy food source, but it will also provide urban employment (10 ‘green-collar’ jobs within six months), prevent thousands of tons of valuable substrate from being dumped into landfills, and donate a substantial portion of its profit back into the communities from which the coffee ground waste originated.

How does the project benefit the environment?
BTTR Ventures aims to contribute to a cleaner environment to live in while simultaneously building a stronger community. From a global perspective, most mushrooms are currently grown on saw dust or oak chips that were created by cutting trees. By growing mushrooms from coffee grounds, the project reduces the need for deforestation. Furthermore, its own waste from the production of mushrooms (rich fungal compost) will be donated to urban gardening programs, adding a second production cycle to a substance that would have simply been sent to the landfill. By providing customers with locally produced food (through retail and restaurant distribution channels), this project will reduce urban centres’ carbon footprints due to the fact that food will now be arriving from no more than a few miles away.

How does the project measure its achievements?
BTTR Ventures uses three unique and easily quantifiable metrics to measure its achievements. Firstly, it calculates the pounds of coffee grounds diverted from the landfills. Currently, the company is diverting nearly one ton of coffee waste per week (potentially a total of over 100,000 pounds over the next 12 months). Given that mushrooms leave the compost in which they grew rich in nutrients, BTTR Ventures donates that leftover ton of fungal compost to local urban farm programs. Secondly, the project will track its success by calculating how many pounds of its locally-grown mushrooms are provided to the surrounding community. BTTR Ventures is currently on track to produce over 700 pounds of mushrooms per week. This local food production program will further reduce the carbon footprint of urban centres by providing produce harvested within an average of five miles. Lastly, it measures the number of jobs created in an area suffering from double digit unemployment.

World Challenge '09 - who will get your vote?
It's up to the public to decide who wins this year's World Challenge competition. Online voting opens on 28 September and runs to 13 November. BBC World News is broadcasting six 30-minute programmes profiling each of the 12 World Challenge 09 finalists throughout October and November.

Find out more
World Challenge website and online voting:
BTTR Ventures:

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