Turning garbage into gold

Vancouver organics recycling program growing like a weed

By Brian Morton, Vancouver Sun July 18, 2014

Vancouver entrepreneur Lisa von Sturmer started Growing City after visiting Savary Island and being deeply impressed with the islanders’ strong commitment to recycling and composting.

Vancouver entrepreneur Lisa von Sturmer started Growing City four-and-a-half years ago after visiting Savary Island and being deeply impressed with the islanders’ strong commitment to recycling and composting.

Back in Vancouver, the 32-year-old von Sturmer was upset to learn how much organic waste was being thrown into the garbage. After unsuccessfully trying to find a company that could help her office set up an organics recycling program, she decided to create a service herself that was simple, clean and geared to the office environment.

The result? Growing City, which serves about 200 clients in Metro Vancouver.

Von Sturmer, who won the 2012 Canadian Youth Business Foundation’s National Best Green Business award, is now in Sydney, Australia as a Canadian delegate attending the G20 Youth Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit, where they will encourage G20 leaders to adopt strategies to reduce youth unemployment.

She answered several questions this week from The Vancouver Sun about her company, her strong belief in entrepreneurship, and why offices should compost.

Q.: What was it about Savary Island that inspired you?

A.: I was really taken with the pristine beauty of the island and that the people were really passionate about ensuring that they were creating the smallest footprint possible so they could create the legacy of a beautiful place for future generations.

Q.: You say your return to Vancouver prompted you to start Growing City. Please elaborate.

A.: I experienced composting for the first time on Savary Island and was very impressed by how extremely successful it was in reducing their overall waste volume. So when I went back to my office I started feeling really guilty when I saw that the majority of our waste was compostable. But there wasn’t anyone who would come and provide a service for us. That was the Eureka moment. Someone needs to do this. Why not me?

Q.: How many employees do you have and how many clients? Can you name a few?

A.: We have about 200 clients at … locations including Burnaby, Surrey, Richmond, downtown of course. We’re excited to be working with BC Hydro, and we’re at south terminal at YVR. Harbour Centre is a great client … Some of our clients are a one-office organization and some are large clients with multiple locations, like David’s Tea for example. We have 10 employees and we’re hiring right now.

Q.: What’s different about Growing City? Why should someone hire your company?

A.: I think the thing that makes Growing City so special and different is that we really look at the problem of waste production from a service standpoint. So we focus on really engaging, so our clients can see how much they’ve diverted. We were the first company in B.C. to add our codes to all of our bins. Every time we service a bin, our staff scan it so our clients can go online and see their live tracking results, which is a great tool for clients. We also focus on being friendly, transparent and really accessible, which a lot of people haven’t experienced from their waste company.

Q.: You previously worked as an editor, including working for an MMA fight show. Why did you change careers?

A.: I very much enjoyed working in television, but never felt I was leaving much of a legacy. When I started Growing City, one of the key drivers was that I wanted to create something to be proud of every day, that we had made some kind of a positive impact on the environment or the community.

Q.: You say your company has grown more than 100 per cent in a year. Could you be more specific?

A.: We definitely doubled our staff, which for me was a big win. Our overall sales have doubled. After appearing on Dragons’ Den, we got inundated with calls and demand was great, but also with resumes, which was a big surprise.

Q.: Why should offices compost?

A.: There’s several reasons. The first is that Metro Vancouver is creating a bylaw that means all buildings in Metro Vancouver will have to have an organics recycling solution. But I think above and beyond that is that it is a really easy and effective way for people to make an impact on their carbon reductions or reducing their carbon footprint, because people don’t realize that organics in the landfill are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Q.: You’re obviously keen on entrepreneurship. Why?

A.: For me, entrepreneurship was an opportunity to create a life for myself that was very fulfilling and exciting, even though there were so many challenges in creating a business. I felt it was a great opportunity to live a life I was proud of and I feel a lot of people would really benefit from following their passions and dreams by starting a business.

Q.: What do you feel are the most important traits for entrepreneurs or budding entrepreneurs?

A.: It’s extremely important to really believe in yourself first and foremost. It sounds trite, but it’s really true because many times other people will not believe in your idea or the direction you’re going, so you have to be able to fuel your own fire. And I think a passion for learning is crucial.

Q.: Can you tell us about your hopes at the Sydney summit?

A.: The summit hasn’t started yet, but I’m really excited to participate this year because there’s a strong focus on growing women leadership and women entrepreneurs and that’s something I’m really passionate about.

Q.: Are you encouraged that G20 leaders will address youth unemployment?

A.: I’m extremely encouraged that there will be greater support from the G20 for youth unemployment and youth entrepreneurship as the solution to unemployment and underemployment in youth, particularly because so many countries are struggling with such high youth unemployment rates. Right now, entrepreneurship is really the best solution.

Vancouver Sun | Vancouver, British Columbia