Focus on Sustainability: A Horizon Special

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The Sustainability-inclined segments include EcoScraps, a company that turns spoiled produce into garden compost; Clean Air Cab, an eco-friendly cab company; and Transit Oriented Development along the Valley’s light rail line.

Ted Simons: Tonight on "Horizon," on a special sustainability version, one Valley company is turning rotting produce into a valuable product. A former race car driver goes from the track to the streets with a new kind of cab company. And we'll take a look at what's being done to encourage residential and commercial development closer to light rail. Those stories tonight on Focus on Sustainability, a special edition of "Horizon."

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Tonight we focus on sustainability with a Valley company that has made sustainable technology the foundation of its business. With the motto, go green and save some green, Clean Air Cab wants to prove that what's good for the environment and the community can also be good for the bottom line.
Steve Lopez: I was looking at how I can do something in Phoenix that impacts the city, as well as its citizens. I wanted to develop a company plan where everybody could win. I felt that it was time to be aggressive. I felt it was time to turn an old industry on its ear and say, hey, it can be done a different way. As well as business can be done in a different way. Our concept is people, planet, profit in that order.

David Majure: When Steve Lopez opened Clean Air Cab in 2009, he had never before operated a business but was passionate about his concept. A philanthropic cab company that was environmentally friendly. His fleet is made up entirely of Toyota Priuses which get significantly better mileage and produce less CO2 than traditional cabs. It's an approach that has decreased expenses and increased customer loyalty.

Lori Harrison: I needed a taxicab and called the service. They came, it was a very clean vehicle. And the taxi driver was really nice. Then I come to find out so much more about them, that they are carbon neutral vehicles, they stand for the same values that I do. That is exciting to me. Not only do I take them, but I take them exclusively if I'm taking a taxi.

David Majure: In addition to advocating an environmentally friendly approach to business, Lopez is committed to giving back to the community. The son and grandson of cancer survivors, who himself had health issues as a child, he's an enthusiastic supporter of organizations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Mesa United Way, and Phoenix Children's Hospital.
Will Mandeville: Clean Air Cab was kind enough to actually cover or wrap one of their cabs with the PCH logo and messaging and basically drive that around town with our message on it. The other piece, they are donating a dollar from every cab ride in that cab to PCH, which is great for us. We really could not do the things we do at PCH without the generosity of great corporate partners who reach out to us and decide that our nonprofit, our charity is one they would like to give back to.

Steve Lopez: That really, for me, is every single day my passion, developing the relationships so we can all give back every single day.

Ted Simons: And here now to talk more about Clean Air Cab is the company's founder, Steve Lopez. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Steve Lopez: Thank you, thank you very much.

Ted Simons: Where did this idea come from? First of all, the idea of using the Priuses, the ecofriendly cabs, and then kind of combining with charitable work?

Steve Lopez: I wanted to make an impact on the city of Phoenix. Knowing that the cab industry works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year churning and burning CO2 into our air, I thought this would be a great platform to test the reality of us bringing these low emission vehicles in and creating a uniform concept of how to bring down emissions and create an avenue so I can have an outlet for my passion.

Ted Simons: And you did try to focus on business in a different way, a different kind of business model. Talk about that.

Steve Lopez: I really did, I looked at the environment and I said, you know, the capitalist system is fine. The way it's set up and how we go after our business is great, but I think it's lost some of its heart along the way. Where I grew up there was a lot of sharing and compassion and understanding civically. I might have learned that along the way. When I came here I thought, why can't I put that passion of who I am into this company? Why can't I start to create relationships, do the thing I do best, and let it create an avenue where everybody wins.
Ted Simons: What were some of the early challenges?

Steve Lopez: Well, the concept alone was hard enough. The technology is new. There's good and bad with new technology, as we all know. Being that we are on the forefront of using technology to make a difference, it was exciting for me to say, I would love to find a hybrid technology that brings down emissions and particulates so much, not only for myself but my drivers, so when they go through daily operations they can spend much less money on fueling their efficient cars. So the model for me fell into place; I thought, wow, okay, that is awesome. My team came together, we thought about it, crunched it, yeah, cabs, let's go this way. But let's do it your way, Steve, with a heart. I think that's what's so different.

Ted Simons: How long did it take to get some traction on this?

Steve Lopez: Oh, man, about nine months to really get traction. After 9 months that we had a growth spurt into our first year. After that another growth spurt. It started to really catch on about nine months to a year. Then we knew sailing into 18 months that we had something.

Ted Simons: Talk about the donation cabs, what they do.

Steve Lopez: This is my favorite part of the whole thing. I love that I could take my passion and put it into a profession, if you will. Having these relationships, looking at them, if you see the structure of them, PCH children needing help for childhood diseases, as those children grow up they become adults. They have challenges in their life as adults. Maybe some of them may found in the female and male sector as we know now, breast cancer may come into their life, and we have that awareness for them, as well. Training and help and education and funding for Susan G. so they can get better, and have goals and hope. I think as you progress from that, you can see the Mesa United Way which encompasses corporate companies around our community. They like to shape and help, they have boys and girls clubs, shape and help the way people understand and connect to the corporation.

Ted Simons: How would that work? Is it a donation from every ride in that car? If I say, I want a Susan G. Komen car, can I call that in?

Steve Lopez: You sure the heck can. We get that often, a lot. We understand that we can't bring the Susan G. Komen to everybody all the time, but we do always try our best. Nonetheless, if you're not getting a Susan G. Komen or you call up for the Phoenix Children's or any of our cabs, it really, in the end result just taking the cab company allows you to become part of a solution, a part of helping, even if your dollar doesn't directly go to the Susan G. cab, it makes an impact on the environment or going charities one way or the other.

Ted Simons: 42 Priuses?

Steve Lopez: Yes.

Ted Simons: Are we going see a different model if the Leaf or the Volt catches on?

Steve Lopez: That's a very interesting question to me. I have a very good fit right now. The mileage marker I'm using is within the Prius, with the hybrid, we're able to get very good mileage. I do -- it's interesting to think about those, but for a cab company, 100 miles to 150 miles can be done in half a day. So the burden of trying to replenish those wonderful new items is going to be hard on the cab company. Having something that we can flex is a little bit easier.

Ted Simons: And speaking of flexing, is it the kind of thing we are going to see -- are you the only company out there using hybrids for cabs exclusively?

Steve Lopez: Solely and exclusively, I think in the southwest I am. I think there may be another company in the east, but I know that I'm the only one with the unique model that tries to create the win-win scenario between the corporations and community and Susan G. and everybody.

Ted Simons: 30 seconds left. Former professional race car driver?

Steve Lopez: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ted Simons: How come you're not zooming around the track anymore?

Steve Lopez: I do once in a while for pleasure. Sometimes I'm allowed to go on a track. I know some people around town that I'm able to use some tracks once in a while. Other than that, I don't have aspirations of driving professionally today. But in the future I may go back at it if this remains successful.

Ted Simons: Good to have you on the program, and continued success.

Steve Lopez: Hey, I appreciate it, thank you very much.

Ted Simons: The nonprofit sustainable communities working group is a public-private partnership promoting Transit Oriented Development, the group has a multimillion-dollar fund it'll use to guide residential and commercial development along the Valley's light-rail line. But first, here's part of a video presentation the group put together.

Feliciano Vera: We had a machine and it was easy.

Carol Johnson: It was at a scale where it contains -- [inaudible]

Carol Johnson: It's the land of the garage store and personal cars.

Feliciano Vera: The only way you play in any meaningful way in society is if you have an automobile.

Hugh Hallman: How do you create a sustainable community, so that cities will be here in 150 years?

Scott Smith: There are limits. $5 gallons of gas certainly enforces that.

Mark Patel: We will continue to do what we're doing.

Kimber Lanning: There's a whole team of people who would say, people move to Arizona for a single-family home. I would counter that by saying, that's all we've offered.

Eva Olivas: We want to be like every other neighborhood, we want to be the same, the same amenities, similar creations.

Mark Patel: Restaurants have closed. The institutions that are affected, independent businesses have been struggling, there is an airport of people down here anymore to support a lot of these businesses struggling.

VO: Once the nation's fastest-growing urban area, the region's population growth has slumped to a stagnant 1%. Over 40,000 people have walked away from their homes and unemployment is the second worst in the nation. Trends are clearly changing and local leadership is taking another look at assumptions made in past decades that currently define our quality of life today.

Hugh Hallman: To try to build farther and farther out and bigger and bigger cities has a huge cost to it. Fuel costs are driving some people out of their homes. It's not that they can't afford their home payment, they can't afford it and the cost of transportation to get to their jobs. It's a huge cost to an individual, their lifestyle and a family.

VO: The strategies involve utilizing the region's new light rail system along with the TOD model, or transit oriented development. It suggests instead of building a city for automobiles, they should be built on the human scale.

VO: What we have constructed initially are the opportunity for people to have a real urban experience.

Phil Gordon: You could live in Mesa, take a class in downtown Tempe, and have dinner and go to a sporting event in downtown Phoenix and never get in the car.

Hugh Hallman: Light rail provides the opportunity now to make sure that not only does it supply transportation for wealthy people who happen to live in condos in a very urbanized environment, but also the opportunity to provide services to our community members who otherwise can't afford an automobile or transportation.

Ted Simons: Joining me now to talk about Transit Oriented Development, is Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and Teresa Bryce, executive director of the Phoenix branch of LISC, a major contributor to the $20 million sustainability community fund. Mayor, we'll start with you. Transit Oriented Development, what are we talking about here?

Scott Smith: We're not talking about really anything new. We've done development that surrounds transportation for a long time. There's a reason why you look at the freeways and see commercial development near freeway interchanges. We're doing something more focused on transit, light rail. The development is specifically geared toward what's goes on around a light-rail station.

Ted Simons: How does that development differ from general development? How do city planners say, that's a little different than what we usually do.

Teresa Bryce: The most important thing is it's not auto dependent. You can live and work and get your kids to school and pick up the groceries without having to get in your car. Because all of those services are only five minutes from your home.

Ted Simons: Transit Oriented Development, as the mayor said, it's been around a while. Are there aspects that are growing as we speak? Is it already an outdated kind of a term?

Teresa Bryce: We like to talk about transit oriented communities. We've learned it's not a single project or development that actually creates a kind of sustainability that we're looking for, and that we're looking to transit to reinforce.

Ted Simons: As far as the fund is concerned, how much money are we talking about? How much is needed and how much is procured so far?

Scott Smith: We need as much as we can get. We have $20 million committed, sort of like seed money or priming the pump. Development along light rail is a new concept for Phoenix. We only have a brand-new light rail. It's not new in other areas but it's sort of a new concept. We have to find out exactly how best to do it here. To have this seed money by two organizations that are widely recognized and that are renowned, hopefully will serve as a call for others to take a look at this, become involved, bring your money to the table and we can create something pretty exciting here.

Ted Simons: The seed money, the organization is very much a part of this, this $20 million. I've heard it described as a bridge loan. Is that accurate?

Teresa Bryce: The funds we've made available through the funds are flexible money, but it's not long-term permanent financing. That's why you may have heard the term bridge financing. Our funds can be used as acquisition funds, it can be used as short-term construction money, for predevelopment activities. The idea is that the funds are really in play for a short period of time and intended to be taken out by permanent financing when the project is underway.

Ted Simons: Talk about your company and why this company decided to invest here now.

Teresa Bryce: Local Initiative Support Corporation is a 30-year-old national nonprofit lending institution. Our goal is to revitalize communities. That takes a very different form on the East Coast with LISC was started. The Phoenix company is really based in our marketplace. What we understand is that the housing crisis has hit our community very, very hard. That's not news. What LISC's approach is, is trying to build sustainable community by knitting together housing, jobs, transportation, economic development, and taking a broad look a comprehensive revitalization approach to rebuilding neighborhoods.
Ted Simons: If that's the goal and the communities get the money, where does the money go? What do we see coming out of this right now $20 million, which could be more?

Scott Smith: We're hoping it goes to the kind of development that creates additional opportunities. The important thing is it's not a novelty, not something we do because it feels good; this is a real life, a likely type of additional option we're providing to our citizens that comes when you have a mature multimodal transportation system. What we're hoping that is we create the kind of communities that, once again, people of all demographics, all income levels, can enjoy creating a true urban living opportunity that doesn't exist in Phoenix right now on a large scale.

Ted Simons: Are we talking grocery stores? Health care services? Apartment buildings?

Scott Smith: What does it take to create a neighborhood? It's the same thing, just packaged differently. It's packaged to take advantage of what a light rail -- what that type of transportation provides. That's why -- one of the differences between this and let's say freeway building, where you draw lines and then do development piecemeal and fill in the gaps. This would happen organically like neighborhoods grow. You will have mixed housing, services will development develop in that area. Since it is not auto centric but about transit, those will develop in walking distance.

Ted Simons: You both talked about living far out, talked about gas prices and the whole nine yards. But there are folks who do like to live far out. When the economy comes up again, we know home building will continue on some of the outskirts of town. Is this the kind of project that looks good now, but once the economy rebounds or gas prices fall, everyone will run out to the ex-urbs again?

Teresa Bryce: I think what we've seen around the country is the places that have held their value the most are adjacent to transit. When we begin to see the market rebound, those areas close to transit good 10 rise significantly. That's why having this fund now is so important. We need to secure those properties, those lots, so we can plan to have a variety of housing options available for all incomes.

Ted Simons: Very good. Thanks for joining us here on "Horizon."

Both: Thank you.

Announcer: We want to hear from you. Submit your questions, comments and concerns via e-mail at [email protected].

Ted Simons: The produce problem is multiplied for Food Banks and grocery stores. It mostly goes to landfills, but one company is turning rotting fruits and vegetables into high grade soil. I'll talk to one of the founders of EcoScraps, but first, here's a look at the company's Tempe facility.

Mike Sauceda: Every day Americans throw out tons of food including fruits and vegetables. That produce usually end up in a landfill where it rots and produces methane, a greenhouse gas. While eating at a buffet, they noticed food going waste and thought there must be a better way.

VO: You see that seam in there, see that?

Mike Sauceda: They started researching composting and were soon doing it in the parking lot of an abandoned motel, starting a company called EcoScraps. They started selling the product, organic soil, to nurseries. It became so successful they opened up this facility near curry and Tempe. They get 10 tons of rotting produce a day and have processed 400,000 pounds of it. All of that rotting produce is turned into high-grade organic soil. Most of the produce comes from Food Banks, grocery stores and distributors. It saves the organizations money because they don't have to haul to it a landfill. The soil is sold under the name harvest plenty.

Ted Simons: Here now to talk more about EcoScraps is Brandon Sargent, one of the founders of the company. Thanks for joining us.

Brandon Sargent: No problem, thank you.

Ted Simons: How does this work? We kind of have an indication there, but do you collect the food? Do they bring it to you?

Brandon Sargent: Different arrangements with different people. Whether we get it or they bring it to us, we get the food at our yard and run it through some special machinery which basically pulverizes it. We mix it with a carbon supplement to start that composting process. We're cranking out between 30 and 40 cubic yards a day of compost we make every single day. The product itself heats up over 100 degrees within 24 hours. Then we start to aerate. We have special air ration machinery we use, as well, and it takes two to three months to fully mature.

Ted Simons: Basically you've got the rotting stuff. You mix it with the special formula there?

Brandon Sargent: Carbon supplement. We use untreated wood shavings. You have to make sure your nitrogen and carbon is balanced for it to really work. We mix it, we have a special formula that we have. We mix it together and it just starts going work. The microorganisms start to eat everything and it's pretty cool.

Ted Simons: That's fascinating. How do you make sure it's properly balanced? Anything could get in there and screw it up, I would think.

Brandon Sargent: Well, there's different types or different things you have to have in balance. The balance the micro and macro nutrients. In order to do that, we add a mineral mix to make sure it's properly balanced for the end result with plants. You have to balance the PH. We get a lot of citrus so we add things that are alkaline to properly balance that out for the plants. Your plants don't want something that's really acidic, either. We have to make sure the moisture is balanced, as well. That's one of the reasons why we do it indoors. We can control if it's raining or really hot outside, we can control the moisture of our piles.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, it sounds unusual to have something like this indoors. Is it?

Brandon Sargent: Yeah, it is unusual. But because of that we're able to turn out a high quality product and we're able to test it and keep all those things balanced from start to finish.

Ted Simons: Is it the kind of thing that has to be tested periodically? How long does the process take, by the way?

Brandon Sargent: Between two and three months. Different things take long tore compost than others. We get it tested at the end for maturity, for PH, for nutrients, and then package it and send it out.

Ted Simons: Where do you send it out to?

Brandon Sargent: To local nurseries. You can buy it at almost any local independent nurseries here around town. We also have done quite a few things with community gardens and things like that, where our end product would be used.

Ted Simons: I know some communities are experimenting with yard waste, palm fronds and whatever. This is not the same thing, you need fruits and vegetables.

Brandon Sargent: In order to keep our end product consistent from bag to bag, we've got keep our recipe consistent. That doesn't mean that composting yard trims is bad, it's very good. We teach free composting classes at nurseries, where we stress compost your leaves and kitchen scraps and everything, teach people to balance that so they can also be sustainable.

Ted Simons: For more on sustainability, visit "Horizon's" website at
Ted Simons: That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us, you have a great evening.

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