Ottawa students connect small and big business in environmental challenge

Taylor Schaefer says he pursued a degree in architectural conservation and sustainability engineering hoping to make heaps of money after he graduated.

“It wasn’t so much that I cared about the environment at the time, it was more that it seemed like a smart choice because what is good for the environment is usually good for your wallet,” he says.

Now, two years into the program at Carleton University, Schaefer says he is interested in the environment for the right reasons. This enthusiasm landed him a finalist spot in Walmart’s Green Student Challenge. The challenge asked students to propose ideas that will help businesses be more sustainable. The process began in December when Schaefer teamed up with two other Carleton University students and submitted an idea for the challenge.


Their idea is called Carleton Composters and their goal is to have Walmart help local businesses cover some of the expenses of composting, using a machine that is made by Food Cycle Science in Cornwall, Ont. called the Food Cycler. The machines can process 1100 pounds of food waste per day by dehydrating and converting the organic waste into soil. This technology was developed in Korea and Food Cycle Science obtained the rights to use it. Food Cycle Science began manufacturing these machines in 2009. Each Food Cycler costs $120,000.

Schaefer says he heard about the Food Cycler last year and became interested with how it could benefit businesses and the environment. Schaefer says his group’s plan is to have Walmart partner with businesses, covering 30 per cent of the cost of a machine, then the fertilizer will be picked up and packaged and sold back to consumers at Walmart.

Schaefer says his idea began as part of a school project and he and his group decided to enter the challenge after his coworker Logan Emslie told him about it. Emslie, who studies sustainable and renewable energies engineering at Carleton University, says he knew Schaefer had been working on this environmental business idea, connecting big business to small through the Food Cycler, and he thought it was perfect for the challenge.

“He had done an amazing job on the research, so I thought that if a large percentage of the work was done he should submit it to see if he could rank and get a little money,” he says. Emslie says he supported Schaefer’s group in their social media promotion to help them get public votes, which landed them in the top 20 in January.


The top five finalists out of the 20 were selected by a panel of judges based on originality, ease of implementation, potential business and environmental impact and online buzz about the idea. On February 26, Schaefer and his team presented this idea in Toronto to five of Canada’s top CEOs, including leaders from Google, Ford and the Canadian National Railway Company. Schaefer’s team placed fifth in the competition and won $7,000, money that Schafer says will go towards continuing his environmental studies.

Schaefer says he believes their idea would benefit Walmart, as well as any local businesses that partners with it. He says he is more likely to shop at a business that is environmentally friendly and he believes other people are too. Walmart may have a reputation for wiping out small businesses, but Schaefer says it is important for there to be cooperation between small and large businesses in order to help the environment, so he supports collaborative ideas like this one.


Schafer refers to the term ‘greenwashing’, which he says has become an increasing trend. “Companies will say they’re environmentally friendly or they’re green, and people will say, ‘Oh, they’re environmentally-friendly, I have no problem buying this product,’ and they’ll go buy it.”

He references water bottle companies who promote that they use less plastic in their caps, but there is still lots of plastic in the bottle

Schaefer says it is time for businesses to make real green changes, “That’s the hard part, though, convincing them to actually do it instead of just saying you’re green when you’re not.”

He says businesses in general are not currently doing enough for the environment.

“A lot of businesses don’t even believe there is a payoff because there’s usually a bit of an upfront cost. It costs money initially, and these products can be expensive because a lot of them are new. Some companies just don’t have the capital to invest and others just choose not to do it. In the future, these products will probably become a lot more common, they’ll be cheaper, and then it will be easier for companies to go green.”

Schaefer says he is hoping his idea will unite big business with local business to do something good for the environment.