A Discussion with BlueInGreen Chief Marketing + Sustainability Officer Tyler Elm
For those unfamiliar with BlueInGreen, tell us a little about the Company.
BlueInGreen (BIG) is a remarkable, water clean-tech company. We’re a leading dissolved-gas expert that provides engineered solutions for water treatment and industrial process applications. We’re one of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S., driving the industry-wide trend of replacing chemicals, polymers and ambient air with oxygen, carbon-dioxide, and ozone. Our patented technology is the most efficient method of dissolving gases into liquids.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your role at BlueInGreen and your background?
I am responsible for brand, market positioning, business sustainability and international business development. I also provide input into strategy, R&D and assist the engineering group with industry engagement and sales. Our CEO, Chris Milligan, is known for saying “Do what you think you’re BIG enough to do.” We’re an entrepreneurial, collaborative crew; everyone contributes to the mission. It’s a team approach and I learn from my colleagues every day. In terms of my education, I have an undergraduate degree in applied science, a master’s degree in Resource & Environmental Management and an MBA with a focus on strategy and entrepreneurship. Between graduate degrees, I worked as a conservation biologist; afterwards as a business strategist with a focus on sustainably-driven innovation and related-diversification. Like my education, my work experience over the last 20 years is multidisciplinary, encompassing a variety of industries, either as a business management consultant or in a corporate leadership role. My focus throughout has been the pursuit of business value in concert with social and environmental value creation.
What is “Business Sustainability?” Can you give us a bit of history on the subject?
Today, “business sustainability” is broadly understood to encompass the economic, social, and environmental performance of the business and its extended value chains. I’ve always defined it as the process of deriving economic benefits from improved environmental and social outcomes. Think of it as “sustainability-driven innovation” – because at its core, it’s an innovation strategy using sustainability –that is, economic, social, and environmental considerations – as the framework for innovation, productivity, and organizational improvement.
My business education provided me a new perspective and tools to reflect on my work in applied conservation biology and the collaborative, stakeholder process I used to conserve biodiversity in production forests. I applied that thinking to strategy and value-chain analysis to identify trends, problems, and opportunities and later refined the approach, incorporating what I learned from applying it to client engagements while at PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). In terms of history, I’d say about 17 years ago, “sustainability” in the context of business really began to take on a scope beyond its traditional reference to the economic viability of a company. The first large corporation to apply this approach and methodology was Office Depot in 2003, followed by Walmart in 2005. Of course, when Walmart adopted the definition and approach, the concept scaled and became relevant to thousands of companies the world over.
My business education and early experience at PwC led me to the idea of “pragmatic social purpose” – the essence of which is this: Given the social and economic frameworks and institutions of society, more can be accomplished – and faster – by working with business in a manner that is relevant to their core purpose, rather than by leading with the merits of an argument based on the justification that it is “the right thing to do.”
I believe we must harness the power of the business model to scale environmental and social value creation. Doing so, requires that we frame and manage sustainability as an economic opportunity relevant to the business.
What is BIG’s “Pragmatic Social Purpose”? How is it connected to sustainability and what is sustainability’s relevance to your business and those of your customers?
For BlueInGreen to be successful in the long-term, our business strategy, brand and social purpose must be congruent, mutually reinforcing and create value for the customer. BIG’s social purpose is to empower those responsible for managing our most valuable, shared resource... water. We pursue this mission by providing solutions that combine science, engineering, and strategic insight derived from a robust understanding of the economic, social, and environmental context of our business and the associated global and regional forces acting upon it and the water treatment field in general.
Consider the influence of global social and environmental mega trends: unprecedented urbanization and population growth in combination with insufficient and failing infrastructure and the interplay of climate change with the increasing demand for energy, water, and food resources. All of which are of growing importance and consequence to society, our business, and our customers. And of course, these challenges occur within a regulatory and financial context as well. For example, U.S. municipalities anticipate regulatory changes, such as updates to the Lead and Copper Rule, while facing affordability challenges and growing scientific and public concern over emerging contaminants, such as endocrine disrupters, pharmaceutical and antibacterial compounds, chemical stabilizers, and hormones.
We think of sustainability in terms of the nexus of such forces and trends – how they might affect society, the built environment and customer operations. Current and likely outcomes influence the market segments and applications we target and guide our efforts to bring solutions to market that will create value for our customers and their communities… essentially, how we allocate resources. They also influence R&D and even our business model – how we might complement the intrinsic competitive advantages of our technology with thoughtful solution design and flexible, performance-based contracting to offer products and services that are ideally suited to an application or increasingly common operational issue, such as seasonal, constrained treatment capacity during periods of hot weather.
The end-result of this process are solutions that enable BlueInGreen customers to achieve their objectives with the lowest combination of risk and costs while driving enhanced outcomes for people, communities and the planet — outcomes such as enhanced health-and-safety, better air- and water-quality, and material reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Such considerations are increasingly relevant to facility managers and those ultimately in charge of budgets.
Consider this: A coalition of mayors from 430 U.S. and international cities, representing 380 million people – more than 5 percent of the global population – have committed to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change. That’s relevant because the energy used in wastewater treatment is usually a municipality’s second-highest cost after labor. A similar movement is gaining momentum in industrial markets as well. For instance, one of our customers, Tyson Foods, has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. They estimate that wastewater facilities account for about 10 percent of their operational, carbon footprint.
I see BlueInGreen solutions as one of the many building blocks of sustainable development. We empower water treatment professionals to make a difference. We create value by making our customer’s water treatment processes more efficient, more effective, safer, and more environmentally sound. That capability is rooted in BlueInGreen’s underlying technology and is embodied in our value proposition to customers. It’s not just relevant. It’s vital.
All this to say that strategy is about trade-offs; one rarely has unlimited resources. Adding social and environmental context to the traditional economic filter provides insight into potential opportunities and risks. If BlueInGreen fails to consider these contexts, then we’re ignoring opportunity and risk, allocating scarce resources inefficiently, and leaving money on the table. We simply can’t afford to do that.
Can you provide some examples of how these trends manifest themselves in your business, your products and with BlueInGreen customers?
Consider the forces influencing the refinement of BlueInGreen’s TaaS (treatment-as-a-service) business model and our containerized, Dual SDOX® 600 (supersaturated dissolved oxygen) solution. The evolution of the service offering in combination with the mobile, modular, containerized system is a direct result of customer needs shaped by several global trends – including crumbling infrastructure, unprecedented urbanization and population growth – and the associated demands for more energy, water and food – all of which are influenced to some degree by climate change.
A couple of emergency sanitation engagements come to mind. One was a direct result of the high-water storm surge from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The other was a product of heavy spring rains, increased nuisance flooding and aging infrastructure. Both resulted in failures of force mains, dumping raw sewage into local surface waters. In both cases, BlueInGreen was rapidly mobilized to remediate the environmental damage and protect public health, with engagements lasting several months. Following infrastructure repair and remediation of the sites, we removed our equipment without leaving a permanent footprint.
Each event was an opportunity to learn and incorporate the insights and operational requirements of a short-term contract into our TaaS model and the eventual development of a mobile, fully-functional system packaged in a robust shipping container – complete with a control room and all the electrical distribution, transformers, lighting, ventilation and climate controls – which help to minimize our footprint and facilitate rapid deployment and relocation of the equipment.
Constrained treatment capacity in the Food and Beverage industry is another example of a market segment directly affected by population growth and the associated demands for energy, water, and food. And it’s another market that influenced the design of our TaaS model and contributed to design improvements to our containerized solutions – again, primarily enhancements that simplify installation and reduce our footprint and the time and cost of deployment and transitioning to new locations.
Having worked with a number of food companies with similar capacity issues, it was clear that increased capacity from a fast, simple solution retrofitted to an existing basin was a need ideally suited to our patented, side-stream process and our containerized solution. These engagements also highlighted the value of being able to add capacity without disrupting operations – it’s extremely valuable to this market segment. Again, each engagement was an opportunity to learn and incorporate the insights and operational requirements into our TaaS model and the development of a fully-functional, containerized system – which was ultimately released as a standard product in 2019.
Tyson foods provides a recent example. With one of its treatment facilities operating near capacity, failing aeration equipment and little-to-no emergency reserve capacity, the Company replaced its surface aerators, blowers and diffusers with our containerized solutions.
And how did BlueInGreen’s containerized solutions perform for Tyson Foods?
Our tech increased treatment capacity, added emergency reserve capacity, and reduced energy use by more than 70 percent. Furthermore, installation was accomplished without interrupting operations – saving the company millions.
In this case, the economic, operational benefits of business continuity, reduced operating risk, better treatment and lower operating costs were complemented by a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We also enhanced worker health-and-safety by eliminating the production of aerosols generated with conventional aeration and doing away the need for electrical maintenance within the treatment basin.
Community health-and-safety and issues are similarly relevant, directly affecting our business, product design and the allocation of resources to the municipal market. Consider the Flint water crisis in Michigan. It’s an ongoing concern that began in 2014 after the City changed the source of its drinking water without consideration of the potential need for corrosion inhibitors. As a result, lead from aging pipes leached into the water supply, leading to extremely elevated levels of the neurotoxin and exposing over 100,000 residents to elevated levels of lead. It’s no coincidence that drinking water utilities around the country have increased their focus on corrosion control over the last few years, realizing that legacy pipe materials, like lead, may exist in public infrastructure and private homes.
How can municipalities prevent water crises similar to what happened in Flint?
Well, the good news is that water utilities are taking proactive measures to protect the health and wellness of their communities – and even better, they’re choosing BlueInGreen solutions. In fact, our CDOX® [CO2 gas-dissolution) systems for pH and corrosion control represent the majority of our sales into the U.S. municipal market over the last few years. Again, these trends influenced BlueInGreen’s allocation of resources to a specific market segment, technology application and fostered improvements in product design. Our new skid-mounted and containerized Duplex CDOX® 200 system helps our customers protect their communities, delivering better treatment, lower operating costs, and improved worker safety by replacing the use of strong, hazardous acids with carbon dioxide. Actually, our largest purchase order to-date was a single water utility purchasing 11 of our Duplex CDOX® CO₂ systems for installation at four of their facilities.
So, in summary, the social and environmental context influences the market, especially when they contribute to critical operational issues, like infrastructure failure, capacity constraints or other burning platforms. Such trends and events motivate action, moving buyers forward on the technology adoption curve. Consideration of these trends have not only shaped BlueInGreen’s business model and products, but the markets and applications we target and the value proposition we deliver to customers. A prosperous, sustainable economy is a product of sustainably-driven innovation, empowerment, and action. BlueInGreen empowers people to make a difference.
How can people learn more about BlueInGreen’s sustainability strategy?
We have a long list of case studies illustrating the triple-bottom-line performance available at blueingreen.com/sustainability with more being added all the time. That, or they can reach out to us at BlueInGreen directly.