ZeroHero helps reduce festival and concert carbon footprints to almost nothing

By: Kate Forgach Wednesday July 25, 2012 0 comments Tags: Bryan Birch, John Long, Lucas Erickson, ZeroHero

By Kate Forgach

FORT COLLINS -- Fans of the Tour de Fat and other green events are familiar with the recycling, composting and trash facilities that reduce the carbon footprints of these festivals.

But what they may not realize is this environmental push goes way beyond placing garbage in the proper receptacles.

zero hero logoFort Collins-based ZeroHero -- the five-year-old company responsible for all this reduce-reuse-recycle action -- spends a great deal of time educating all participants about every aspect of greening up such events.

In addition to diverting as much waste as possible from town dumps, ZeroHero helps organizers identify methods to reduce transportation impacts; works with suppliers to use compostable cups, flatware, etc.;  and stations volunteers throughout the festival grounds to help attendees become part of the green scene.

"We're kind of an auxiliary department," said Lucas Erickson, who co-founded ZeroHero with Bryan Birch and John Long. "When we get involved and are most effective, we're working with every department of an event. There's a learning curve and it takes awhile for everyone to get onboard, but once they're comfortable with everything we're doing, our efforts really take off."

Thanks to their successful track record, ZeroHero is in the process of upgrading their business model.

"We've been entirely focused on managing and providing our services to festivals and events," said Birch. "We realized we had many business inquiries we couldn't fulfill because our model didn't support them.

"For example, it's awkward for us to help an elementary school become zero waste, so we're moving into teaching all these different techniques to people who can run their own events, manage their own venues and do it all themselves."

In addition to providing education, ZeroHero now works with Kelty of Boulder to manufacture stations that can be used in a variety of places. They have designed indoor and outdoor stations, which they'll then sell to others while providing how-to educational programs.

While growing their business, the co-founders of ZeroHero see this new business model as a way of expanding their green advocacy.

Happily, the original ZeroHero business model continues to be a raging success. For example, the 2011 Tour de Fat in Denver and Fort Collins saw between 80 percent and 90 percent waste diversion. Its participation in the last Great American Beer Festival in Denver racked up a 78 percent diversion rate from roughly 60,000 attendees over three days.

"Before we got involved in the Great American Beer Festival, they had zero percent diversion," said Erickson. "Within one year, we were at 50 percent and the more we were integrated into the event's operations, the greener it became."

Their oversight included working with the Colorado Convention Center, the Brewers Association, sponsors, operators, volunteers, unions and all the other participating groups.

"We also work to offset emissions from the event by encouraging public transportation and using alternative fuels," said Birch. "That waste-diversion figure doesn't include all these factors."

One advantage of their repeated involvement in such events is that it takes less education each year to bring people up to speed. People become used to seeing and using the distinctive ZeroHero trash "tents" with three separate holes for recycling, composting and trash.

ZeroHero grew out of Birch and Long's involvement in developing the Fort Collins Sustainable Living Fair in 1999. Now in its 12th year, the Fair attracts more than 10,000 people and focuses heavily on zero waste.

In 2006, the national touring act Spearhead came to Denver and their manager contacted them, asking if they'd help with waste diversion. Erickson also joined in the effort.

"We all had a blast," said Birch. "As a result, Lucas wanted us to get together to start a business focused on helping other events and festivals reduce their environmental impact. One month later, we founded ZeroHero and incorporated in March of 2007."
Kate Forgach

About the Author: Kate Forgach

Kate Forgach is a lifelong journalist and public relations specialist who has written extensively about science and business.