The Power of Waste

It has been over a month since I finished my six-month internship with Energy Vision – a national nonprofit organization focused on powering the nation’s municipal fleets with renewable natural gas (RNG) – and the experience has been both educational and invaluable.

EV logo

RNG is a carbon neutral vehicle fuel created from biogas, which primarily consists of carbon dioxide and methane gases. This biogas is created from the breakdown of organic waste (food scraps, human and animal waste, yard trimmings, etc.) in an airtight chamber such as an anaerobic digester or even a landfill. The biogas is then upgraded or purified into RNG; this process removes almost all of the carbon dioxide and other trace gases and consists of approximately 97% methane gas. After the biogas upgrading process, RNG can be used as a vehicle fuel, most commonly used by municipal fleets, or can be injected into the natural gas grid.

The biggest learning curve that I had to adapt to throughout my internship was effectively communicating via phone, email, and face-to-face with various people to help them understand what RNG is and why it is so important. When I discussed RNG with people through the various modes of communication, everything needed to be crystal clear because many people that were anti-fracking mistook RNG for fossil-based natural gas or associated the success of one with the other. Therefore, the meaning of each word that I spoke or wrote had to very clear and straightforward.

One of the most tedious assignments that two interns and I completed over the summer was creating an educational brochure about RNG. The brochure simply described what RNG is, how it is created, why it is important, and what the reader can do to lend their support to this sustainable vehicle fuel and to Energy Vision.

With almost a full week of work and nearly four revisions, we completed the brochure. I never thought it would be that complicated to create an educational brochure of RNG; deciding exactly what we should put in the brochure to how we would word it was an interesting experience in and of itself. Not only did the wording that described RNG need to be very clear to reduce the risk of a reader mistaking RNG for fossil-based natural gas, but the wording to describe RNG also needed to be accurate and simple since the process of creating RNG is complicated.

Once all of the brochures were printed we decided to distribute about 500 brochures in Union Square, where one of the GrowNYC Greenmarkets takes place. GrowNYC is a nonprofit organization focused on improving the quality of life in NYC. It was the second week of August when we decided to hand out the educational brochures of RNG.

As we were walking to Union Square we were trying to think of clever ways of getting people’s attention by saying phrases like, “the power of waste” or “replacing diesel with organic waste,” and so on. Once there, we decided to split up because of how crowded the farmers market was; there were so many people that I felt like a river was parting on either side of me. I already felt slightly overwhelmed and wondered whether anyone would stop to listen to what I had to say.

A GrowNYC's farmers market in Union Square, NYC.

A GrowNYC’s farmers market in Union Square, NYC.

But once I started shouting out the phrases about RNG I was surprised by how many people stopped to grab a brochure and stayed to ask a few questions. I had an inspiring conversation with almost every person that took a brochure. Many people were surprised to learn how organic waste can create a sustainable vehicle fuel and they were even more intrigued when I told them that RNG is powerful enough to replace diesel and gasoline to fuel trucks and buses.

It also became apparent to me that most of the people I spoke to responded positively to what I had to say about RNG, whereas most of the environmental conversations we are having today are slightly depressing and may discourage people from participating in these important discussions.

Therefore, how can we turn depressing environmental conversations into uplifting ones? Better yet, how can we get people to talk about these issues without wanting to lock themselves in a room and forget about the world for a few days? In my opinion this is the biggest obstacle of our time within the environmental field, getting people to want to talk about environmental issues without feeling overwhelmed, angry, and/or depressed.

After this experience I started to truly grasp and understand the power of simple yet effective communication. I was confident that the conversations I had with about 250 people intrigued them enough to read through the brochure to learn more and hopefully feel inspired to get involved by starting their own conversations about RNG.

My internship with Energy Vision has been a very eye-opening experience for me that has greatly improved my communication skills and has also indirectly reinforced my analytical skills through the various communication efforts that I was a part of. I have learned a lot about myself through this experience and feel that I am more confident and better prepared to effectively communicate with various people about environmental issues.

About Danielle Bissett