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May 26, 2020
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Branford’s David Mayer, co-founder of Two Owls Sustainability Partners, is bringing his waste-diversion know-how to his home town, starting with a recent pro bono audit and analysis that will assist the Community Dining Room. Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound

Branford’s David Mayer, co-founder of Two Owls Sustainability Partners, is bringing his waste-diversion know-how to his home town, starting with a recent pro bono audit and analysis that will assist the Community Dining Room. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)

From Zero-Waste Super Bowl to CDR: Mayer Makes Sustainability a Priority

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In 2018, David Mayer’s company, Two Owls Sustainability Partners, LLC, helped to deliver America’s first zero-waste Super Bowl. Imagine what it will do for Branford’s Community Dining Room (CDR).

“When you walked into that Super Bowl, everything was either recyclable, compostable, or donated, except for a small fraction of stuff,” says David, a Branford resident.

During Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in February 2018, Two Owls’ legwork, including a detailed, advanced audit conducted in October 2017, allowed for sustainable “waste diversion” of most every item fans touched or experienced, from food containers to leftover food, event signs, and temporary fencing.

This year, on March 29, with volunteer assistance from Branford High School (BHS) Environmental Club and Two Owls’ sustainability consultant Michaela Hobbs (BHS 2014, University of Delaware 2018), David’s company conducted a pro bono waste audit at CDR. From that, Two Owls will find ways to help non-profit CDR reach as close to a zero-waste operational goal as possible, at no increased cost—and hopefully, a savings, says David.

“We did a three- to four-hour audit after a busy lunch at CDR, with people out back going through the trash and putting things in categories,” says David of the March visit. “And from that, we’ve come back with a 10- to 12 page report, and then over the coming months, we’ll connect the dots to find ways to save them money and ways that they can being doing things in a more eco-friendly manner.”

In this scenario, it’s the dots that matter. Each one represents a company, organization, group, or business that has a need for the waste that CDR produces or has an eco-friendlier item to help CDR serve or deliver more than 4,500 meals to shoreline people in need every month. Serving residents from East Haven to Old Saybrook, CDR operates its kitchen and dining room at Branford’s Patricia C. Andriole Volunteer Services Center, 30 Harrison Avenue. From the center, CDR also provides weekly take-out dinners and home delivery meals to Branford and North Branford residents.

David says CDR already has some examples of sustainability in action—such as taking compostable waste to a community garden—but Two Owls can add its connections, buying power, proven methods, and creative thinking to take it further.

“It all depends on what’s feasible in the area,” says David. “One of the things we’re doing is contacting some of the local composters that we know, and if we get enough business in this area, CDR could be a pick-up spot for them. We also can buy food service products at a lower cost. Right now, we’re in the process of seeing if we can convert some of CDR’s foil dishes they send out, or anything they send out, to maybe more ecofriendly but also cost-saving items. But they also have to be items that will function the same way and work in the same way for CDR. So we’re right in the middle of that now, and we won’t stop until we find it.”

David’s description begins to explain just how much exacting effort goes into every Two Owls audit and the process involved in the company’s work to keep trash out of the environment. It was that type of thinking, on a massive scale, that brought about the NFL’s first zero-waste Super Bowl last year.

“The first thing they wanted us to do was a feasibility study to see if they actually could do a zero-waste Super Bowl, by looking at everything in the Super Bowl,” says David. “So we brought about 25 people to look at 38 tons of material from a Packers [vs.] Vikings’ game in October, four months before the Super Bowl, which did lead a to a zero-waste Super Bowl.”

Among the waste-diversion decisions made, “it took 30 restaurants all changing products,” says David, as well as bringing in about 30 charitable organizations to “shop” the Super Bowl venue.

“We call it a material recovery walk, and until we get there with [the charities], we really don’t know what they’ll want,” says David. “It could be Super Bowl signs that might make money at an auction, which is what we were able to get for a charity for abused teens. Another [charity] wanted all of the pieces of cut tent vinyl, because they’re in Minnesota and they don’t have warehouse space, and they need to cover their [materials] for the winter.”

In addition, Two Owls was recently hired by the NFL to reduce waste during the 2019 NFL Draft, a three-day event from April 25 to 27 in the middle of host city Nashville, Tennessee. It was a massive undertaking that had to be studied, choreographed, and executed within a tiny window of time.

“At the NFL Draft, all of the materials for a three-day festival typically would go to a landfill or get thrown out,” says David. “Because, as you saw on TV, that was in the middle of a city, and they need their city back. So for many of those items, we worked with the NFL on getting those things to different charities. We worked with Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity and other larger outfits, but even the five miles of fence meshing with NFL logos, we’ll get that to an art college so the students can start practicing making dresses or make handbags or [reusable shopping] bags. So we try to find a second life for it, but it has to be within the flow of the operation, because the people want their city back.”

David grew up in New Jersey near New York City and went on to play Division II soccer at Keene State University in New Hampshire, where he met his soccer teammate and business partner, Gregory Lam. The two established their company in 2015, naming it Two Owls after their team mascot.

Lam is based in Colorado while David is on the east coast. He moved to Branford in 2012 with his two sons, Eli, now nine, and Rory, four. In addition to David, Lam, and Hobbs, Two Owls’ small staff includes David’s significant other, Lauren Wilson, who is the company’s sustainability consultant/auditor. The company also has a pool of 15 to 20 project managers heading teams brought in for projects.

David parlayed his Keene State M.S. in resource management and conservation and B.S. in environmental policy into his first career role as an environmental consultant for IBM in Essex Junction, Vermont, followed by more than 10 years in event industry working in sustainability and cleaning operations, including his continuing work as vice president of sports and events with national company American Maintenance.

“We added sustainability practices as a competitive advantage, and Two Owls kind of spawned off of that and grew legs of its own,” says David of co-founding Two Owls.

David originally joined American Maintenance to start a new division, AM Event Services working specifically to clean sports and entertainment one-off events with a sustainable approach. Among many significant, grand-scale events, the company was hired to clean the outdoor venue space hosting the second inauguration of President Barak Obama in Washington, DC.

“That was one million people in one day,” says David. “And we’ll bring in 400 people at a time to clean large one-off events like PGA, NASCAR, anything that comes and goes.”

In Branford, Two Owls maintains an operations base on Business Park Drive and the company is seeking ways to become more involved locally, says David.

“We travel so much, all over the country doing this these,” says David. “I’ve got two kids, we live in Branford, and part of our initiative this year at our annual meetings was to get more local and bring our expertise home.”

About six months ago, “we started attending some of the town’s meetings, including one with the Branford 375 [Anniversary Committee], where Michaela talked about some of the things we do, and that’s how [CDR Executive Director] Judy [Barron] and Michaela got connected. Judy was really gung-ho about bringing us to CDR,” says David.

Two Owls is also signed on to help out at Branford Festival 2019, providing labor, equipment (if needed), sustainability, and cleaning services as a sponsorship exchange. David says they’ve joined in with the hope of enhancing current waste diversion programs as well as “simply to help a volunteer force that has put in a lot of hard work well before we came around put on a great ‘fest for the community.”

Two Owls has also joined Bring Your Own Branford (BYOB), a grassroots effort to end the use of plastic shopping bags in town. In April, the town’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) Rules and Ordinance Committee voted, 5-1, to recommend a proposed ordinance, brought by BYOB, restricting the use of plastic bags for retail checkout. A full RTM vote on whether to approve the ordinance was on the agenda for the May 14 RTM meeting (after press time for this article).

Earlier this year, Mayer and Hobbs spoke to the BHS Environmental Club, and followed up by volunteering to advise BHS senior and club president Abby Boyle on her capstone project. Now, in the last part of her senior year at BHS, Boyle is interning with Two Owls for the month of May.

David also hopes to see Two Owls become more involved in his home state. The company has joined the Connecticut Sustainable Business Council and works annually with local college students to help them gain credit and field experience as paid interns. On the business side, Two Owls recently conducted an audit at Subway World Headquarters in Milford.

“We don’t do as much in Connecticut, and that’s something we’re trying to change,” says David.

He notes that, in any part of the country, there are likely some organizations holding back from joining the waste diversion effort due to “green guilt” about the current amount of waste their company, event, or venue produces.

“A lot of people are afraid to approach us because of that, but we preach no green guilt. We start wherever you are,” says David. “And it’s always a three-legged stool—environment, economic, and charitable for people. If you take one away, it doesn’t work. Our goal is to prove it can be done, and at a cost savings, or at least at an even cost.”

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