Meet Rich Flammer: SOIL's New Advisory Board Member
We’re thrilled to introduce a new member of SOIL’s Special Advisory Board, Rich Flammer! Rich has more than 32 years of hands-on composting experience working extensively throughout the continental U.S., Hawaii, Central America and Mexico. Principal of the consulting firm, Hidden Resources, he has designed, managed, permitted, evaluated, and/or remediated hundreds of large-scale composting facilities for both private and public sector clients. He has also been involved in public policy formation, rulemaking development for state composting regulations, and composting technology assessment and development. He is a nationally recognized composting operations and odor mitigation expert.
Over the past year, SOIL had the opportunity to collaborate closely with Rich as an equipment procurement consultant for our composting waste treatment site. As many of you know, we have been in the process of procuring a new grinder for bonzode production for our household toilets, as well as preparing for expanding our waste treatment facility in the near future. Rich’s vast experience with composting operations and his long-time interest in SOIL’s work enabled us to work together to identify our upcoming equipment needs that will prepare us for the continued growth of our service. We have been extremely pleased to work with him, and now to have him join our Special Advisory Board!
We recently had the opportunity to interview Rich and learn more about his life and incredible work experience.
Can you please tell us a little about yourself?
Rich: My name is Rich Flammer and I’m a composting consultant based in San Diego. My company’s name is Hidden Resources, a name I chose to reflect the unforeseen value of compostable items and materials that are commonly discarded and landfilled. For example, while lots of US states have laws requiring landscape materials to be diverted from the landfill and composted, a substantial percentage is still landfilled.
Even in an environmentally progressive state like California, where most households now have green bins for compostables, I still see these materials discarded in the trash. A ton of grass clippings contains about 1,700 pounds of water, fifteen pounds of nitrogen, two pounds of phosphorus and ten pounds of potassium, not to mention trillions upon trillions of beneficial microbes. All that is wasted when bags of grass clippings are landfilled. What’s lost in water and nutrients in food scraps is similarly substantial, and the 40% of food that is wasted in the world (in both developed and undeveloped countries) has profound negative economic, social and environmental impacts.
Much of the food that ends up in a landfill is still suitable for feeding humans or animals. When we landfill food scraps, we’re not only wasting the water and nutrients contained in these items, but also all of the inputs it took to grow them… water, fertilizer, energy, diesel fuel or gasoline, human labor, etc.
So the value of these compostables is sadly hidden, underappreciated and underutilized. We’re rapidly losing the fertile soils that once covered the earth and throwing away the best resources capable of helping to restore them. Not to mention these very same materials are responsible for all problems associated with landfills, including methane gas generation, odors, vectors and leachate.
I entered the composting industry some 33 years ago in an attempt to reverse these poor practices and embark on a career that makes a difference. I have a degree in public relations and learned all I know about composting through hands-on work directly in the field, managing compost facilities, operating equipment, and consulting on hundreds of projects in a wide range of scope and scale. I love what I do and feel good about doing it.
How did you get connected to SOIL?
Rich: When I was in my twenties I read “Paper Laws, Steel Bayonets: Breakdown of the Rule of Law in Haiti.” I was interested in world affairs, liberation theology and political systems, and the dynamic in Haiti during the Duvalier’s reign fascinated (and of course, saddened) me. I followed Aristide’s presidency and the ensuing developments in the country. Since then I’ve always had an interest in Haiti.
Some 30 years ago, I worked with many Haitians in Connecticut, and received the most touching complement in my life from a Haitian coworker. One of his fellow countrymen just started working with us, and my coworker and I were mutually fond of each other. When he went to introduce me, he struggled trying to find the words to describe me accurately, wanting to do so in English. After a few attempts, a bit flustered, he sighed, then said… “Rich is Haitian.” Wow, I’ve never forgotten that and just can’t describe how venerated that made me feel.
I became aware of SOIL’s amazing work browsing online one day some 12 years ago, and have been a follower and supporter since, sending donations when my finances allowed. In 2012, I interviewed Sasha and wrote the article “Building Sustainable Sanitation Systems” for the composting industry’s leading publication, BioCycle. I think what Sasha and the SOIL team has done is incredible, and I’m honored to have been asked to become a member of SOIL’s Advisory Board.
What is the impact that you see SOIL is having and why do you feel that it is important?
Rich: I’m a proponent of Zero Waste and have worked on many project teams, writing plans for the organics and composting components of them. We subscribe to the concept of the “triple bottom line,” which gives equal weight to the social, economic and environmental impacts of a business or organization. It’s a great mindset to have, and while “equal weight” may be a bit idealistic, it’s a concept even my less sustainably-minded friends agree with. Unfortunately, triple bottom line organizational structures aren’t commonly practiced, and profit typically overpowers any regard for the well-being of workers or care of the environment.
SOIL’s outstanding model and work exemplifies the power and spirit of the triple bottom line, improving the island’s environment, creating jobs and income for Haitians, and strengthening community bonds. Inspiring, comprehensive and entirely impressive, the benefits of SOIL’s programs extend beyond the island, creating a perfect model for other organizations to study, replicate and follow.
What do you hope to bring to SOIL’s Advisory Board, in terms of your personal skills and abilities?
Rich: I hope SOIL can benefit from my knowledge of composting methods, systems, equipment, and creative approaches to managing various feedstocks in wide-ranging climatory, social and economic conditions. With a degree in public relations and love of writing, I plan on penning some more articles promoting the organization. As I’ve indicated above, I’m just in awe of SOIL and all that it has achieved, and I don’t impress easily, so the combination of my reverence for the organization and writing/promotional skills forms a powerful union that I’d like to draw from to help further the goals of the organization.
Where do you hope to see Haiti in 10 years?
Rich: Politically and economically stable of course, with all Haitians having access to sanitation, locally-produced, healthy food grown in fertile, compost-amended soil, and employment opportunities offering jobs they love and that pay living wages. A self-sustaining economy and less interference from global interests and markets would be ideal. And all businesses and organizations incorporating the triple bottom line into their business models.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or share with our donors and supporters?
Rich: SOIL is exceptionally well managed and follows a model unlike many organizations that offer aid to Haiti. Some of these groups actually do more harm than good (see Aristide’s Eyes of the Heart: Seeking A Path For the Poor in the Age of Globalization and Frances Moore Lappe’s Aid as Obstacle: Twenty Questions About Our Foreign Aid and the Hungry). When donating to SOIL, you can feel assured the funds are going into programs and staff who are committed to improving the lives of Haitians and the environment they share. The essence and foundation of the organization is the board and staff’s heartfelt desire to make a difference socially, environmentally and economically. That’s always made me feel great about being a supporter, donor and now, proud member of the Advisory Board.
We are thrilled to have Rich on board as a member of our Special Advisory Board. His passion for Haiti, sustainable development, global equity and planet Earth is palpable and invigorating and we look forward to sharing more of his writing and work in the months and years to come!