Rubicon’s mission is to end waste, in all of its forms. This has been true since our company’s founding, and at the same time, our commitment has always been to take care of our employees, so as to ensure we foster their creativity and innovation while at Rubicon, and further out as they move forward in their careers.
At Rubicon, we like to keep in touch with former employees, and as a part of this outreach, I recently spoke with former Rubicon team member Catherine Brady. After working at Rubicon, Catherine went on to work as an Operations Project Manager in the Executive Office of the President in the White House, and she currently serves as the Director of External Relations in the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
I (virtually) sat down with Catherine to talk about sustainability, her time at Rubicon, and her current role at DOE.
Could you tell us a little about your background—how has sustainability played a role in your career, and what initially lead you to Rubicon?
I had an interesting upbringing. My dad is a lifelong farmer—he still farms to this day at 74 years old—so I have a tie and respect to the land that I learned from a very young age. What made growing up on a farm unique was our close proximity to the Nation’s Capital. It afforded me a unique, global outlook while still having this little oasis of calm 15 minutes outside of D.C.
My dad taught me about the importance of conservation which led me to my first job out of college for a nonprofit called the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). TRCP’s mission is to advance America’s legacy of conservation, habitat, and access while guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt, fish, and recreate. Through their work, this was my first dose of dealing with federal policy. I got to see firsthand how this small, scrappy non-profit was leveraging partnerships and amplifying constituents voices to impact legislation on public lands, the Farm Bill, the Clean Water Act, among other important issues facing the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy in America. The TRCP taught me so much and fueled my interest in pursuing a career involving policy and critical issues at large.
When the opportunity presented itself to work for Rubicon, I came to Atlanta and met Nate and the team, and I was completely blown away by the company. Here I found a CEO that was relentless in his company’s mission to end waste—that is quite the goal! Between Nate’s passion, the excitement of working for a tech startup, and my deep respect for Rubicon’s mission—especially with my background in conservation and sustainability—it was a natural fit. I knew right away that I wanted to be part of this team and moved to Atlanta two weeks later.
Working for a unicorn startup and being exposed to how technology was changing the world sparked my desire to lean more into the innovation space after my time at Rubicon.
The opportunity to serve a Presidential Administration presented itself, and I now serve as the Director of External Relations for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This was such a natural progression after Rubicon. DOE is the tip of the spear for energy innovation, and EERE focuses on investing taxpayer dollars into research and development of energy saving and disruptive technologies that will keep America on a path of great prosperity and lead the global community in research and development of more energy efficient technologies.
How does Rubicon’s mission to end waste match-up to the U.S. Department of Energy’s mission or philosophy?
The phrase “disruption” is thrown around lightly in the startup tech world, but it is clear that Nate is actually disrupting one of the oldest sectors in the entire world—trash.
Most Americans do not think about where their trash goes after throwing it out. Much like most Americans do not think about their energy consumption. People just know that when they flip the switch that a light will illuminate.
Through EERE’s multi-billion dollar portfolio, our office funds disruptive, early stage research and development to make energy more reliable, affordable, and efficient. EERE also focuses on advancing America’s competitiveness throughout the renewable power and energy efficiency sectors. This ranges from your classic wind, water, and solar to advanced vehicle technology, bioenergy, advanced manufacturing—the list goes on.
Rubicon empowers small and medium-sized businesses, all the way up to large conglomerates which benefits the whole economy, and in turn, this allows Rubicon’s customers to grow their profit margin and in turn make their products or services more affordable for the American people. This is similar to EERE’s goals, which are to make energy more affordable, more resilient, and more efficient.
DOE was proud to launch a first-of-its-kind Challenge, the Plastics Innovation Challenge. The challenge harnesses collaboration across the Department in addition to the National Labs, universities and industry to create a comprehensive program to accelerate innovations that will dramatically reduce plastic waste in oceans and landfills while positioning the U.S. as global leaders is advanced plastic recycling technologies. Through this, the challenge aims to fulfill five strategic goals:
- Develop collection technologies to prevent plastics from entering waterways or facilitate its removal;
- Develop biological and chemical methods for deconstructing plastic wastes into useful chemicals;
- Develop technologies to upcycle waste chemical streams into higher value products, encouraging increased recycling;
- Develop new plastics that are recyclable by design and can be scaled for domestic manufacturability; and
- Support a domestic plastics upcycling supply chain by helping companies scale and deploy new technologies in domestic and global markets.
American innovation—whether in the private or public sectors—is driving the economy and benefiting the American people.
What are some of your favorite projects or initiatives in EERE’s portfolio?
There are too many to choose, but our many partnership with industry, academia and the National Labs are critical. EERE has made a point to build in some percentage of cost share from the private sector in funding opportunities. If industry invests into these early-stage opportunities and they’re going into these projects with either universities or National Labs, that shows that this is a true potential for a scalable, viable technology.
Obviously, the Plastics Innovation Challenge is near and dear to my heart, especially given that I have the context of being at Rubicon and seeing it through the lens of a waste and recycling technology company.
The American-Made Challenges are extremely impressive and critical to incentivizing America’s entrepreneurs while strengthening our leadership in energy innovation and domestic manufacturing. These challenges seek to lower the barriers U.S.-based innovators face in reaching manufacturing scale by accelerating the cycles of learning from years to weeks, while helping to create partnerships that connect entrepreneurs to the private sector and the DOE network.
There’s is a huge opportunity in workforce development related to renewable energy and energy efficiency, which through various programs is a main focus for the Department and EERE. We have funded several manufacturing institutes where the next generation can learn and where innovation is created. There are so many opportunities for skilled workers in the manufacturing space.
A prime example, we announced earlier this year that the University of Texas at San Antonio will lead the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CyManII), a public-private consortium to bolster U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, energy efficiency, and innovation.
I’m also really impressed by our transportation sector. It covers everything from electric vehicles that everyday consumers are purchasing all the way up to medium and heavy-duty electric engine applications. We also look to improve vehicle technologies through advanced materials, improve the efficiency of combustion engines, and invest in the science and scaling of advanced fuels through our Bioenergy and Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology Offices.
With technology funded from our Bioenergy Technologies Office in partnership with LanzaTech, Virgin Atlantic flew a Boeing 747 on the first-ever commercial flight using advanced aviation fuel made from recycled waste carbon gases. The flight took flight from Orlando, Florida and flew across the Atlantic, landing in London, England.
I think my favorite part of EERE is seeing the various collaborations and partnerships to make these innovations a reality.
What is one thing you took away from your time at Rubicon?
It is so hard to articulate how much I learned and grew during my time at Rubicon. Obviously being more conscious about recycling and how I, and others around me, consume. There is no better person to learn about recycling in all of its forms than Elizabeth Montoya! You are the best teacher—I learned so much from you, and I was so impressed with the culture that you, Nate, and the entire team developed that helped Rubicon to become a B Corporation.
An experience that I will never forget was going on a ride-along with one of our haulers. I went in the middle of the night to North Georgia to start our route promptly at 3:00am. I saw the way the hauler was working in a manual format, with a lot of different pieces of paper. His route stops were scattered across multiple pieces of paper—the route far from optimized. Then I was able to see Rubicon’s technology in action—how the route became more efficient, how Rubicon’s patent technology works that alerts customers the moment the front hauler loads the trash. It was truly where the rubber met the road! I was moved that the hauler believed in Rubicon’s business model and mission, and through this, he was bettering his company that he worked so hard to start and expand. Whether it is a small-to-medium business or a large corporate, a small town or a behemoth of a city like Atlanta, it is clear that Rubicon is making a difference.
Rubicon and Nate are perfect examples of American ingenuity, and I am so thankful I was able to be a small part of it all.
Elizabeth Montoya is Chief of Protocol and Investor Relations at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.