Welcome to Street Smart, an interview series from Rubicon in which we sit down with a key city official from one of our smart cities to talk about their city, their commitment to sustainability, and how they’re collaborating with us in our mission to end waste.
Todd Strange was the 56th Mayor of the City of Montgomery, Alabama. Serving in the role between 2009-2019, in July of this year under Mayor Strange the City of Montgomery selected Rubicon to formally implement a smart city solution to help improve residential and commercial waste and recycling services for its more than 200,000 citizens.
Mayor Strange sat down with Rubicon just before he left office to talk about the city he loves, and his long legacy, for Street Smart.
What do you feel is the most unique quality of your city? In short, what makes the City of Montgomery great?
Mayor Strange: Our partnerships. Collaboration is like currency in Montgomery and the River Region. Whether it’s working with regional utilities, businesses and job creators, our defense community at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base and the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field (now home to the F35!), or educators, we strive to perpetuate progress in Montgomery by forging strong partnerships. These partners each bring unique assets to the table, all of which position us as a leader in the smart city space. Alabama Power’s investment in fiber, the launch of the Montgomery Internet Exchange, and the foresight to tap sustainable solution providers like Rubicon all converge to create a climate for success in Montgomery’s high-tech revolution.
Has your city set specific sustainability and circular economy goals?
Mayor Strange: We have. Alongside partnering with Rubicon to achieve this objective, we recently relaunched advanced recycling in Montgomery. RePower South will now manage the operations of the Montgomery Recycling and Recovery Facility. This state-of-the-art facility not only extends the life of our landfill by diverting waste, but it ensures 100 percent participation among residents in the recycling program. At the dawn of my administration, several cabinet members and I visited the landfill only to see a sea of garbage bags. We quickly realized the old way wasn’t working, like many cities are only now finding out. Thanks to our affinity for problem solving through innovation, we bet big on a new technology that would sort, recycle, and transform waste into renewable energy. Absolutely nothing is required from our residents, and the City ultimately saves precious resources while saving the environment. Rubicon and its solutions now factor largely into our overall sustainability strategy by helping Sanitation eliminate waste.
How do you view the relationship between the smart city and sustainability movements?
Mayor Strange: Being a smart city means being a sustainable city, whether that entails implementing sustainable operations to better serve our taxpayers and preserve resources, or finding ways to lower emissions and waste. Smart, sustainable policies and initiatives have helped Montgomery leverage technology and efficiency to attract new development opportunities and enhance our overall quality of life.
How do you craft effective public-private partnerships to drive positive change in your city?
Mayor Strange: Success breeds success, and successful outcomes come from a successful foundation. A willingness to listen to new ideas, to reevaluate existing operations, and to redefine the future are vital steps in crafting the most effective public-private partnerships to drive positive change. When initially approached by Rubicon, the willingness of our City Services team, as well as Rubicon’s leadership, to pilot a program to the mutual benefit of both parties resulted in huge gains. It also unleashed a new era of co-innovation in our city, and we continue making strides in our smart city strategy with partners in our region and across the nation. Of course, when something doesn’t produce the desired results, then you only fail forward and move on with more experience; but we find you succeed much more often than fail as long as you remain open to continuously improving an organization through new partnerships and ideas.
Has the ban on importing recyclable materials to multiple Southeast Asian countries impacted recycling programs in your city?
Mayor Strange: We saw a shift in the recycling industry a few years ago and worked to find an operator of our advanced recycling facility who would not only weather the storm, but would thrive in the industry’s new environment. Our recycling program turns municipal waste into renewable energy for regional buyers. In doing so, we are seeing success at every level.
How does Rubicon’s mission to end waste match-up to your city’s vision?
Mayor Strange: Rubicon’s mission to end waste makes sense while also making cents. Preserving resources and extending the life of our landfill is an easy decision, and we take every step necessary to achieve both goals. Rubicon’s innovative solutions and dedication to end waste, coupled with the success of our recycling and recovery facility, have led to substantial savings. Not only that, we feel our community is only beginning to see the growth in quality of life and economic opportunity that comes with a renewed focus on sustainability and resilience.
How has using Rubicon’s technology in your fleet of waste vehicles helped your city?
Mayor Strange: Incorporating Rubicon’s technology into the Sanitation process has helped to drastically streamline our operations. The technology has fine-tuned our processes to deliver a more efficient and effective fleet. We have found that Rubicon’s technology empowers our hard working staff members through its ease of use, increased accountability, and ability to cut time-wasting minutia from the daily routine. With these new innovative systems, our team can easily optimize routes, keep up with vehicle maintenance, and better predict issues along the way. Furthermore, our investment in Rubicon’s technology will lead to huge taxpayer savings in equipment and maintenance costs. It’s like treating a cold before it becomes pneumonia: the ability to closely track our trucks’ daily wear and tear and unscheduled maintenance needs prevents the sticker shock that comes with buying a new truck or piece of equipment due to catastrophic and unplanned failure.
Has public perception of waste and recycling services changed in your city, thanks in part to your use of Rubicon’s technology?
Mayor Strange: We think so. The public values Montgomery’s ascent to being a leader in the smart city movement. Rubicon’s partnership has played a huge role in this success. We look forward to continuing this partnership for years to come as we continue to co-innovate and build a blueprint for what a truly sustainable and smart city can do.
Editor’s Note: After a decade of leadership under Mayor Todd Strange, the City of Montgomery saw Mayor Steven Reed assume office on November 12, 2019, to become the City’s 57th mayor. With a track record of tapping technology to further innovation in government as Montgomery County’s Probate Judge, Rubicon looks forward to strengthening our partnership, and Montgomery’s potential, with Mayor Reed.
Michael Allegretti is Chief Strategy Officer 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.