12. Amanda Jordan on turning Phoenix into a circular city

Circular Economy Project Manager at City of Phoenix

Welcome to The Multi-usiverse. Alongside your guide, Garr Punnett, explore worlds of opportunity within the use of physical resources across companies and organizations. Consider this a field guide in scaling reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recirculation. We’ll learn from guests who have ventured down this path and carved their way. Our aim is to discuss the successes, opportunities, and challenges of scaling a connected, circular economy. On this episode we’re joined by Amanda Jordan, Circular Economy Project Manager for the City of Phoenix.

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Audio Transcript:

Garr Punnett (00:07)

Hey, everybody, welcome back to the Multiusiverse Podcast. My name is Garr Punnett, Chief Strategy Officer here at Rheaply. In today’s episode, we got to talk to Amanda Jordan, who is the circular economy project manager for the City of Phoenix. I’ve known her for a very long time. She’s been an inspiration since we got to catch up and talk about more about the work that she did while at Arizona State, as well as now what they’re focusing on at the city of Phoenix. When it comes to circular economy, in many ways, the city of Phoenix is the playbook for how cities should be thinking about either their mitigation or resilience strategies for either climate change or zero waste waste management practices. It’s a great episode. She just runs us through again, the playbook from start to finish on how one can research, create solutions and scale those solutions at the municipal level. Thanks so much. See you soon. Hey, Amanda, thanks so much for joining us today on the Multiusiverse podcast. Would you go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience so that we can start to kick off and talk about all the amazing work that you’ve been doing?

Amanda Jordan (01:18)

Sure. Thanks, Garr. My name is Amanda Jordan. I am the Circular Economy Project Manager here for the City of Phoenix. So in my position, I work across the public works Department and our community and Economic development Department to find the synergies across the two divisions. Most specifically, how can I tap into economic development tools and strategies tied to business attraction retention expansion as a means to either attract new circular economy businesses to the Phoenix area or help those already here expanded a circular economy and in turn support public works waste diversion goals of 50% waste diversion by 2030 and zero waste by 2050. So yeah, that’s me.

Garr Punnett (02:06)

Those are excellent goals. What makes Phoenix such a hotbed for innovation and sort of circular economy? Why do we find so many projects are in Phoenix? Why are there so many opportunities for either entrepreneurs to start things in Phoenix or just really advancement of circular economy theory and practice?

Amanda Jordan (02:28)

Yeah, great question. So Phoenix is very unique as a municipality in that we own all of our facilities. So all of the transfer stations, material recovery facilities, compost facility and landfill. And because of that, we can get really creative in terms of how we want to divert from landfill and create local end markets tied to circular economy. So more specifically, typically when you put your recyclables into the bin and they’re picked up by an entity, a waste hauler, they own the waste at that point and thereby own all the data and the opportunities around it. Phoenix, because we own all of our facilities, we get to own the waste and in turn can find opportunities to engage with startups or maybe more established businesses to offer them the opportunity to take our waste as feed stock and use it for manufacturing purposes to find these new solutions and create this circular economy in the area.

Garr Punnett (03:25)

I don’t think even you saying that it is highlighting. And I’m starting to remember how amazed I was at that when I started as a grad student at Arizona State, when I learned that that really can become the catalyst for innovation when typically to explain this to others, again, to highlight how important this is is the ownership of that feedstock, whether it be the plastics, metals, whatever it might be coming out of what’s known as a Murph or a material recovery facility. For those that are new to that term, it’s that feedstock, then that’s proprietary. And so that’s what’s so helpful to say, hey, actually, we can divert some of this out for use of some sort of innovative new model to try something new. And that’s where you then you can get the innovation typically not found in, again, other communities. I’m highlighting what you’ve already said, but just to double down on that point of how that is, the value is finding that feedstock and being able to innovate on that feedstock, which, again, I don’t think people maybe understand how proprietary it is, but not only is it hard to get your hands on, maybe that feedstock to try to innovate on it, it’s even harder sometimes to work with some of the companies that own that feedstock some large recyclers or managers of waste that even knowing how to engage in the contracts or knowing how to intercept and create a better model is very complicated.

Garr Punnett (04:55)

And you actually have to break legal agreements. You have to then try to convince a first client that, hey, this is what I want to try with your company. They might actually be bound by sort of, again, a legal agreement to not give you that waste product. And so it’s huge that Phoenix can provide those opportunities by the innovative model that they’ve produced, which is owning that recovery facility. That’s fantastic.

Amanda Jordan (05:20)

Yeah, it’s awesome. So we get to a lot of fun stuff here in Phoenix. Some of our big name projects that most would probably be familiar with tap into what we call our resource innovation campus, which is essentially the concept of a sustainable business park, but circular economy business park. So we have two transfer stations here in the city. Our Southern transfer station has 40 acres of land that has been allocated for this campus with the intent of attracting the circular businesses to either rent offices or lease space within the physical campus building or to lease directly on the land for those that are maybe further along and not as early stage. And so we purposely located it next to the transfer stations to build upon the opportunity to just kind of essentially walk over, pull out some plastic bales, and bring it back over to your office to test out some stuff.

Garr Punnett (06:16)

If anybody has that opportunity, somehow they’re passing through the Phoenix area. Please reach out. It’s something, too that it’s really cool to see because as you make your way to just the material recovery facility, you get to see some projects along the way that are pretty cool. Whether, again, it’s something to do with composting or something to do with other experimental uses of these sort of end products or feedstocks. It’s pretty cool to see and be a part of that. Really, when it comes down to it, what can you tell us about how these decisions get made at the municipal level, where we really start to get into the vision of what we know our future should be and how we start to build slowly but surely the blocks needed to make sure that vision can happen. And it started with maybe owning a material cover facility, but how does something like that actually happen at the city level?

Amanda Jordan (07:16)

Yeah, great question. So the typical approval process you’d see at the city level in terms of engaging Mayor and city Council to buy into what you’re trying to do and signing off and creating ordinance. So historically, here in Phoenix, our endeavors into circular economy first began with our former Mayor, Mayor Greg Stanton, who had been elected into office. And sustainability was a core Tenet of what he was pushing forward on at that time. I think this was around 2011, 2012. He had engaged with Arizona State University, which is one of the big local universities here. And that house is the first sustainability. And knowing we have that in our backyard, he tapped into the resources at ASU to kind of do some assessments around what’s happening across Phoenix. Simultaneously, he read the book Bird on Fire, which he named Phoenix as fully sustainable city on the planet. So he was very keen to change that reputation. And so two big things came out of that initial engagement, which included a greenhouse gas emissions inventory assessment and a waste characterization assessment. And so from the waste characterization assessment, we were able to see what materials are coming through our facilities that have value and could be repurposed and given new life.

Amanda Jordan (08:39)

Additionally, we learned of the fact that the public works trucks that are transporting from transportation to landfill every day are pretty big GHG emitters. Unfortunately, we were very keen to curb that. And how do we prevent them from going out to our landfill in the first place? For reference, our landfill is 50 miles outside of city center, so it’s about 15 minutes one way drive, and the trucks do. Each truck does four trips a day on average. So it’s a lot of mileage, a lot of air quality issues tied to that. And so from there, a couple of different initiatives spun out, including Reimagined Phoenix, which was our initiative to reach 40% diversion by 2020. And our sister program tied to that, which was the Resource Innovation and Solutions network. And in turn, the incubator component tied to that. And so each time we wanted to launch on these different initiatives, we had to go to city Council and get their buy in to launch these strategic partnerships and really start moving the needle on this work. And so we’ve been fortunate in that since Mayor Sam’s departure. We now have Mayor Kate Gallego, who is also very keen on sustainability, green jobs, green infrastructure, circular economy.

Amanda Jordan (10:00)

She’s another great champion. And so I think Phoenix has been very fortunate in that we have these top down leaders who are bought into doing good for the sake of good and wanting to kind of shift how things are typically done.

Garr Punnett (10:14)

Yeah, I love that. As, again, the playbook of change, I mean, really, again, starting at the level of understanding, okay, this is our state, and I think there’s so much power in just recognizing the state of where we are. And it’s the power of recognizing again, okay, this is our current state, but it doesn’t have to be our future state. And how are we going to start taking these steps across either the academic levels that a city like Phoenix has to inspire change, the business infrastructure as well to inspire change, and then the government level again to all work hand in hand, how do you think? And this is going to get a little Phoenix specific here, but again, having a little bit of background into the identity of the city, how do you think the thoughts of the future have impacted the work that is being done, climate change being very real and Phoenix being very hot as is. Do you see any of that sort of play into this as saying, hey, this is what the work that we need to do as a Mitigation strategy?

Amanda Jordan (11:23)

Yeah. So that’s definitely playing into a lot of the conversations happening now and developments internally, whether it be strategic plans. So our climate action plan was just relaunched in October of last year, which calls out a lot of strategic initiatives that we want to launch upon tied to waste water, heat, air quality issues. Additionally, we have established the first of its kind office of response and Mitigation and have hired on a director of that Department. And so we are desert City. It does get hot here. It’s getting hotter and hotter every year. That’s the effects of climate change that we’re feeling. And we’re recognizing that and taking efforts to ensure that we have those divisions and that leadership in place to start that future planning component of how are we going to build new buildings that can withstand 120 degrees in July? I think that’s kind of where we’re seeing a lot of that come into play most frequently.

Garr Punnett (12:34)

Again, it speaks to not every city rises to the occasion, I believe, like Phoenix has. But almost again, you all are the vanguards for saying, hey, this is the change that we need to see happen because too many other cities in the United States still have this luxury of maybe not feeling things as much as Phoenix does. And so I think that’s what’s really cool to see that if there’s anybody listening from the city somewhere in the United States that take a look at that playbook again, because it really does mean that maybe other cities have a little bit more time than some to really begin their mitigation and really almost resiliency strategy in that capacity. Now on to the projects that you’ve worked on. Can we talk a little bit about how to incubate a Circular Economy program and understanding and then education that then can translate into business innovation? I know you’ve had a unique hand in both the education of either students or programs, but then also sort of, how do we build the programming needed to support Circular Economy business growth?

Amanda Jordan (13:51)

Yeah, great question. So prior to joining the city, I was part of the Robin Melanie Walton Sustainability Solution Service, which is housed out of Arizona State University Go Devils. It is essentially the external facing consulting firm that takes the work, the research happening within the University, and finds ways to scale it out into the real world via public and private sector partners. And so most specifically, I worked within the Circular Economy space and initiatives under the Resource Innovation Solutions Network division, or Risen. I’m going to call it Risen from this point on because it’s not Risen. Risen itself had launched in 2014, and by 20 15, 20 16, there was a demonstrated need to launch a business incubation component. And so in 2016, approval and funding was given to start the Risen Incubator. And so funding from that came from divisions within ASU the city of Phoenix and the US Economic Development Administration. And so from there, we have launched the first Circular Economy business incubator in the United States, which is very exciting. And our first cohort kicked off in mid 2017. And so we had some big wins and we had some struggles.

Amanda Jordan (15:25)

It was definitely a learning experience, and that at the time, Circular Economy was still pretty new term here in the US. And so when trying to get Circular Economy businesses specifically to come into the program, it got to be pretty difficult because businesses weren’t labeling themselves as such. And so we really had to be strategic in our recruitment efforts. Once we were able to find some of those businesses in that space and get them into the program, we had to be really creative around the program offerings. So under our EDA grant, we were not able to provide funding. So we couldn’t do things like a competition. So we had to find other support avenues for helping these entrepreneurs find funding. So we work with them to apply for different grants, different challenges or competitions not tied to Risen Incubator that they could compete in. And when funding money, seed money. Additionally, we had access to the labs at the University. So it gave them an opportunity to do a lot of that. R and D and pilot testing. Pilot testing also came into play from the city side. So because of the opportunities that Phoenix has around owning and operating facilities, we were able to let some of these entrepreneurs in the program pilot test out at the location.

Amanda Jordan (16:46)

And as such, that helped to inform the types of RFPs that the city would later issue.

Garr Punnett (16:51)

Often more valuable than any money. It’s just the ability to test and pilot and reiterate.

Amanda Jordan (16:59)

Exactly. So in terms of the education component, we kind of start from scratch a bit at the time. Risen Walton team specifically is part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Ce 100, as is City of Phoenix. And so we were fortunate in that because we were tied into that network, we could tap into some of the resources and educational components that were already established and translate them from a European perspective into more of a US perspective. And so from there, we could really plug and play with what we were trying to teach these entrepreneurs as they’re coming through. And even still, we found that a lot of times they still wanted some of that traditional learning around how to put together a marketing plan or how to get a mentor, kind of those things that you see across these types of programs. And then, of course, plugging in. How do we design for circularity? How do you transition from selling a product to creating a service model so that you’re not creating waste or not needing to replace items? And so it was definitely a little bit of a learning curve. But in the end, we were able to incubate 19 different companies.

Amanda Jordan (18:17)

And there’s a really great program, and it’s something that from both sides we’re kind of exploring. How do we reactivate opportunities around incubation acceleration, especially because that program, the EDA funding, had concluded December 31, 2019. So early 2020. We were kind of reevaluating what the program could look like. And of course, with covid 19 kind of rocked the world, as we all know. And so we’re now kind of opening up those discussions again of what these types of programs could look like. And just that short time. Right. It’s been maybe three years. The influx of businesses in Circular economy is astronomical. I don’t think anybody would have issues recruiting businesses at this point to that type of program. So it’s been fun to kind of be at the beginning stages. And now in this kind of more established frame of mind.

Garr Punnett (19:12)

Well, then that leads kind of into more of the work that Phoenix is doing. And can you speak a little bit about how the work that you are now pursuing is maturing, sort of the circular conversation even more within the city’s work. Can you speak a little bit more about what you all are up to, whether it’s focusing again, more on the recycling and diversion rates or thinking more through reuse or supporting, again, more community efforts around circular economy.

Amanda Jordan (19:40)

Yeah, definitely. So as I mentioned, we relaunched our climate action plan in the fall. And in that plan, it does have a specific section tied to waste diversion and circular economy efforts. And so from there, a lot of the goals set are tied to 2030. So we have some time, but not really right at the rate that municipalities tend to move on things. And the climate action plan, which was led by our Office of Environmental Programs here at the city, I guess I should mention that Phoenix is great and that we do have a lot of these different divisions that tap into the different aspects of sustainability as a whole and have a lot of overlap and synergies. And so we have our Office of Environmental Programs, which leads on basically everything except waste, which falls under public works. And so from there, there’s been somewhat aggressive target set in terms of the Resource Innovation Campus I mentioned, it has been called out in our plan that we get that campus up and running and activated by 2030. And so that is my core project right now. How do I get this space activated? Because it is currently still an undeveloped dirt lot.

Amanda Jordan (20:54)

And so we have engaged with C40 cities. So Mayor Kikayego is one of two US mayors in the C40 network. She also sits on the steering committee. Yeah, it’s very exciting. She joined in 2020. And so through C 40, they have an opportunity called the Reinventing Cities Competition. And so we have submitted the Resource Innovation Campus into the competition. And from there, C 40 essentially runs an international RFP process. So they solicit developers who are interested in helping us create this campus in a sustainable way. So carbon neutral, net emissions, renewable energy, heat adaptation, infrastructure, all those US words and prominent important things tied to climate change effects. And from there, we’re hoping to get that facility up and running, ideally end of next year, simultaneously. We’re also currently renovating one of our two Murphs, the Murph that is next to the Rick Rick is Resource Innovation Campus. I may switch back and forth between the terminology, please.

Garr Punnett (22:13)

This will help anybody listening. Yeah, it will help anybody listening. Just Google this and figure this out, too. Yes. Okay, good.

Amanda Jordan (22:19)

I try not to use acronyms too much. I know not everyone knows what I’m talking about. And so the Murph is being renovated and will come back online. I believe right now the timeline is summer 2023. So both of these facilities will be coming back online around the same time. The Murph will now be upgraded and include a lot of these new technologies in terms of opticals, robotics, all of that great stuff, which will then hopefully increase the diversion and sortation of materials in a way that can help to accelerate the businesses that will be located on the rink. So those are kind of the two big things. And then Additionally, with the launch of the climate action plan, we are now on the public works side putting together our Zero Waste 2050 strategic plan for the city as well, which we’re hoping to put out very soon. Yeah, I think it’s just kind of the stars have aligned and it’s been good timing here in Phoenix, and there’s a lot of momentum and things building off each other, and it’s an exciting time.

Garr Punnett (23:26)

Well, I think that’s the call to action to anybody looking for the right environment to scale any circular economy idea into a business, Phoenix might be the place to start. How does the city sort of approach reuse, reuse being so critical here at Rheaply? How do you all think about it in terms of its key components into the circular picture?

Amanda Jordan (23:53)

Yeah, great question. So reuse is something we’re having a lot of internal discussions on now, especially as we’re currently writing the Zero Waste 2050 strategic plan. Thinking through, what would it actually look like to have some sort of reuse system within the city? So for those who aren’t familiar, Phoenix is very large. We’re about 520 sq. Mi. We are spread out city. There’s 1.6 million people within Phoenix proper that doesn’t include the whole Metro area, which I think bumps it up to almost 3 million. So knowing that we’re so spread out, how do we establish these systems in a way that won’t create more work for drivers per se or won’t lead to more GHC emissions because additional pickup routes are happening? And so we’re definitely exploring what are some opportunities that we could potentially pilot, perhaps in specific downtown area near city hall and kind of where a lot of the core businesses are. Don’t quote me on this. I believe there are some regulations in place at the county level where we sit in terms of reuse when it comes to like food or beverage. So oftentimes if you try to bring a reusable container into a Starbucks, they may not fill it for you due to health codes.

Amanda Jordan (25:15)

So thinking through, how do we navigate around that if we’re looking at reuse in terms of food and beverage, but I think we’re more so leaning into outside of that space, kind of tapping into more of what Weebly is doing. How do you set up business exchange model for products to be reused or repurposed or given an opportunity to be used in the first place? Because, as you know, sometimes construction is a big industry here, right? Often times people over order things, and then what do you do with all this extra material that you can’t get rid of or maybe don’t care to really try to find a new Avenue for? So how do we set up those opportunities is definitely something at the forefront of our minds, particularly as we’re getting ready to have the Rick officially become a physical building that people can come in and work out of and engage with.

Garr Punnett (26:06)

Well, even again, as you said, even more important for cities that are very popular and growing at a large sort of increasing rates, like Phoenix, like Austin, like Atlanta or Charlotte, all of those cities that people are like, oh, I could go live here and it’s lovely here most of the year. Yeah. Well, what’s the call to action now as we round this out? I mean, what would you say to those listening to those who will watch videos here on how what should they be thinking about in terms of engaging more circular action? How should we be sort of mobilizing as citizens in engaging in our communities or engaging with Phoenix?

Amanda Jordan (26:47)

Yeah, engaging with Phoenix. Email me Amanda Jordan at Phoenix. Gov. I love chatting with anyone, entrepreneurs or other municipalities, sharing best practices and knowledge. I guess I want to preface with, everything that we do here is voluntary. So unlike a California where a lot of things are being mandated, we don’t have the policy levers to back up what we’re doing. We’re doing this all because we want to or because our citizens are asking for it and then probably inserting that real quickly because it makes business sense sometimes.



Amanda Jordan (27:23)

Makes business sense. It’s good for the people, good for the planet. And so in terms of engaging at the local level, from a city perspective, from other cities, I think don’t be afraid to get creative and don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Right. A lot of cities out there, Austin, for example, they’re doing awesome work in the space of circular economy. They have a lot of programs and tools that have already been established. So take a look at those things. And what aspects or components could you replicate in your own city? Whether it’s a pitch competition or reuse model for exchanging items or things of that nature, I think oftentimes it can be overwhelming to try to get these things off the ground. So take a look what’s out there and see what makes sense for your city or even your business. And in terms of maybe entrepreneur capacity, I think a lot of times they’re looking for funding. Right. So how do you find those opportunities around funding? Fortunately, there’s tons of grants out there now via different entities, recycling partnership, closed loop, all of those great figures. But then we’re also seeing some stuff coming through from the federal level.

Amanda Jordan (28:43)

So we have the IIja, which I believe is the Investment, Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which has excellent lots of funding tied to it around the space of electric vehicles, renewable energy. There’s a lot of opportunities there. And since it was signed off in November by President Biden, the entities or the departments that lead the different funding tied to the IIja, I think have 180 days to get these programs launched so those are going to be launching soon. So I would say keep an eye on the trends, keep an eye on what’s happening at the different levels. There’s more available and more going on than you might realize and there’s a lot of opportunities out there these days, so it’s exciting times.

Garr Punnett (29:35)

I love that, as always, a wealth of knowledge. Thank you. Amanda, I think your key point there of don’t reinvent the wheel. I take to heart sometimes on that because it’s all about, hey, how do you take the system as is and innovate within create a program and a structure, an idea that can add to not restart something that someone at the city has done and that will be the best way that you can really add any movement or traction to your idea. It’s so easy for people to poke and tear down when it’s like, no, this is set up for a reason. Go use the structure. And if you use the structure, the city is going to embrace you guaranteed. There’s someone in a Department that’s like, oh, my gosh, there’s this new company that’s starting and they just reached out and so I highly recommend that, whether it’s in Phoenix or elsewhere. Thank you for all the time today. It was great seeing you again.

Amanda Jordan (30:32)

Yeah. Nice chatting. Thanks you.

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