Nine years ago, Alicia Archibald was a Business Journal Rising Star. Now she’s a leading light in the Colorado Springs recycling community.
Raised on a farm in Navarro, Texas, Archibald moved to Colorado Springs with her family in December 1989. Archibald, who studied business administration at the University of Phoenix, joined the Clean Air Campaign in 1997 as an administrative assistant. As she worked her way up to executive director of the organization, her passion for recycling was born.
Since then, she has been a champion of recycling in the Pikes Peak region and has worked with businesses and organizations to improve their sustainability, all while playing guitar and singing in a local band, The Midnight Sun, and being part owner of The Plant Lady, a commercial plant care business.
Archibald talked with the Business Journal about her commitment to environmentally sustainable living and how she’s changing hearts and minds in businesses and the community.
You’ve been involved with the environmental sustainability community for a long time. Where did your interest come from?
It was actually an accident. I was looking for a job in 1997 and the Clean Air Campaign of the Pikes Peak region — it was a local environmental nonprofit focused on improving air quality — they were looking for an administrative assistant and I happened to get the job. I stayed there and I learned about nonprofit work and what it was like to work for a mission. I enjoyed that a lot, that your goal is to accomplish something that betters lives. I stayed there because they started doing a program around electronics recycling. Intel, Agilent, Colorado Springs Utilities and other stakeholders in the community wanted to host an electronics collection event. That was in 2001, and I got to be the lead on that. So that really piqued my interest.
What path did your career take from there?
I worked at the Clean Air Campaign for seven years. Then air quality funding pretty much dried up. Our air quality is so much better than it was; it basically had met its mission. So the money that the organization was getting in had to do more with the electronics recycling program than anything else. At that point, the board decided to close the organization in 2004. So I decided to start my own electronics recycling business. I bought the assets of the organization and started BETTR Recycling, and was the only electronics recycling gig in town for a few years. It was heavy, hard work. A 21-inch CRT monitor would weigh 90 to 100 pounds. I was in great shape!
And then a contractor for Fort Carson asked me if I wanted to join their sustainability team, and I did that in 2007 through my company as a consultant. I basically helped them with their Zero Waste program, their sustainable procurement program and alternative fuels. I was also working through the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program locally. I ran that for a while. I did a whole lot of community education with Fort Carson. I enjoyed getting to go out to the community and teaching people about recycling. And that was, I think, probably where a lot of my education came as well. Working with Department of Energy in their alternative fuels program, I got to be the executive director here in Colorado Springs of the Southern Colorado Clean Cities Coalition.
I did that until 2011, and then I went to work at Bestway Disposal. I was their recycling educator. When the recycling sorting facility opened up, I gave tours to folks to show them what happens when they put the recycling in their recycle can. … They would look at the bales of material, knowing that it was going to go to a facility somewhere and be made into new products. It made them feel pretty good about their decision to recycle instead of just tossing in the landfill. I was their safety manager for a while and the last three years that I worked there, I was the manager of the transfer station. I worked there until October of last year.
What are you doing now?
I’ve started my own consulting business again. My new company is called A2 Solutions. My tagline is ‘Creating solutions for people and the planet.’ One of my clients is E-Tech Recycling; I help them with their business development and their safety program, and I helped develop the partnership that they have with Community Intersections for the E-Tech Learning Center. Basically, the E-Tech Learning Center is training individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, giving them job skills.
I’m also working with the city of Denver on waste composition. I’m spending two weeks digging through the trash to help the city of Denver identify how well their recycling program is working. … They’re doing a pretty good job of keeping their recycling clean, [although] it’s not the most pleasant smelling job.
I’m also working with the National Western Stock Show, helping them develop a solid waste management plan for the redevelopment of the National Western complex in Denver.
So that, mixed with helping with the plant business and playing music, is pretty much full time.
How do you think Colorado Springs does in terms of recycling, compared with other places that you know about?
We’re way behind. I think we’re the second-largest county in Colorado, and we have the worst recycling. … If you want trash service, you have to call the trash company and set it up. It’s not a part of your utility bill … versus, you know, Boulder and Denver [where] it’s provided by the city or county, so it’s part of your property taxes. We’re a community that likes our freedom, and I appreciate that. The flip side of that is, it seems like we have the right, we have the freedom, to decide that landfilling our waste is better than recycling it.
The city as an organization has a sustainability plan; Fort Carson has a sustainability program, the Air Force has, but as far as the community goes, we’re rather disconnected. I’ve been working for years to try to figure out how to get recycling to be much more commonplace, and it just hasn’t happened yet. It’s an uphill battle.
What do you think it is going to take to push us in that direction?
I believe it’s going to take our leadership and our community to want it and be willing to basically take a stand. Maybe it’s ordinances that require people to recycle. I don’t know, but honestly, it has to be from the leadership down. It can’t be just grassroots going up because we’re such a transient community that your grass roots are never stable.
How can businesses balance environmentally conscious practices with their need to make a profit?
I think it has to do with the way they plan. If you want to be a business that minimizes your footprint in waste, your procurement team would look for things that can be reused or recycled and not wasted. … If you have a fleet, you should be looking at the fuels that the vehicles consume — look at alternative fuels or electric vehicles where possible. Again, it’s just a matter of having policies in place by the leadership that says, ‘we’re going to be wise about how we spend our dollars, but we’re going to do it in a way that it has a positive impact to the environment.’ It doesn’t have to cost more money to be sustainable. I think it may cost a little more time. … It just has to start at the top.
How can businesses and individuals contribute to sustainability?
I wish that people would take personal responsibility for their individual environmental impacts. It doesn’t do any good to collect recyclables if we do not buy recycled content. You can decide whether or not you’re going to be throwing things in the landfill or whether you’re going to be recycling from the moment you make the purchase. My example that I always give to people is the egg carton. So there are three types of egg cartons. There’s the Styrofoam one. There is a plastic one, which is recyclable. And then there’s the cardboard one which is made from recycled content and is compostable. So if your goal is to get to zero waste, or if you want to be a good recycler, which one would you not buy? Well, I’d not buy the Styrofoam because it’s not recycled. Does it cost more to buy the recyclable container? No. It’s just a matter of making a choice.
Businesses that would invest in solar panels on their buildings [or] solar panels for covered parking that would then feed the organization’s utility bill, I think that would have a big impact. That takes an investment, and it’s easier to do on the front end when you’re building. When you’re already built in and you’re trying to retrofit, that’s obviously more expensive. Colorado College is a great example of an organization that’s investing in it. If you invest now, it pays off later.
What advice would you give to our new Rising Stars?
You can do anything you want to do, but you have to be willing to be committed to doing it. I wanted a recycling sorting facility here in Colorado Springs, and so I made it my mission to talk to every hauler that was here for years and years and push and push. And today we have a material recovery facility. So, you know, stick to it and be willing to do what you need to do.