We had a chance to speak with Jim Spellos on his new Whole Earth Calculator that he developed while working for Rock and Wrap It Up (They aim to help facilitate delivering excess foods to those who need it, and simultaneously preventing it from ending up in landfills).
When did this idea for this app hit you?
The idea for the app crystalized when I was doing some work for Rock and Wrap It Up, with whom I’ve been involved for over 10 years (RWU is an anti-poverty/anti-hunger think tank that helps recover excess food and deliver it to those in need of meals). I was speaking with the founder of Rock and Wrap it Up, Syd Mandelbaum, in December 2013, and he was showing me this spreadsheet he was using that takes the pounds of food recovered, and using USDA guidelines, quantifies it as meals that will be served and landfill that will be avoided by recovering the food, and not just throwing it away. They had just been named as the sole food recovery organization for the Super Bowl to be held at Met Life Stadium (February 2014). The minute I saw that sheet, I told Syd that we should make it into an app.
Ever have one of those moments when the words are coming out of your mouth, you know you’ve just given yourself a project? Instantaneously I realized that this needed to be done, and done right away, especially if we were going to use it for the upcoming Super Bowl. I knew I couldn’t do it myself, as I don’t have that level of coding capability. I figured that if I asked some of my industry contacts who develop apps, that at least one of them would want to be part of this project. And although a few of them turned down the opportunity, the unbelievable folks at EventMobi stepped up to the plate and shared the vision of what we could do. Within a month, the first version of the app was created. The side note to this story is that RWU picked up over 40,000 lbs of food from events affiliated with the SuperBowl, and we were able to quantify and socially share that good work through the app.
What is the essence of your app and why?
The essence of the app is to provide a way to increase food recovery through awareness and social sharing. The mobile tool (it’s not a native app, but a web-based, mobile friendly tool) will convert the pounds of food into the meals and landfill reductions, but also creates a tweet the user can send it. They can customize the tweet, adding the username and any hashtags affiliated with the event, so that they can socially share what they are doing, which hopefully will continue to create sustainability awareness.
How did you plan it out with such a busy schedule – any project management tools used?
My project management tool was locating the team at EventMobi! Between Jeannie Wolf (our liaison at EventMobi), Syd and myself, we quickly designed a layout that would work easily, had the app designers make that design into a sample tool, and then we tweaked it to ensure it did what we wanted. The entire process only took a few weeks, as we had a vision, and EventMobi shared it from the outset.
How did you go about finding the right partner to help make this a reality for you and the industry?
I just started reaching out to the mobile app companies that I knew and the relationships that I had. It became clear that I found the right one when I first spoke with the folks at EventMobi.. they clearly got the mission, and were totally on board.
How are you creating awareness for the app?
Mostly word of mouth. The calculator has a Twitter account (@wholeearthcalc), as we do for Rock and Wrap It Up. The people at MeetGreen clearly got the value of the app right away, and used it last month to report on all of the great food recovery that was done by the Oracle Open World conference in San Francisco. I’m also fortunate to have a platform where I speak to many people, and always make sure to share the way cool work that RWU is doing. It doesn’t hurt at all that the White House this summer named Rock and Wrap It Up and our Whole Earth Calculator as one of the key tools for the President’s Climate Data Initiative. Very exciting.
What has the response been so far?
Everyone who has seen it thinks that it’s a great tool. Simple & elegant, and makes a real impact when you see what your donation can actually do in terms of meals being served to those who need it. Syd has since taken the calculator and has made it the lynch pin for middle and high school sustainability lesson plans which a number of schools have started to use.
Any successes? Any disappointments?
The White House mentioning us is clearly an awesome success. So was the work for the Oracle conference. But really, every small way we can help divert the food from landfills into people’s mouths is a huge success. As for disappointments, I am a bit surprised that there is still a reticence on the part of many planners and hotels to include sustainability efforts in the work. We have so much leftover food in this industry, why people wouldn’t want to do the right thing with it is a continual surprise to me.
How are planners educating their attendees about sustainability or about your app?
Clearly, that’s different from each organization. I think the education that is still needed is not at the attendee level, but at the meeting planner, & facility sales and services people. If we all don’t get it, that education will occur way too slowly.
What’s version 2 going to include?
The second iteration is completed, with a page where paper and plastic recovery will convert into the pounds of CO2e that will avoid being placed into landfill. We’re hoping that the next – next version will include more sustainability tools for the event industry and beyond. Stay tuned for that!
How can people download the app?
It’s non-native, so it’s not a download, rather a mobile website that they can easily use on their mobile device. The current URL is http://eventmobi.com/rwu, though that will likely change soon to a more full time site (probably www.wholeearthcalculator.com)
Please feel free to elaborate or add any other questions you would want to!
Just want to tell our community that it’s not difficult to do this, as Rock and Wrap It Up has already vetted agencies and organizations in various cities who will handle and store the food properly, and serve it to those in need. If they have a meeting where they want us to help with food recovery, just send me a note, and I can get them in touch with the people they need.