Like many successful entrepreneurs, Pashon Murray keeps herself incredibly busy. Murray splits her time between managing her three companies — Detroit Dirt LLC, International Dirt L3C and personal brand Pashon Murray Inc. — while at the same time serving as a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. A Grand Rapids native, Murray is a frequent speaker about the circular economy and zero-waste initiatives across the country. Ahead of her participation in the fourth-annual West Michigan Sustainable Business Conference on March 14 in Grand Rapids, Murray spoke with MiBiz about her thoughts on zero-waste initiatives, business and her advice for entrepreneurs.
What’s the business case for integrating a closed-loop model for food waste at an organization?
I think it has a social, economical and environmental benefit. If you’re spending a certain amount of money to have your waste hauled away, sooner or later you’ll be able to see the difference. It becomes an automatic audit. It may cost you in the beginning to get the program going, but sooner or later, you’ll say, ‘My waste is diminishing and I don’t have to pay the $500 a month. I can slash that in half and then my cardboard, my plastics and my food waste are all going somewhere.’ Then you find the resourcefulness of aligning for others who can use those materials that you’re producing.
What are some examples of the ‘non-food’ businesses your organization works with?
It’s a corporation like General Motors or Blue Cross that feeds a lot of people every day, but they’re not a food business. They have a lot of coffee grounds — like thousands of pounds of coffee grounds since so many people are drinking coffee. Breweries with their spent grain — a lot of them have a hard time finding a consistent person they can turn the spent grain over to because farmers aren’t really consistent with showing up at their businesses to pick those things up.
Do you see an intersection of activism and entrepreneurism in your work?
Absolutely. I’ve lobbied in Washington, D.C. and have done a lot of things involving sustainability. I’m a consultant for what I do and for other things involving education, so it was definitely an intersection because you almost have to show people your advocacy and your past experiences and why you’re doing it. Then you have to have it make sense to them. So my activism was definitely going out and doing things for free and helping some of the urban farmers played a huge role. Then the entrepreneur side of it came later. I had to really sacrifice my time and set aside my aspirations for making money.
How did growing up in Grand Rapids shape your career in Detroit?
My father actually had a small business during my childhood in Grand Rapids which involved waste management … so I started seeing that as a child. My entrepreneurial journey began about 15 years ago when I left (college).
Why did you move away?
The reason why I left Grand Rapids and moved to Detroit was one, I’ve always wanted to help Detroit and I always felt that Grand Rapids was a pretty established city. Detroit was one of those areas where agriculture and the environment were really not at the forefront of the city because it was an industrial city. My childhood experiences coupled with a vision to help the city.
What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs interested in sustainability and food?
I think you really have to be willing to eat, sleep and live what you do. It’s also always good to have mentorship and collaboration because they help guide your path but also they help validate your process or mission. As an entrepreneur, you always want to reiterate that every so often.
How will the next generation of green entrepreneurs differ from the current crop?
The budding entrepreneurs of the world and the next generation, they’re the ones who are going to be able to really create this green or sustainable economy. … Right now, the folks like me are all fragmented. People are talking about natural gas and waste-to-energy and there are all these initiatives going on, but sooner or later they’re all going to intersect. The next generation will carry that torch and create the companies that will manage these practices.
Interview conducted and condensed by John Wiegand. Courtesy photo.