Solution overview

Our Solution

GreenToGo

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Tagline

Eliminating single-use food packaging and building resilient circular cities through smart logistics, behavior science, and technology.

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Pitch us on your solution

GreenToGo takes the trash out of takeout! Our business solution is the logistics, infrastructure, and technology that make reusable dish sanitation and supply chain possible.  Customers subscribe to GreenToGo and have access to reusable to-go boxes, cups, plates, and flatware at restaurants, grocery stores, and other food and beverage service locations city-wide. They drop them off in any return station around the city. GreenToGo staff pick up, wash, sanitize, and redistribute to the restaurants. The system is powered by our mobile app. No trash is generated.

Scaled to cities worldwide, our innovation this has the potential to significantly reduce global carbon emissions, as well as energy and water resources, and divert millions of tons of food packaging waste from stormwater, oceans, and  landfills every year.

GreenToGo is the common-sense, sustainable system that eliminates single-use packaging. It reduces global human impact on the environment and builds resilient circular cities.

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What is the problem you are solving?

Dwindling landfill space, limited fossil fuels, the struggling global recycling industry, and oceans of microplastics are symptoms of a global society addicted to disposable plastics. Taking action to disrupt this habit has never been more timely. Single-use food packaging (e.g. Styrofoam takeout boxes, plastic forks, and paper coffee cups) makes up almost 30% (EPA) of the waste we generate and requires unsustainable amounts of resources to produce. In addition, trash has negative health outcomes for humans and the environment. 

The market is demanding more sustainable alternatives that are not currently accessible because of cost, infrastructure, logistics, and technology. Reusable dishes, even when compared to recyclables and compostables, use a fraction of the resources to manufacture and wash, cut carbon emissions by 80% and produce zero trash. However, there are multiple challenges to implementing a reusable system – How do we make sure dishes are returned? How are they collected? How do they get washed? How do you get them back to the food vendors?  While closed-loop systems like a school cafeteria may be able to easily implement reusable containers, there is a lack of infrastructure, logistics, and technology to implement reusable food packaging on a city-wide or larger scale.

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Who are you serving?

Reusable dishes use fewer fossil fuels to manufacture, require less water, and reduce carbon emissions. At scale, they have the potential to divert millions of tons of food packaging waste from stormwater, oceans, and landfills. They reduce the amount of microplastics entering our soil, water, and air.  Most directly, our solution impacts communities affected by waste accumulation. Landfills around the world tend to be located in vulnerable communities, and our solution has a direct impact on those communities worldwide when scaled.

While our current 700 paying subscribers are eco-conscious, our goal is to make our product desirable to the mainstream. To do so, we conduct qualitative research – community surveys and interviews – to understand the attitudes, behaviors, and needs of consumers and businesses. We use this evidence to refine our service to make a bigger impact. We engage community stakeholders through outreach events, community-wide meetings, and by cultivating relationships. We collaborate with government agencies, academic institutions, other non-profits, and faith communities to craft solutions together and pool resources. 

Finally, GreenToGo impacts people on a social level. In a time when many feel helpless about the environment, GreenToGo empowers people with a concrete way to contribute collectively to a global problem. 

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What is your solution?

The GreenToGo solution is a new business model and a new product – a reusable, returnable food container system that eliminates the need for single-use Styrofoam, recyclables, and compostables. Customers download the app and buy GreenToGo subscription. This gives them access to ordering food in reusable packaging at any participating restaurant or grocery store, and they use the app to check out the box. Customers return containers to any drop-off location around the city. Our staff collects used containers from the drop-off bins, cleans them at a central facility, and redistributes them to restaurants. This is done by bicycle and bike trailer to reduce the carbon footprint. Our operations dashboard gives us a snapshot of restaurant inventory and pick-up needs across the city, customer usage trends, and environmental impacts.

Individuals, restaurants, and corporate employers are our three current customer segments. Our customer market research shows that currently all of our customers are eco-conscious, are motivated by customer demand, or corporate commitment to sustainability. We have a newly implemented customer loyalty program to incentivize both customers and businesses to use GreenToGo and provide more economic benefits to restaurants and grocery stores. We believe this is a way to expand our customer reach to the mainstream.

GreenToGo is powered by technology. We are unique in using QR code technology for checkout, collection, washing, and redistribution. We incentivize single-use plastic reduction with a customer loyalty program feature in our app, and an analytics dashboard for restaurants. 

GreenToGo has a direct impact on human survival and environmental equity. Landfills are most often located in vulnerable communities. Replacing a Styrofoam container with GreenToGo reusable container just once a week for a year saves 9 cubic feet from ending up in these landfills. Using GreenToGo 58 times saves as much carbon emissions as an acre of forest for a year. It is currently the only solution to food packaging that is net-positive for the environment.

Our current business model has been successfully prototyped in our community since 2017, and we are now working to refine our model to increase scalability and replicability of GreenToGo in other cities across the world. This includes improvements to the container design, checkout process, different payers and payment structure, and the potential for an Internet of Things solution to inventory management.

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Select only the most relevant.

  • Demonstrate business models for extending the lifetime of products
  • Enable recovery and recycling of complex products
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Where is your solution team headquartered?

Durham, North Carolina, USA
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Our solution's stage of development:

Pilot

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More about your solution

Select one of the below:

New business model or process

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Describe what makes your solution innovative.

We have used circular economy concepts to create the infrastructure, logistics, technology, and incentives that support reusable containers on a city-wide scale. 

Customers sign up for a GreenToGo subscription through the mobile app, giving them access to ordering food in GreenToGo boxes at any participating restaurant or grocery store. They return the box to any drop-off location which are located around the city. On the backend, our staff collects used containers from the drop-off stations, cleans and sanitizes them at a central facility, and redistributes them to restaurants, all by bicycle.

In addition to this new logistics and technology, we are redesigning superior vessels for food and beverage that are made cradle-to-cradle and designed specifically for durability and longevity in a reuse system like ours. We also have plans to build into our software and hardware Internet of Things technology for inventory management. This will allow us to keep track of each individual container, providing restaurants with the dashboard of analytics they need, and allowing us to scale our model to support thousands of customers in each city.

Finally, members of our leadership team are behavior science researchers – we are using the latest behavioral economics research to design our program to change the ingrained habit of using and throwing away disposable plastics. We want to make using reusables the easiest behavior.

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Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.

Customers sign up for a GreenToGo subscription through the mobile app which gives them access to ordering food in GreenToGo boxes at any participating restaurant or grocery store. They return the boxes to any drop-off location which are located around the city. On the backend, our staff collects used containers from the drop-off stations, cleans and sanitizes them at a central facility, and redistributes them to restaurants, all by bicycle. Our operations dashboard gives us a snapshot of restaurant inventory and pick-up needs across the city, customer usage trends, and environmental impacts.

The new customer loyalty feature we built into this technology makes it possible for us to incentivize the recovery of materials, a key principle for the circular economy.

In addition to this new logistics and technology, we are redesigning superior vessels for food and beverage that are made cradle-to-cradle and designed specifically for durability and longevity in a reuse system like ours. We also have plans to build into our software and hardware Internet of Things technology for inventory management. This will allow us to keep track of each individual container, providing restaurants with the dashboard of analytics they need, and allowing us to scale our model to support thousands of customers in each city.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Internet of Things
  • Behavioral Design
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Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?

GreenToGo wants to reduce single-use packaging worldwide from accumulating in landfills, oceans, and stormwater. 30% of landfill volume is disposable food packaging.

GreenToGo provides a reusable product and infrastructure for reusables to be used on a city scale. In a global survey, 87% of the respondents indicated they were concerned about the environment (McCarty et al., 2010) and 30-50% of consumers indicate their intention to purchase more sustainable products (Terlau & Hirsch, 2016). We are providing those products and making them convenient and desirable to use.

In order to maximize the number of our boxes used (thus diverting the most trash), our activities increase the number of subscribers and increase the number of boxes used per subscriber. To increase the number of subscribers, we replicate GreenToGo in cities worldwide with our incubator program (https://greentogo.thinkific.com/) and create incentives for restaurants to participate.

To increase the number of boxes used per subscriber, we use behavioral economics techniques such as gamification, loyalty points, and rewards and make GreenToGo as desirable to use as possible. We show them that their actions make a difference because attitudes serve as precursors to behavioral responses and the individual needs to believe they can make a difference (Straughan & Roberts, 1999). We do this with messaging on the phone app showing an individual consumer’s landfill diversion. 

Finally, through customer discovery and qualitative research, we hypothesize that developing Cradle to Cradle, IoT-enabled vessels for food and beverage will support a business model that is replicable and sustainable worldwide. 

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Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.

  • Women & Girls
  • Pregnant Women
  • LGBTQ+
  • Children and Adolescents
  • Infants
  • Elderly
  • Rural Residents
  • Peri-Urban Residents
  • Very Poor/Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Middle-Income
  • Minorities/Previously Excluded Populations
  • Refugees/Internally Displaced Persons
  • Persons with Disabilities
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • United States
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • United States
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How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?

We currently have 700 paying individual subscribers to the GreenToGo service, 28 restaurants and grocery stores, and 9 corporate employer subscribers. With updates to our revenue and payment model, which are based on lessons learned and our behavior science research, we expect to double our number of subscribers by this time next year. 150 cities are interested in replicating our model, some with hundreds of thousands of residents. So our five-year goal is to serve 1 million subscribers worldwide.

Regarding the number of people directly affected by landfill waste, that number is more difficult to estimate. 1,200 people live in the town that currently takes all of Durham’s trash; however, it is estimated that tens of millions of people worldwide live within a few miles of a landfill. Our solution has the potential to impact everyone who lives near a landfill by reducing the amount of waste in it.

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What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

Our number one priority for this year is to transition our business and revenue models to a scalable, replicable service. We have learned many lessons in our two-year prototyping process and we are ready to deploy those lessons to pilot a new business model that will be better able to penetrate mass markets in Durham. As we make that transition, we want to test and understand how best to use IoT technology for inventory management and restaurant dashboard data, which we believe will be key in selling this service to restaurants. 

In addition, we already have an incubator program that a few cities are using to replicate GreenToGo (and 150 more cities waiting to start!) – in the next several years, we plan to grow our incubator program to replicate GreenToGo in cities across the world using a franchising model to enable other business and organizations to replicate our system in a way that works in their city context. Through our relationships with local franchisees, we will be able to create a Community of Practice that is constantly sharing best practices for maximum global reach and impact.

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What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?

We recognize that we have been able to accomplish a great deal so far on a shoe-string budget. However, to realize our vision we need to further develop our customer loyalty program and technology to achieve financial sustainability. One barrier to achieving our goals in the next year will be lack of funding for specific needed items, like additional  types of containers to expand our customer segments (such as coffee cups for cafes) and the runway to transition to our new revenue model, both of which we calculate will create financial stability in the future. Second, we want our eventual new containers to be truly Cradle to Cradle in design, meaning that they are made with such materials that they can be broken down and made into new containers once they are at end of life. While we are very confident that we will be able to create this manufacturing process given our relationships with local research universities, industrial designers, local plastic resin companies, and manufacturers, we don’t currently have that technology.

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How are you planning to overcome these barriers?

We are addressing the financial barrier by aggressively pursuing major gifts and applying for relevant grant funding this year with a plan to hire a Development Director next year to continue this important role. We are planning a transition to a new payment and revenue model for GreenToGo so that we can cover our expenses. We are also raising our profile locally and nationally through networking at events such as the Circularity 19 conference, speaking engagements by our Executive Director, and circulation of the PBS News Hour special that highlighted our project. To address our second barrier of developing  superior containers, we are continuing to build relationships with research institutions like NC State University and Duke University, which currently and in the past have provided us with graduate-level student groups. One student group at NC State University designed and rendered  a cradle-to-cradle container prototype. The organization Cradle To Cradle has committed to helping us meet their materials and design standards. We are hopeful that these partnerships will take us where we need to be.

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https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/greentogo/id1429334318?mt=8

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About your team

Select an option below:

Other e.g. part of a larger organization (please explain below)

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If you selected Other, please explain here.

GreenToGo is a project of the registered 501c3 non-profit Don’t Waste Durham. Don’t Waste Durham runs the project, and the Don’t Waste Durham staff and volunteers are the same as those for GreenToGo. We would eventually like to transition into a business model where GreenToGo is a social enterprise that supports the other waste-reduction efforts of Don’t Waste Durham, such as local and state policy change around single-use plastics bans and fee structures.

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How many people work on your solution team?

FT: 1, PT: 5 We have full-time Executive Director, and two part-time staff who are also on the leadership team. We have three other part-time staff: an Administrative Assistant and two people who collect and clean the containers. Finally, we have 11 unpaid staff  who work tirelessly and passionately to make this happen.

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For how many years have you been working on your solution?

Since April 2016

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Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?

Our team is uniquely qualified to disrupt the take-and-trash status quo and build a scalable model for a circular economy.

We have a proven track record. We designed, built, and operate a city-wide reusable takeout container service. Launched in 2017, we are currently in 28 restaurants and grocery stores, with over 700 subscribers actively checking out and returning containers. The key ingredients to our program have been vigorous stakeholder engagement, strong community partnerships, and creative problem solving.

We use agile development, an incremental minimum viable product philosophy, design thinking, data science, and qualitative research to continually pilot, validate, adapt, and improve our solutions.

We are thought leaders in city-scale circular economy solutions including the attitude-behavior gap in sustainability and incentivizing material recovery.

We are tech-driven solutionaries. Our knowledge of RFID, Bluetooth, and mobile app technology translates to tracking, recovering, and showing valuable analytics. 

Our vision comes from founder Crystal Dreisbach, an entrepreneur with 15 years of executive leadership experience. With Crystal’s vision and leadership, and her team’s skills in technology, design, research, finance, and business planning, we will provide a scalable model for other cities that want to build resilience and a sustainable future.

Leadership Teammates:

Crystal Dreisbach – co-founder, leader, public speaker,sales

Derek Rowe – co-founder, product development and design

Jennifer Hill – behavior scientist, strategy, and qualitative researcher

Amy Campbell Bogie – finance and social impact

Allan Castillo – operations manager

JT Canfield  – software development


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With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?

  • Durham County Health Department helped us design the GreenToGo program to comply with NC Health Code. 

  • Local non-profit TROSA provides use of their commercial dishwasher and space for drying racks

  • Students at local universities NC State  and Duke partner with us as part of their studies to develop our business plan, conduct research to design our customer strategy, create an environmental impact calculator, design and prototype our tech-enabled food container inventions, and more.

  • Restaurant, grocery, and food truck community pilots our solutions and regularly provides insights that help us improve our product. Businesses such as Burt’s Bees embrace GreenToGo and offer our service as a perk to their employees

  • City and County government – the Environmental Affairs Board, Office of Sustainability, and City of Durham Solid Waste Management meet with us regularly to give input and help us strategize

  • Non-profits Scrap Exchange and MaterialWise, thought leaders in the circular economy, support and guide us

  • Duke Law Clinic, Duke Environmental Policy & Law Clinic, and NC Central Patent Law Clinic provide us all the legal services we need

  • RIoT selected us to participate in their IoT/RFID accelerator program and given us access to their wide network of experts

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Your business model & funding

What is your business model?

Individuals join GreenToGo for $25-40 per year. We have 700 paying subscribers. Currently, our solution’s target customers are eco-conscious residents in Durham, NC who order takeout and use self-serve food bars at grocery stores. As we transition to a new payment model and checkout system that is even easier to use, we aim to make using reusables as desirable for customers to use as disposables, which will appeal to mainstream audiences. 

GreenToGo provides restaurants and grocery stores with an alternative to buying costly disposable containers. GreenToGo aims to charge restaurants $42 per month for container delivery, pickup, and washing. Restaurants join the program because of customer demand and the PR opportunity and marketability of their restaurant. We are now testing our hypothesis that a customer loyalty program and restaurant analytics dashboard will provide the economic value that restaurants need to be paying customers.

GreenToGo Corporate Employers are local companies that buy memberships for their staff members as an employee benefit, receive a return station at their workplace for the convenience of their staff, and receive publicity. These are currently sustainability-minded companies in the geographical vicinity of our participating restaurants. 

We are next working on service and payment models for two new customer segments – catering companies and corporate cafeterias. These are companies whose customers and staff have demanded more sustainable options for food packaging, and those companies are ready to make change.

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What is your path to financial sustainability?

We intend to achieve financial sustainability by 2021. Our plan is to transition to a service subsidization model, where GreenToGo generates enough revenue to cover its expenses and the Don’t Waste Durham programs that support GreenToGo’s success, such as policy work on single-use plastic bans.To do this, we will continue to receive private donations and submit grant proposals.

Meanwhile, we will continue to sell our GreenToGo service. Restaurants pay a monthly service fee, users pay annual subscriptions, and businesses buy company-wide subscriptions for their employees. We are adding coffee cups and customer loyalty incentives to our service in 2019. 

We will continue to sell our Incubator Program for cities around the world who want to start their own reuse program, and we will offer on-site technical assistance.

In 2020, we will begin licensing our custom software to other cities and groups.

In 2020, GreenToGo will seek investment to manufacture containers we’ve designed for city-wide reuse programs, as well as IoT asset tracking hardware. We’ll sell these products to other cities operating reuse programs and/or license our patents.

In 2021, we will begin selling wash and delivery contracts to fully cover city needs. GreenToGo will seek investment to develop a much larger wash facility (“The Cleanery”). The facility will increase our wash capacity and allow us to add customer segments, all of whom need pickup, washing, and delivery of clean reusables. New customers will include catering companies, universities, stadiums, corporate cafeterias, conference venues, festivals, retirement communities, and others.

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Partnership potential

Why are you applying to Solve?

Our best chances for becoming sustainable and scalable are through the connections we make, and the expertise and opportunities we can leverage. We hope Solve can expand our network of people and organizations who can help advance our work.  Solve can help by mentoring us in:

REVENUE MODELING: Our two years’ experience has prompted us for a shift in who pays for GreenToGo service: from individual consumers to the restaurants. We would benefit from Solve mentoring and connection to experts in social enterprises, business, food industry, and reusables to help in this transition. 

BUSINESS MODELING: Solve can give us guidance as we determine the business entity structure best suited for our future advancement. Until now, our non-profit model has served an important role in showing proof of concept. We plan to shift to a service subsidization model, where GreenToGo becomes net-positive and funds other work that Don’t Waste Durham does to support society’s transition to reusables.

TECHNOLOGY. We hypothesize that developing Cradle to Cradle, IoT-enabled vessels for food and beverage will support a business model that is replicable and sustainable worldwide. We want to add IoT technology to our product to enhance recovery of materials and inventory management. Solve can help us advance our work in this area with access to design expertise and the best available evidence base, connections to industry experts who can advise us, and opportunities to test new technology.

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What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?

  • Business model
  • Technology
  • Funding and revenue model
  • Talent or board members
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With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?

We’d like to specifically partner with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to be part of their Circular Cities Network.

We’d also like to partner with groups that provide technical assistance to organizations that have a replication model, rather than a scaling model for growth.

While we already have 150+ U.S. cities ready to replicate GreenToGo, including being approached for replication by Singapore, Hong Kong, Montreal, and Sydney. We’d like to partner with organizations to help us reach many international cities to share our solution and find local entrepreneurs. Examples include:

  • Sister Cities International

  • C40 Cities

  • Organizations working on Sustainable Development Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

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If you would like to apply for the GM Prize on Circular Economy, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.

If selected for the GM Prize, we would use the money to add more types of containers to our service (e.g., coffee cups, deli containers, soup bowls). In doing so, we will expand our reach to new customer segments, increase the value of the service for consumers, and make even larger positive environmental impacts.

Our innovation directly affects cities, specifically their carbon neutrality and waste management goals. Municipalities bear the burden of collecting, transporting, processing, and storing waste. Our solution has the potential to eliminate an entire waste stream from communities – single-use food packaging – as well as reducing a city’s carbon footprint.

Meanwhile, our GreenToGo business experience and research contributes globally to the thought leadership around the circular economy. We address the issues of incentivizing recovery of materials, supply chain logistics, new infrastructure, cradle-to-cradle design, safe materials, technology, policy change, resilient cities, and social equity.

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Solution Team

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