Growing a Biodiesel Fleet with Greenway Transit’s Marc Dreyfors

March 17, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good and we’re so excited to have today with us Marc Dreyfors. He’s the Founder of Greenway Transit. Welcome to Green is Good, Marc. MARC DREYFORS: Hey, we’re excited too. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey Marc, we’re so happy to have you. Before we get into talking about your great company, Greenway Transit, and all the nice things you’re doing with it, can you share a little bit about your journey, your story, how you even got here, and why you started this company? MARC DREYFORS: Yeah, I grew up in D.C. and I spent a lot of time in the woods as a child and saw the world change around me pretty quickly as development started creeping into my childhood woods and then moved to North Carolina and kind of saw the same thing happening there, where we kind of love nature to death a little bit too much and went to U.N.C. Wilmington undergrad and did my masters at Duke, studied Environmental Chemistry and then did Resource Economics at Duke and became kind of fascinated with big picture issues, particularly with market externalities and loss of biodiversity, the problem with our economy and why it’s not really valuing the important things in life at a proper valuation. Got interested in fair trade, biodiversity concentration, and did handicraft development for about 20 years and then just saw that market get more and more difficult. We did trade shows across the United States, in New York, Atlanta, San Francisco and we were trying to sell these beautiful handicrafts from very biologically diverse places to all sorts of stores and shops and it became more challenging and even putting a carbon footprint price on those goods that are traded internationally became really challenging so we just said, ‘This is ridiculous. Let’s go local,’ and biodiesel was the thing. We thought that biodiesel made from local waste was a real smart and potentially profitable way to go and then started moving a lot of biodiesel and then learned that that was kind of a volume game. People didn’t want to pay a whole lot for their fuel. We’ve been both blessed and cursed with cheap energy and it was kind of a challenge to get people to pay for the bio even though it’s so valuable to us and then we got into this idea of moving people around in buses and that actually took off and there’s plenty of margin there and it’s just been a really awesome opportunity. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So you started Greenway Transit in 2008 so talk a little bit about the genesis of Greenway Transit now that you gave the back story. Why did you decide to create your own brand and how has that been since 2008? We’re now in 2014 so you’re six years into it. How has that evolution been? MARC DREYFORS: Well, we’re cranking at this point. It took a little while. We bought an old bus, got one available to us and just started moving people around. We got phone calls from people asking for buses that are running on biodiesel and we kept calling the local bus companies saying, ‘Hey, you want to buy some of our biodiesel and run people around? We’re getting a lot of calls.’ They just did not want to touch it and we were like, ‘You know, let’s go for it. Let’s try it out’. From all the guys that we knew, it’s just a plug and play fuel. It runs in any diesel engine and you don’t have to do that much changes, a couple filter changes and you’re there, so we started growing the business from that and it just took off. It’s done really really well for us. There’s still challenges. Right now, we’re in another polar vortex and biodiesel doesn’t do really great in the winter time but it’s working and people appreciate the message. We do a lot of protest bus. We move a lot of students around in Durham. We don’t even do that much marketing. It’s just by word of mouth that people found out about us and it’s really kind of a community that really appreciates what we’re doing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk about your business model. I’m on your website and for our listeners out there that want to go and see what you’re really doing and see your great website, please go to www.iridegreen.com. It’s a beautiful website. It’s very simple but can you walk our listeners through if they want to sign up or they want to become a part of the Greenway Transit system? MARC DREYFORS: Yeah, I think most of our customers are searching us on the way and they find out about us but then once they do, the word moves around but the site is simple and we wanted it that way. We like the simplicity of the message too, what we’re trying to achieve, waste to fuel to transportation, real simple business model. Most of our customers are local so I’d say 80 percent of our gigs are party bus or moving people for conferences but then we do have some intrastate and interstate so there’s a section there that shows you the type of equipment that we have so you can go to that and see. Most of the time, it’s people asking me questions and I ask them to send me an email with exactly what it is that they need and I just respond with the best solution. We’re really about energy efficiency. We don’t want those buses to be idling. We don’t want the buses to not be utilized in the most efficient manner so we tend to end up both saving them money and also lowering our footprint at the same time, which is kind of the unique thing about being green and being in this type of business so the website’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s real easy. We’ve got information about the background on us, information on the vehicles, our rates. Our rates are competitive. We offer a competitive service to other non green, non alternative fuel companies. It’s a highly competitive industry and is pretty heavily regulated as well so we maintain our certifications, do inspections, have a high level of maintenance on the vehicles so that’s all important. It’s all in there on the website so people can understand that we’re not only a competitor to the other companies but we have a different value proposition. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And it says you have everything from the big pink party bus to pedicabs so is it all sorts of events and trips that you’re being hired to handle? MARC DREYFORS: Yeah, we do a lot of weddings. The pedicabs are great for weddings. We take the bride and groom away from wherever the reception is to the hotel or take them for just a short trip as an exit and then we have larger vehicles that allow people to move around and then interstate types of tour buses but I would say the majority of our services are party busing people at the fraternities and sororities here in the area. They’re interested in greening. They know what’s coming down the road and we offer them a pretty good competitive service and then it’s also just an opportunity to give them our elevator speech about what we’re doing. We’re trying to brand the message both internally and externally on the buses and get the information out to the students about what it is we’re trying to achieve and how they can plug in. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right, right, right, and for our listeners out there that just joined us, we’ve got Marc Dreyfors with us. He’s the Founder of Greenway Transit and to learn more about Marc’s company, go to www.iridegreen.com. Marc, give our listeners just a quick overview. Running this kind of green transportation company that relies on a certain type of energy rather than one that runs on fossil fuel, what is the differential there and is it more difficult? MARC DREYFORS: It’s hands down more difficult. There’s no doubt and I can understand why a lot of the bus companies are like you know, forget about it. There are challenges. Biodiesel is a beautiful fuel. It is amazing and it’s such an awesome fuel it really needs to be in every school bus across the country. We just can’t produce enough of it to make a real dent and there are complications. When you put biodiesel into a diesel vehicle that’s been running a long time on diesel, for instance, you will be cleaning out the whole system. Biodiesel has a solvent effect so you will be changing fuel filters probably a little bit more and after a while, it will clean the system out and then you’re back to a normal fuel filter change but then there’s issues of the solvent effect on fuel lines. You can break down the old rubber fuel lines pretty quickly, depending on how degraded they are, and so you may have to swap out fuel lines but that’s an easy fix. The storage of the biodiesel is another thing. We’ve got to bring it in. We were making it for a while and it’s just more cost effective for us to collect the veggie oil, sell it, and buy the fuel from some of the other producers in the area. We had about 100,000 gallon capacity reactor system and there’s a lot of bells and whistles there and a lot of variability and volatility in the availability of the raw materials to make the fuel so it’s so much easier for us, given the fact that we’re 100 percent in on the transportation, to just focus on that right now and we can make fuel at any time and we’re collecting the veggie oil and it’s not a problem to make. It’s actually pretty easy chemistry. The storage of the fuel is really important to keep the tanks really clean, make sure that there’s no moisture in them so that algae doesn’t grow. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So let’s just say there’s a lot more to it than just meets the eye. It takes a lot more work on your behalf. How about the savings? If I use your transportation, for our listeners out there, and list your transportation over traditional types of transportation, what are the fuel savings because you’re using? MARC DREYFORS: That’s a great question and usually that’s the one and usually that’s the one everybody goes to. Will I save money? I would say no, you’re not going to save money but it has about the same B.T.U. value as regular diesel. It increases lubricity so that the engine runs more easily and it has higher compressibility. In other words, from compression to ignition, it’s faster so the engine works more efficiently so the B.T.U. ends up being, the amount of energy that you get out, the miles per gallon, ends up being about the same. You’re getting about the same miles per gallon so you’re going to be paying. Right now, we can go to rack and get the fuel at about 40 cents cheaper than the current diesel price at the pump so we have a tanker truck. We go to the rack and fill up and get 2,000 gallons at a time, bring it back to our site, drop it in our storage tank, and then run it into our buses. We also have wholesale customers that we deliver to and a couple of retail pumps that we run so we’re pretty busy but having those additional revenue streams helps move volume and that makes things a little bit easier. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So it’s just not about the vehicles, you’re actually a green company in many aspects? MARC DREYFORS: Right. It’s a hybrid model. We have multiple green businesses sharing the site. We all help each other out. We use a non profit to manage the site. It’s an old brownfield petroleum site that we’re fixing up and it’s a great model. We run a green jobs training program at our site, working with ex offenders and underemployed so we’re doing a lot. We’re trying to maximize the use of the property so it’s a real commercial property play in that we have multiple green businesses there but we’re actually revitalizing and fixing up a piece of green property, our brownfield property, trying to turn it green at our site. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s always fun to understand your client base right now. Why are people coming to you? Is it the young students all around North Carolina who are on fire for the green and sustainability revolution or is it others now who really see the opportunity to the fact that we are on a tipping point in this world and that we’ve got to make better choices and the age group of your clients has really changed and has grown? What is the social study behind your client base? MARC DREYFORS: Yeah, that’s a great question and it’s really, to me, the most fascinating element of what we do. Our population of customers is very diverse. Some people just hire us because we’re competitive in prices and then all of a sudden, they realize that we’re green and it’s kind of hilarious. Some of these people are pretty conservative and are like, ‘Maybe we should have gone with the petroleum company,’ but we get them on board and give them our spiel and if they don’t get it, we have to drive them around the block one more time. It’s kind of a captured audience. There is just a huge following from a passionate group of both young and old. We ran ten buses down to the Moral Monday protests in Raleigh, which are some of the biggest protests in America right now, in the backlash of G.O.P. nuttiness and the crazy legislation that they’re trying to pass through and we run protest buses up to D.C. all the time so that’s about a six hour run and we’ve got a group of Planned Parenthood folks that are headed to the protest at the Supreme Court at the end of this month. I just came back from the Keystone Pipeline protest this weekend, where the kids were lashing themselves to the White House fence and getting arrested. We are really about mission and building movement. What’s so cool though about the bus business is that it’s heavily dominated by minority communities. Most of our drivers, of course, are minorities, most of the bus companies that are out there that are our competitors that are also our friends. In the bus business, buses go down and you want a bus to be there and so we have very good extensive friendships amongst our competitors, who tend to be almost all African American and they’re really cool people and they tend to be like lay ministers, involved in churches within the minority communities, throughout our community and this area, so there’s a connection and there’s opportunity to build movement for this national transformation, this global transformation, and how we both interact with each other and interact with the planet and that, we feel, is the core component of our mission at this point, to build that relationship. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so interesting and we’re down to the last four minutes or so, so not only are you doing jobs training and making the most, as you say, of your property and of your business model, but you are an activist organization in many ways so you’re not only part of the sustainability evolution. You’re really on the cutting edge of the revolution. MARC DREYFORS: Absolutely. Well, that’s our tagline. We’re a revolution in motion. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. MARC DREYFORS: Really what we see with this model, the idea is that we’ve got to build resiliency at a local level very, very fast and the idea of waste to fuel to transportation is a really good tool chest of opportunities for communities that both want to fix up urban areas that have been blighted. You can take over a brownfield, use some of the infrastructure that the petroleum industry has left behind and green those places and spaces, interact with the community, but I see that this model can be brought to scale, the appropriate scale for each community, taking the waste stream and turning it into fuel and value adding it. Then it can be implemented in other communities where they have a passion to become more green and more sustainable and more resilient but the most important thing is that when you make fuel locally, when you make biodiesel locally, that money stays in the community, and we lose money out of our communities by both food, energy, and capital so if we can figure out ways to plug that leakage, we can create more jobs within our community and build that resiliency and if we add the social justice component of really reaching out to minority communities, we’ve got something really solid and it’s just amazing the messages that we are able to convey to the people that we work with, the community membership who we’re working with and our clients and folks that we are working with in the community. JOHN SHEGERIAN: In the last couple minutes, let’s talk about the future here. Greenway Transit won People and Planet Award, big award. How come and when is Greenway Transit, then going to scale up and go to every city? Because it sounds like you have an amazing model. There’s so much that can be accomplished in the community with your model. What’s the future hold for your great company? MARC DREYFORS: Well, we’re working on an investors’ circle elevator kind of presentation so we’re hoping to get some capital. We need to buy the property that we’re in right now and that’s top priority so then we can make some investments and improve the site and really crank it up a notch but we’re also looking to maybe go on a dog and pony show and maybe exhibit at the green festivals and tell our story to other folks and find other organizations that we can partner with. We don’t necessarily want to open up a Greenway Transit in every college town but we certainly want to find partners that can take some of what we’re doing and maybe replicate it and we can provide them assistance so we need some money and we need some talent. We’ve got to find some really good people who are Jacks of all trades. Green is good but green is also brown. When you’re dealing with veggie oil, it is pretty nasty so we need people that can roll up the sleeves, who can think strategically but also are passionate about the message and can convey what we’re trying to do to community members, to clients so finding that talent mix, we’re looking to maybe be finding ex military, guys who have worked in fleet management who can not only turn a wrench, but also have good leadership skills and get them passionate about the whole environmental movement. I think they understand it. The military’s greening faster than just about any branch of the government. They understand biofuels because they’re putting it into a lot of their vehicles so finding the talent, getting the capital, and spreading the message is the key at this point. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Great, great, great and so for our listeners out there that want to either hire Marc’s firm, Greenway Transit, book their next ride or their next event, you can go to www.iridegreen.com. That’s a great website and Marc, you’re very inspirational and I think your company has so much ways to grow and we wish you luck and we’re very thankful for you coming on today. You are a revolution in motion, Marc Dreyfors, and truly living proof that green is good. MARC DREYFORS: Thanks for having me.