Trash nerd. That’s how Emily Landsburg identifies herself. Her colleagues agree the label fits, and so do her kids. “I have created a detour more than once on a family vacation to visit some sort of waste facility,” she says. “I get genuinely, passionately excited learning about new waste-to-value technology and projects.” In her role as director at Ultra Capital, she’s found ample opportunity to nerd out.
Landsburg vets investments that match her firm’s criteria for sustainable infrastructure. Unlike most private equity firms, Ultra focuses exclusively on projects. “Most people think of infrastructure as a bridge or an airport, but we look at specific types of projects that actively function like a standalone business,” she says.
That includes a public-private project that Landsburg helped identify: a 144,000-square-foot facility in Hampden, Maine, that aims to make waste disposal a lot less wasteful when it begins operating this year. “We take a recycling plant and put it on steroids,” says Craig Stuart-Paul, CEO of Fiberight LLC, the company that operates the facility.
Consider the current state of U.S. garbage. About 33 percent of waste gets recycled, and the rest heads to landfills (55 percent) or incinerators (about 13 percent). Fiberight intends to flip those numbers. With the help of artificial intelligence, vision recognition and biotechnology, Stuart-Paul says the facility could achieve a recycle rate somewhere between 70 and 80 percent.
The project aligns with the sustainability catchphrase of “people, planet, profit.” In that triple bottom line, the last item is critical. When garbage isn’t buried or burned, facility operators avoid disposal costs and can transform the refuse into promising revenue streams. “I think impact investing is moving away from the early days when people thought of it as a fluffy, feel-good thing,” Landsburg says. “Oftentimes you’re getting above-market returns and lower risk. Now people are realizing this is a very shrewd investment strategy. Impact investing, first and foremost, is investing.”