10/29/2013 01:36 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Is Dealing With Impact Maximization a Good Problem to Have?

With global water shortages increasingly prevalent and as we face a world with 1.8 billion people living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, environmental impact is the centerpiece of our business model. At Re-Nuble, we create a liquid based fertilizer from food waste through a proprietary bio-separation and extraction process. By innovating the extraction of water and cultivation of raw materials in the fertilizer manufacturing field we are helping conserve water, increase resource efficiency by recycling food waste and transforming it into nutrients for individuals that grow food in water using mineral nutrients, also known as hydroponic farmers, and create green job opportunities for disadvantaged communities. However, we recently came up with a rather stunning way to dramatically cut costs that has jeopardized the very fabric of our impact.

The cost reductions would enable us to profit much sooner and therefore reach the pinnacle of becoming the almighty "capital efficient" venture within a timeframe that would make investors more confident in Re-Nuble's profitability and vision. Sounds amazing. However, with the slashes in costs came the slashes in impact. By leveraging a community partner's land and overhead costs this change omitted the need to divert a new waste stream of food waste from landfills and its associated incremental impact. We no longer needed to help recycle food waste at supermarkets and, as a result, we could no longer state that we're preserving or diverting food waste from landfills and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Now we face the problem, albeit a good one, of how to compensate for the impact that we felt has been lost.

I've noticed that a recurring theme within the social enterprise community is "partnerships." How to collaborate amongst your stakeholders, incorporate more "integrated" approaches to complex problems, and how to develop complementary relationships. Thankfully, we are fortunate to be able to mobilize the support that we need in the form of partnerships in order to improve our development by reducing costs and making our operations more lean. However, what the community does not address is how to maximize impact without compromising your potential for profitability and how to prioritize which impact your organization should seek to achieve and if it should pursue multiple levels of impact.

If I have learned anything through this experience it has been to focus your mission on one impact and leverage these same types of partnerships that helped you reduce costs to scale your impact. By that I mean, there will always be multiple mission-driven organizations that share your values and mission. Leverage these opportunities to collaborate in ways that will allow you to keep your primary impact metric while enabling you to expand what I call, "ancillary impact" through the organizations that have more resources and this secondary impact metric may serve as their core value or impact metric. For example, since I founded Re-Nuble, I have always wanted to create an organization with a dual mission: creating a more sustainable, clean and healthy world while creating jobs in the green economy for the disadvantaged.

I tend to be overly optimistic and believed that as we scaled, with each new facility that opened it was obvious that we also created new manufacturing jobs specifically for those in marginalized communities. However, it took me a while to realize that the needs of these individuals were unique and we did not have the resources (i.e. training, administration and network) necessary to properly acclimate and deploy their talent in the most efficient way. This is why we have decided to focus and maximize our core, which is the repurposing of food waste and water conservation. Once we felt that we have succeeded at this, we will bring on partners, such as workforce development organizations, to help us recruit, train, and deploy acquired skill sets obtained elsewhere. This prevents us from feeling "torn" between which impact to maximize, thus allowing us to focus on one impact (our best) and, with the help of others, create and deploy a more effective and long term approach to our "ancillary impact" -- job creation for marginalized communities.

Shall our journey with deciding on which impact to create and maximize serve as a lesson for other innovators in the social entrepreneurship space.

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