Nicole Toole, a recent graduate from Georgia State and CEO of Conserve Innovations, knows firsthand that students want to take care of the planet. But a lack of education and resources makes it hard to really understand what it takes to be more sustainable on campus.
“It’s not that people don’t know they need to recycle. Oftentimes, people don’t know how,” Toole told Hypepotamus. This is because proper recycling requires understanding what to do with the different symbols and having access to proper recycling facilities. “When you don’t know how to recycle, it increases contamination and the costs for institutions.”
Toole started out thinking about how to best incentivize recycling with the help of various on-campus entrepreneurial-focused programs. After studying consumer behavior, recycling, and sustainability, Conserve was born as an all-inclusive recycling app.
To first gain traction, Toole and the Convserve team gave out coupons to restaurants on campus in exchange for recycled material; an effort that brought in over 2,000 items in under 36 hours.
“Pollution is an issue, and nobody on campus recycles. But I bet people would recycle if they got discounts for Chick-fil-A,” Toole explained to Hypepotamus. She added that “We started with just incentivizing recycling and giving people discounts to restaurants on our university campus when they recycled correctly with us.”
The platform has grown to be more of an education tool with a built-in detection process to help ensure different materials — be it glass, paper, cardboard, or aluminum — end up in the correct recycling streams. The MVP version relies on Google Vision’s API to bring the necessary computer vision work to life.
Launching Conserve at the beginning of COVID-19 presented some hard times for the app, which relies heavily on people being out and about around campus. But it also gave Toole the time to experiment more deeply. The tech-focused pivot has allowed Toole to solve a direct problem beyond universities, as municipalities and corporate offices look to improve on-premise recycling programs.
Conserve soft-launched with Georgia State University’s housing facilities this March to help improve how students recycle and how the university works with its recycling facilities. The University’s Office of Sustainability helped the team land its first paid pilot program.
This fall, Conserve’s software will expand across more of GSU’s housing and dorm facilities.
Recycling is one part of the sustainability movement that could make an outsized impact on our planet. “If America were to increase its recycling rate to 75% by 2030, we could remove 96 million tons of emissions from our environment which is the equivalent of removing 50M cars from our roads,” added Toole.
Toole will look to continue to make a dent in the recycling space moving forward. After graduation, she plans to work on Conserve full-time to expand the program to other colleges in January 2023.
Another major goal is to work with corporate offices to improve their ESG scores.
On June 2, Conserve is holding a launch party to introduce the City of Atlanta’s investors and community leaders to the team.
“The core value of Conserve is that “my work is bigger than me,” and our work is bigger than ourselves. Not only are we ensuring a clean planet for future generations, but we are ensuring a safe planet to work and play for those that are here today and will come after.”
As a Black entrepreneur and CEO, Toole added she is focused on building a strong team to expand Conserve’s vision. She, along with co-founder Ishir Vasavada, brought together a diverse group to help bring Converse’s vision to life.
“It was this year that I realized how instrumental I was in creating a diverse workforce and workplace. I could be a leader that led differently, hired differently, and empowered in ways that not many other companies do today,” Toole wrote.