Conversations with Leadership: Peter Ettinger, Chief Development Officer

We are proud to introduce our new series, “Conversations with Leadership.” We will be publishing these long-form conversations periodically, giving our community a look inside the minds of the leadership team that keep Bioenergy Devco moving forward with vision and grace.

For our first installment, we sat down with Peter Ettinger, Chief Development Officer at Bioenergy Devco. Peter is a believer in “doing well, by doing good.” He specializes in creating solutions for the diverse array of groups BDC interfaces with, empowering them to achieve their the financial, operational and sustainability goals through the use of anaerobic digestion.

We hope you enjoy the first of many “Conversations with Leadership.”

Q: What was originally exciting for you about starting this new journey into anaerobic digestion, renewable energy, and healthy soils? What ultimately made you say ‘yes, let’s do this’?

It’s rare that you can do well by doing good, and it’s rare that you can balance out seemingly conflating elements like the environment and business. I was presented with a vision when Shawn and I originally spoke, where we said we would be able to not only address some of the serious pollution issues associated with waste, but also create a renewable natural gas and do better by soils. It became a no-brainer.

Anyone can sell stuff, but how can one wake up in the morning and sell something they have true convictions about? Something that not only impacts today, but has long term impact — that’s what gets you up in the morning.

And you know, I ran the original vision by my family and everyone saw that anaerobic digestion made sense. The people around me supported the new venture in a big way.

Q: What is currently exciting at the company and in the anaerobic digestion space?

The transition from a start-up to fully operational company, taking an idea as a start-up and now implementing it. My team and I are building, permitting, and walking through the intricacies of balancing local regulatory authorities with the demands of big businesses that are looking for ways to manage their feedstock.

It’s not like selling a pen or a piece of tech. We are coordinating solutions so that several groups benefit from the process, both environmentally and in improvement of business operations.

Why is this cool? I’ll work with a business person at a poultry processing unit, match their interest to a large regulatory agency, and then work later on with an environmental group. Each party initially thinks they have diametrically opposed views, but when we actually bring them all together, I listen and then I say “You guys are all saying the same thing, I can help manage this process.” We can find a solution that benefits everyone.

For example, we spoke to a big poultry company about managing their organic residuals economically and in a way that is supportive of the local community. The same day we talked to a river-keeper association, an environmental group. And by the time we were done, they were both saying “this AD stuff makes a lot of sense, why hasn’t this happened before?”

The ability to provide these solutions is compelling, I feel like we’re in the right place at the right time.

People say, “what about the environmentalists? They’re going to be against you. Or they ask about dealing with big poultry or big beef. Well, when you’re transparent and talk about what you do and don’t BS anyone, people become your allies. We are out in front talking about the process, and when you do that, you’ll be surprised about how many people support what you do.

We also are very fortunate to have a technology history and understanding of this business that very few people, if any, have in the US and really the world. Our technology group, BTS Bioenergy, is an incredible calling card. We have our own lab, which we feel is the only one in the world dedicated to the field of anaerobic digestion. We’re great “chefs,” we understand the spices for the recipe of anaerobic digestion so that the microbes can work efficiently and effectively. We operate 150 of the 220 plants we’ve built… and we’ve insured and guaranteed their performance.

There’s a security people find in our experience, transparency and approach to a project. So at very least we have an audience, who are willing to listen and are open to the discussion.

All that said, I don’t feel like we’re selling tech. When we sit down with people and talk about their goals, objectives, and doing an initial feasibility study, we apply ourselves to learning about the client, becoming more advocates and solution-finders than tech-salespeople. Anybody can sell, but it takes dedication to become a partner. We talk about how AD can work within your system, what’s your process, what’s your budget, etc.

And then, when we come to a mutual solution, it’s great to know BDC is well financed because I can put my money where my mouth is. My model at BDC allows me to make an investment in our mutual goals and objectives, with 30 years to prove them out. That is a compelling and empowering statement to a client.

Think about it, anaerobic digestion allows a company to manage costs while being an environmental steward, thus allowing them to plan for the next 30 years about how to mange their residual organics in a a way that is both environmentally smart and economically savvy.

Q: When you meet someone, what values are you looking for, what values are important to you?

Belief. Belief that there is a greater good, and that we are here for a purpose. And that despite challenges we face, that we can effect change. That’s what excites me about what we do at BDC. People are typically on the left side or the right side of the line. The idea is how can we make a circle. This is a willingness to listen, to be a part of the overall solution. I’d even say there is a certain sense of spirituality we bring to the job, where there’s a greater good we can all serve.

Q: What is a skill of yours that couldn’t be on resume but you feel has helped your career advance?

Well, I believe in people’s ability to come together to solve challenges and find compelling solutions… I believe my skill is to empower people to make decisions and take chances, to coalesce people around a vision.

Q: What’s the best professional advice ever received?

Listen to the customer. Don’t feel like you always have to be right. There are many great ideas, and many great ideas that came before their time. It’s not a fight, it’s a long term discussion between peers. And it is okay to be quiet in a meeting.

A long time ago I was working with GW University Medical Center, we had a big meeting at the Department of Labor. And my boss who was a PHD, MD Dentist came out and said “I don’t know what you did but that was the best meeting I’ve been in, you were really brilliant.” I walked away and realized I have not said a word. (Laughs) I think my impact was the ability to bring diverse people together, not by talking, but by wrapping up the meeting and deciding what we were going to do next.

Q: What are some of your happiest childhood memories?

Times with my father riding a horse, and just being able to be there. And actually falling off the horse because some deer ran across our path, realizing that I wasn’t hurt, and then seeing that my father was hysterically laughing because I fell into a big pile of snow. The other part is listening to my parents at dinner discuss ideas and include me in those ideas regardless of my age. My parents let me participate and be part of the conversation.

Q: There’s a potluck tomorrow, what are you bringing?

Spaghetti. Big red sauce. Big bottle of wine. We’re all gonna sit and make a mess. We’re gonna sit there till the wine is done and the pot is clean.

Peter Ettinger is the Chief Development Officer of Bioenergy Devco, a Maryland-based developer of anaerobic digestion facilities that turn organics into truly renewable and sustainable natural gas. To learn more, visit www.bioenergydevco.com