Student Entrepreneurs Plant Seeds of Sustainability
KENNESAW, Ga. (Jun 26, 2019) — A student-run business has found success transforming aluminum cans into home decor, while also enhancing sustainability education at local elementary schools.
In fall 2018, members of the Kennesaw State University Enactus team formed BROOTS, a business that sells succulents planted inside repurposed aluminum cans. Enactus students build the creations – also called Broots – using cans donated by local breweries, and have earned more than $8,000 selling them at farmer’s markets and outdoor festivals.
Much of BROOTS's appeal comes from the cans themselves. The local breweries students have partnered with, including Dry County Brewery in Kennesaw and Reformation Brewery in Woodstock, are known for the distinctive artwork on their cans.
“Someone came up to us at a farmer’s market and said that the aluminum can is for our generation what the vinyl record is for hers,” says BROOTS Project Manager Jacob Carney, a junior Integrated Studies major. “It’s like a canvas for artwork. Sometimes I think the can sells more Broots than the plant itself.”
Enactus is a global student organization promoting socially responsible entrepreneurship. The Kennesaw State team is part of the Coles College of Business's Robin and Doug Shore Entrepreneurship Center. Proceeds from the sale of Broots support sustainability education efforts at local elementary schools, such as Dowell Elementary in Marietta, where Enactus students have built a greenhouse and outdoor garden. The Enactus team has also led students on field trips to Kennesaw State’s Hickory Grove Farm.
Outdoor garden at Dowell Elementary
Since 2010, Enactus had used corporate grants to fund these projects, with the club receiving between $1,000 and $1,500 each year. However, in 2018 their corporate sponsor pivoted away from supporting sustainability initiatives, leaving Enactus searching for alternative sources of funding.
Their first idea was to recycle aluminum cans at Kennesaw State football tailgate parties. Enactus began working with Dry County Brewery, who provided collection bins and refreshments. After several weeks, the Enactus team realized the economics of this arrangement did not work out.
“The issue is that the rates for recycling cans in Georgia are not very good,” says Andrew Tutwiler, former President of Enactus and an originator of the BROOTS idea. “If we lived in California or Hawaii, we would have made a killing. But here, we recycled over 200 pounds of cans and made out with only about $80.”
Tutwiler eventually suggested repurposing the cans instead of recycling them.
“I knew that people are really into repurposed art these days, and that succulents are very trendy,” he says. “With some deliberations from the group, we realized that we could mass produce these.”
In addition to the initial cans, Dry County also provided the BROOTS team with spent grain they would have otherwise thrown away. The students composted the grain to create the soil where they now grow the succulents, which they purchase from a wholesale distributor in Florida. All of the work takes place in the Enactus faculty advisor’s backyard. The goal is for BROOTS to be as economically and environmentally sustainable as possible.
Enactus students selling Broots at Marietta Farmer's Market
Their approach is working. Between operating a weekly stall at the Marietta Farmer’s Market, as well as their presence this spring at the SweetWater 420 Festival, the team has sold hundreds of $10 Broots, earning more than $8,000. With BROOTS’s earnings sitting at more than five times the value of their lost grant, the Enactus team is ready to do more for sustainability education.
“I’d like to see the schools Enactus partners with develop to a point where they are growing enough food that they have a surplus and can sell it at the BROOTS stand,” Tutwiler says. “And then Enactus could move to the next school and restart the program.”
In May, the Enactus team included BROOTS as part of their presentation at the Enactus National Expo in Kansas City. The team placed first in their division during the opening round before finishing third in the semi-finals.
“BROOTS is a great project and provides excellent community outreach,” says Enactus Faculty Advisor Dennis Loubiere, jokingly adding that the project has taken over his home. “It meets both the goals of the University and of the Coles College of Business.”
Carney, who took over as BROOTS’ project manager after Tutwiler’s graduation this spring, would like to see the project continue to expand. Plans include opening an online store, working with breweries to create BROOTS-specific can designs, and potentially purchasing a special printer so that the team could design their own labels.
“I’d love to use the money to build greenhouses all over Atlanta,” he says.
- Patrick Harbin
Photos by Patrick Harbin and Dennis Loubiere