How Phoebe Gardner’s Bardee harnesses flies, food waste, and an agile mindset in the fight against climate change.
“There’s also something really special about a team of people who can get excited about a 20-tonne pile of food waste being delivered to our site every Monday morning. The smell, and the impact, is real. And we love it.” - Phoebe Gardner, Co-Founder of Bardee
Nobody likes climate change. And we all know that greenhouse gas emissions are a problem. What may not be so obvious is where it all comes from (Hint: it’s not just from cars and transportation, which only account for an estimated 15 to 20 percent). To the chagrin of Tesla-driving vegans everywhere, the aggregate activities of food production make up anywhere from 21 to 37 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions for which humans are responsible. It gets worse too. More than 30 percent of food ends up wasted, and of that 30 percent, 70 percent of the wastinghappens before those tasty meals hit our plates for consumption. Then, when all that wasted food hits the landfills and rots, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas more than 30 times stronger than CO2.
Enter: Bardee, a company turning food waste into protein-rich feed for dogs, cats, chickens, and fish. They also make fertilizer. For every tonne of food waste they divert from a landfill, 1.9 tonnes (nearly 2,000 kilograms) of carbon are offset. It’s vertical farming reimagined. Using Black Soldier Flies, food waste, and a hell of a lot of ingenuity, Bardee tackles climate change and food waste in one go, killing two birds with one stone while creating tons of jobs in the process.
“Instead of tweaking code, we’re tweaking our food waste recipes or maybe modifying a climate in one of our labs by a small amount. Watching the compounding effect of those tiny improvements has been awesome.”
By now, they’re way beyond the proof-of-concept stage. Headquartered in Melbourne with a team of 20-plus, they’ve racked up more than $5 million in funding from Blackbird and big-name investors like Didier Elzinga and Simon Griffiths. At the company’s heart is a secret weapon. Her name is Phoebe Gardner.
As early as her first years of university, Phoebe was already making a name for herself as a contender. She’s one of those rare Kanye types who would succeed at anything because of sheer grit, drive, and determination. She’s a fighter, a mover, a doer. As a fresher at the University of Melbourne, she won a big prize for her top marks. Three years later, diploma in hand, she was off to the races, working as an architect out of the Melbourne offices of distinguished English firm Arup. After two years of hard yards there and a brief stint at Wood & Grieve Engineers (now Stantec), Phoebe co-founded Bardee with her Partner, Alex Arnold.
Conceived first on a trip to Amsterdam, where the pair were looking for a way to harness recycled energy on a massive scale, the seedlings of Bardee were planted. “A billion flies later,” Phoebe noted enthusiastically, “that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
User Research professionals sometimes think of it as a field exclusive to software products. But it’s not. While UR is incredibly useful in the tech space, it’s an approach that works whenever you’re building anything for others—especially something physical.
“Architecture is the art and science of creating spaces, and in the words of Australian Architect Glenn Murcutt, we should all try to ‘touch this earth lightly.”
Phoebe herself said it best: “We’re using lean methodology (people sometimes forget that practice started in manufacturing, not software) and first principles thinking, inspired by companies like Tesla and Toyota, to get outsized results from tiny incremental changes to our vertical farming system. Instead of tweaking code, we’re tweaking our food waste recipes or maybe modifying a climate in one of our labs by a small amount. Watching the compounding effect of those tiny improvements has been awesome.”
Further discussing Bardee’s approach, Gardner explained that she and her team “need to make sure our learning loop is fast, and our problem-solving is practical and creative.” Working with top talent around the globe on every stage of the end-to-end process—that’s exactly what she does.
Brilliant minds feed off of each other, and it’s often in the interdisciplinary rather than the siloed that we break through and are truly able to create out-of-the-box solutions to complex issues. Bringing together their joint backgrounds and experiences, Phoebe and Alex are a powerhouse.
“Architecture is the art and science of creating spaces, and in the words of Australian Architect Glenn Murcutt, we should all try to ‘touch this earth lightly,” Phoebe stated.
“Bringing that lens to designing a vertical farming system, with Alex, who’s trained as an entomologist (bug scientist), gave us a pretty unique blend of skills—and we’ve drawn from both backgrounds to design what (in our view) is much more than the sum of its parts.“
Phoebe and Alex have big plans and hope to continue growing exponentially. “In 10 years’ time, we would hope to see Bardee facilities transforming a majority percentage of food waste in every city of the world—ten thousand facilities,” she told Emma Koehn in a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.
While this may seem overly optimistic, Bardee just might get there. There are a few other companies in the space right now, Goterra and Entosystem among them. But it’s by no means an oversaturated market. It may well soon become one, though. If and when that happens, Bardee will have a leg-up for the simple reason that they got there first. And because they have something no one else does: Phoebe.