A master of recycling comes full circle—Ron Gonen

Part of the business owner to business owner series, ‘Flight paths’

Ron explains why inaction is riskier than pursuing dreams

Ron began his career transforming waste management with his company, RecycleBank. This earned him the United Nations’ designation, “Champion of the Earth.” After exiting his company, what could he do to top that? Ron sensed his “next opportunity” would present itself in due time.

While waiting for his next opportunity, Ron started teaching young entrepreneurs. Eventually, New York City's mayor hired Ron to manage the city’s waste and recycling programs. Today, he continues to revolutionize recycling. It’s his passion.

Ron is one of the entrepreneurs who shares his story with us for our special report and video series, 'Flight Paths." Watch highlights from his interview.

Pro tip: Be prepared to decline offers

Career milestones

Water polo scholarship

High school coach draws Ron’s attention to the “circular economy”

Student government president

First sustainability project—eliminates plastic utensils in cafeteria

Launches RecycleBank

Reduces waste in 50 cities, diverts millions of pounds of materials from landfills

Named the United Nations’ 2009 “Champion of the Earth”

One of many awards for Ron and the organizations he leads

Deputy Commissioner for Sanitation, Recycling and Sustainability

Named Public Official of the Year in NYC

Backs recyclers

Invests in businesses that are reinventing the supply chain

My friends’ parents would look at me and say, ‘Well, sounds idealistic. Best of luck with that.’

Ron grew up in Philadelphia, the child of a single mom who was a schoolteacher. His early years were financially challenging and full of transition.

After attending a Jewish day school and an underserved public school, he found himself at an elite private high school, where he met a mentor who changed his life. (He credits his mother for pushing him to use his academic and athletic skills to create this opportunity.)

After I transitioned out of my first company, I absolutely felt lost.

Ron’s early mentor was his high school water polo coach, a pioneering architect who talked of a “circular economy,” the idea of continually recycling materials, leaving little to no waste. (Ron has never let go of this idea.)

To finance the growth of RecycleBank, Ron raised capital from traditional venture capital firms. He later came to the opinion that raising capital from investors who are not mission-aligned with the entrepreneur is a recipe for hardship.

As Ron looks to the future of the firm he owns now, he’s measuring success in both financial return and positive impact. “We are succeeding when we make investments that are catalytic in reinventing how the supply chain works,” he feels.


Learn more from the entrepreneurs of ‘Flight paths’


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