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Crowdfunding Brownfield Remediation – Is it possible?

The internet has created a vast sea of connections. Could crowdfunding be used to redevelop brownfield redevelopment projects?

Brownfield remediation is sometimes placed on the backburner until communities have financial resources to adequately address these properties. Many communities in the U.S. have successfully utilized state and federal funding programs to assess and remediate brownfields, but the competition is stiff and the resources are limited. The EPA’s Assessment, Revolving Loans, and Clean up (ARC) grant competitions are becoming increasingly more competitive. In 2013 there were 580 applicants, but only 140 communities were awarded $62.5 million in grants. Today we have access to large networks of people every day, so why not turn to unconventional avenues to help finance these projects? Entrepreneurs are finding immense success in raising capital through crowdfunding to kick start (pun intended) their startups. Brownfield remediation and redevelopment are catalyst for jump starting economic revitalization, so could crowdfunding be a viable option for funding brownfield remediation?

Crowdfunding is a way to collaborate with potentially thousands of people to raise money for a specific project, business venture or cause. Communities have rallied together before to address contaminated sites through grassroots organizations, but with crowdfunding and social media these groups have the ability to grab the attention of millions of people. Earlier this year, during the Elk River chemical spill thousands engaged with reporters and the nation during news broadcasts through social media. People were able to share their experiences with the masses in real time and raise awareness through social media. As we have seen time and time again, digital communications are a force to be reckoned with.

Crowdfunding may just be the next tool used to help fund or leverage more capital for Brownfield Remediation projects. Brownfield remediation doesn’t necessarily symbolize entrepreneurship, but job creation is the backbone of brownfield redevelopment. Economic revitalization proceeds brownfield redevelopment for an entire community, not just one savvy entrepreneur. Crowdfunding could potentially put you in front of the right stakeholder that traditional fundraising efforts might not be able to reach. The larger the audience the more opportunities there are to reach stakeholders who could either directly invest in your project or recruit others in their network to join the cause. There are a lot of what ifs, but we’ll never know until someone is willing to try.

Bactech Environmental Corporation, a developer of a bioleaching technology used to remediate acid mine tailings, were the first in our industry to use crowdfunding as a means to raise funds for a remediation project. They set out to raise $30K to remediate an abandoned mine in Bolivia using their patented technology. Their #BugsEatRocks campaign not only sought to raise capital for this project, but it also promoted their innovative bioleaching technology. In the end, the campaign did not raise enough money to meet their goals, but it raised awareness about acid mine drainage and opened a door for others in the industry to use crowdfunding for similar projects. Luckily, Bactech was able to obtain financing elsewhere for the Bolivia project where there patented technology is showing positive results.

Crowdfunding isn’t guaranteed to work for brownfield remediation projects, or any other project for that matter. It’s a gamble, but if your community is having difficulty obtaining grants or raising the money locally, it is worth a shot. Vacant properties plague our cities nationwide. Crowdfunding could provide another avenue to face the problem head on. It gives everyone who participates in crowdfunding an opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves. To rebuild their communities. We cannot move forward, without addressing the problems of the past.

How to Get Started

While this is a new endeavor for our industry, there are a few steps we recommend undertaking before exploring crowdfunding as an option for a remediation project:

  • Conduct an environmental assessment. You’ll need to understand the environmental risk associated with the project to determine the appropriate remedy.
  • Complete an estimate. How much capital needs to be raised to remediate the project?
  • Rally for support. Organize a group of stakeholders, including community leaders, government representatives and economic development corporations to build support locally.
  • Understand crowdfunding. Learn as much about fundraising via crowdfunding as you can to ensure you’re using it to its fullest potential. Forbes recently published an article explaining the basics along with a few recommended sites.
  • Spread the word. Develop a targeted marketing strategy to gain support. Use your network, then your network’s network. Digital campaigns as well as face to face meetings will help spread the word. Be creative and use every opportunity you have to share your story with others. You never know who might become a stakeholder in your remediation project.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, it is merely a starting point for brownfield remediation projects. Our industry will have to learn many of the steps along the way.

If you have tried crowdfunding before, what was your experience like? Do you have any recommendations for brownfield projects?. And lastly, what do you think? Is crowdfunding a viable option to help solve environmental issues?

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