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UIX: Nick Rudofski maintains a steady, prolific course in a career of sustainability

Nick Rudofski



Nick Rudofski has plenty of ideas when it comes to sustainability. From handmade, refurbished and reconstructable products, to water conservation, to alternative transportation and more, he's truly making things happen behind several scenes. 
When it comes to being a renaissance man, Nick Rudofski has plenty of designs. He puts in the work and he puts himself out there. It’s to be expected, as is the case with many of his kind—Leonardo DaVinci, Benjamin Franklin, maybe even James Franco—that some of those ideas may not necessarily reach full flight immediately. But that doesn’t mean they’re doomed to the scrap heap.
 
In early 2014, Rudofski had applied to over 30 different internships across Michigan and the US. He was bouncing back from seeing his ingenious idea, [Re]Generation, wait in stagnation, with no other leads and the summer fast approaching. Then, ArtPrize reached out to the Center for Sustainability at Aquinas and posted an ad seeking sustainability interns. Rudofski applied—he was actually the only applicant. An interview was scheduled shortly thereafter and he was brought on in early June.
 
Amelea Pegman, ArtPrize Director of Community Engagement, gave Rudofski a list of themes that she had brainstormed during a West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum meeting. The list included alternative transportation, waste, and water. As a sustainability intern at ArtPrize, Rudofski has helped transform these list items into the projects now known as the Water Share program, safe bike valet at the HUB, and the Zero Waste Zone at Rosa Parks Circle.
 
The Water Share started off as an idea loosely based off a model in the UK that allows citizens to access water resources.
 
“Plastic water bottle waste is highly prevalent in today’s society and at ArtPrize it’s no different,” Rudofski says. “We started this program in hopes of eliminating as much plastic water bottle waste as possible. It was something that we figured would start very small, but many venues jumped on board when we released the project.”
 
There are different ways to participate—venues can receive a Water Share sticker that goes on a window front that visitors can see, or visitors can purchase an official ArtPrize water bottle with Water Share sticker or purchase the sticker separately and use their own water bottle.
 
“They can then fill up their bottles for free throughout the ArtPrize district,” Rudofski says. “So far it’s been met with much success and more venues are signing up every day.”
 
The bicycle valet program was something Rudofski and his team believed was badly needed in the city during ArtPrize.
 
“Grand Rapids has a great bicyclist community with many of our visitors coming into town on bikes. Unfortunately bike theft can be a problem, so we saw having a free, accessible and safe bike valet at our HUB on Sheldon would be a great way to encourage alternative transportation down to ArtPrize,” he says.
 
One of the biggest challenges of Rudofski’s work with the ArtPrize team has been getting the Zero Waste Zone at Rosa Parks Circle running efficiently. It began as something Rudofski borrowed from the model at Aquinas, where AQ aims to be zero waste by 2014.
 
“I figured that thousands of people would generate a lot of waste, so we partnered with the city and Organicycle to help us in recycling and composting efforts,” he says. “It’s been tough, but we’ve worked out the kinks."
 
“With food trucks being stationed there daily, undoubtedly there will be large amounts of waste at any given time,” he says. “Our events team partnered with the food trucks to provide all-compostable materials. At Rosa Parks Circle, there are also recycling bins and compost bins that visitors can use. Unfortunately, since the general public is often uneducated on topics like this, there are quite a few contamination problems, but we’re working with our volunteer team to work those problems out.”

Previous to his work at ArtPrize, Rudofski was being noticed to a small extent in the sustainability community by his work on [Re]Generation, essentially repurposing discarded materials into useful and well-designed goods. It started out as an internship idea for his sustainable business major at Aquinas College. He said he applied to use the idea at several organizations throughout Michigan, but never heard back. While it was an untraditional approach, he then went forward with writing up his own business plan, hoping it would lead him down the path of entrepreneurship he ultimately looked forward to. With the right guidance from Dr. Matthew Tueth, Steelcase Foundation Professor of Sustainable Business, Rudofski was well on his way.

“Working with Dr. Tueth, my internship advisor, mentor, and the founder of the Sustainable Business program at Aquinas, was challenging. His teaching styles are challenging, never quite giving you the answer and encouraging you to seek it out yourself,” he says. “It took some getting used to but I was able to craft out a 30 page business plan by the end of the summer.”
 
Rudofski had seen ideas like what he had in mind for [Re]Generation being used to a smaller extent on websites like Pinterest or Etsy, but nothing reaching the scale of what his goal was. Those product examples were “mostly coming from independent sellers who most likely made these products in their spare time. Also, they were sold strictly online,” he says. “I wanted to create a different experience not only for customers, but for the community as well.”
 
As detailed in the business plan Rudofski wrote up, “[Re]Generation utilizes local “waste” to create new products that are practical, useful, and aesthetically pleasing. Additionally, they could be brought back to a theoretical [Re]Generation store and be broken down to create another new product.”
 
[Re]Generation relies what many see as waste every day and creates something out of it, generating creativity, thriftiness and environmental consciousness.

Rudofski entered the plan for [Re]Generation in Start Garden, a local business funding and incubator program, but it never garnered enough votes to move on to higher levels of funding. He’s also applied for the chance to pitch it on the television program “Shark Tank,” but has yet to hear back. Of course, these are both minor setbacks for Rudofski, who hasn’t given up on the idea by any means.

“At this point, [Re]Generation has strictly existed on paper,” he says. “I have created products for family members and friends for Christmas, but that has been the farthest it has gone. I’d always love to start the business, but being in school still has prevented me from finding investors. I’ve had a lot of support behind the idea which really keeps me going.”
 
Back to the present day; while [Re]Generaton gave Rudofski the opportunity to be creative, he says, ArtPrize has allowed him to be realistic.
 
“I always enjoy the creative side of sustainability and the potential application,” he says. “However, having some experience on the planning side of things allowed my work at ArtPrize to be somewhat easier. I was able to see potential problems beforehand or plan accordingly if the problems could not be avoided.”
 
Rudofski is currently a senior Sustainable Business major at Aquinas College, graduating in December.
 
“At this time I have no post-graduation plans but I am seeking actively for any potential job prospects in the Grand Rapids or Michigan area,” he says. “Being an entrepreneur is always a thought in the back of my mind, but that requires some money that a poor college kid doesn’t have.”
 
For more information about Rudofski’s work with ArtPrize, visit Amelea Pegman’s blog at http://www.artprize.org/blog/author/ameleapegman
 
Matthew Russell is the Project Editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at matthew@uixgrandrapids.com. 

Photography by Steph Harding 
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