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Steven Matt


From broken glass in Brooklyn to lighthouses in Arizona, I've led projects that have left a lasting impact on communities around the country.

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Steven Matt


From broken glass in Brooklyn to lighthouses in Arizona, I've led projects that have left a lasting impact on communities around the country.

 

Altruism is Our societal obligation

I'm the Vice President of Digital Marketing during the day. After work and on the weekends, I find ways to create lasting sustainable, social, and economic solutions for communities. I do not believe that altruism is merely a hobby or a side project; it's a societal obligation that each of us should strive for on a daily basis.

Each project meets at least one part of the Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, and Profit.

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Biodiesel Suburban


How two brothers traversed the country in a Chevy Suburban using only oil reclaimed from dumpsters found in the back of fast food restaurants.

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Biodiesel Suburban


How two brothers traversed the country in a Chevy Suburban using only oil reclaimed from dumpsters found in the back of fast food restaurants.

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Bio Diesel Cross Country Road trip

the project

My brother and I wanted to hear what companies were doing to reduce their negative impact on the environment. We documented our interviews with a digital video recorder and put them online at one-earth.com. We met some surprising characters: 

  • Chris Van Dyke, Dick Van Dyke's son, who started a sustainable clothing line called NAU.
  • A shoe company called Simple Shoes that made shoes made from reclaimed rubber found on the highways of California.
  • An energy bar company called Clif Bar that made energy bars made from organic ingredients.

The process

We nicknamed it "Veggie Sub". It smelled like McDonald's french fries. We actually used wasted vegetable oil that we found in dumpsters in the back of restaurants along the way by filtering it through a cheese cloth directly into the gas tank. It was messy, risky, and incredibly fun.

The Veggie Sub was our office, our sleeping quarters, and our dining room.

 
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Lighthouses


How functional replica lighthouses led to a decrease in boating accidents in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

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Lighthouses


How functional replica lighthouses led to a decrease in boating accidents in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

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Lighthouses in Lake Havasu City, Arizona

The Project

Between 1999 and 2003, I designed 25-feet tall functional replicas of Cape Hatteras, West Quoddy, Robert Manning, and Table Bluff lighthouses.

The lighthouses were sponsored, constructed, and funded by local businesses in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The project was organized by the Lake Havasu City Lighthouse Club under the leadership of Bob Keller. They are still maintained by the club to this day.

The process

As a former architecture student, I was interested in the intersection of altruism and architecture. I wanted to put my design skills to use in a way that could help people.

Without a doubt, the lighthouses have helped to reduce boating deaths on the river. However, there's another surprising outcome to the project: the lighthouses have become a popular driver of tourism for Lake Havasu. In fact, according a recent Norther Arizona University tourism study, 28% of tourist arrive in Lake Havasu City for the purpose of visiting the lighthouses. So, there's also very clearly an economic benefit that has occurred as a result of the lighthouse project.

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Glass Clean-Up


How 100 volunteers made Fort Greene Park a cleaner and safer place for dogs, runners and children.

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Glass Clean-Up


How 100 volunteers made Fort Greene Park a cleaner and safer place for dogs, runners and children.

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Fort Greene Park Glass Clean-Up Project

The project

I had been living in Fort Greene for over 10 years and my most recent apartment was at 200 Washington Park. It was a beautiful brownstone and tree-lined block complete with farmers market at the corner of Dekalb. But there was one problem. There was glass littered everywhere.

The broken glass that was commonly found along the running trail in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn.

The broken glass that was commonly found along the running trail in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn.

I would often run along the running trails in the park but one day I tripped and cut my palm on piece of the glass. It really called my attention to the problem After talking with the Parks Director, Carol Anastasio, she explained that an effort to rid the park of the glass was important but the funds were not there. That's when I decided to lead the project on my own. 

The New York Times wrote an article about one of our glass clean-ups:

There are many theories why there was so much glass in the park, but one theory is that over the course of previous five or six decades, residents would break the glass on the trees after finishing it in the park. This would explain the high concentration of glass found around the perimeter of the park and around trees. The neighborhood was a very different place than it is today, and anyone who has lived in Fort Greene has heard the stories about how bad the crime was.

The process

Over the course of five years, I organized over a dozen glass clean-ups. The intention was sound, but the challenge was often cutting through the noise in the community among all the other things that residents could spend their timing doing on a Saturday morning. I came up with a create guerrilla advertising campaign that caught runner's attention and drew it to the problem right below their feet.

One of the many signs that I placed along the running trails in Fort Greene Park before each volunteer glass clean-up. 

One of the many signs that I placed along the running trails in Fort Greene Park before each volunteer glass clean-up. 

l had a rubber stamp made, stamped a message on used cardboard, and used chopsticks and zip-ties to stake them along the running trails in Fort Greene Park. It was highly effective. I received all the help I needed just because of these signs and the word-of-mouth that spread as a result.

The volunteers would show up on Saturdays and we would spend about two hours on our hands and knees picking and digging the the glass out of the soil. I always hosted the pick-ups between the last snow melt and the first sign of spring so the glass would not be too long.

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Glass Bench


How we turned 100 pounds of broken glass found in Fort Greene Park into a functional, memorial bench on Fulton Street in Brooklyn.

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Glass Bench


How we turned 100 pounds of broken glass found in Fort Greene Park into a functional, memorial bench on Fulton Street in Brooklyn.

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Concrete and Glass Bench for Fort Greene

The Project

Over the course of five years, I organized volunteer glass pickups in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn. We collected over 300 pounds of glass. I used that glass to upcycle it into a concrete bench.

Steven Matt, left, met with Sarah Corey from Ice Stone, who donated the gloves, buckets and volunteers.

Steven Matt, left, met with Sarah Corey from Ice Stone, who donated the gloves, buckets and volunteers.

After months of negotiating with the city government about the structural integrity, purpose, and location of the bench, they finally agreed to let me install it in front of The Greene Grape Provisions on Fulton St. The New York Times wrote two articles about the bench:

The process

I teamed up with a local architect, Richard Colwell, to design and build the concrete bench.

We started with 10 five-gallon paint buckets full of dirt covered glass. After cleaning it with Dr. Bronners soap, we used a rock tumbler that I picked up at Toys R' Us to smooth down the glass so it looked and felt like beach glass.

One of the design considerations for the glass bench.

One of the design considerations for the glass bench.

We asked a local blogger to community-source the design. After some deliberation, we settled on a traditional rectangular design.

From there, Mr. Colwell designed and build the concrete bench using the glass as a decorative element. It weighed over 250 pounds and took four people to position it into place.

He also simultaneously built a second secret bench that he kept for himself in his studio in Connecticut.

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Glass Jewelry


How I turned 200 pounds of littered, broken glass into beautiful jewelry and donated the profit to the local conservancy.

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Glass Jewelry


How I turned 200 pounds of littered, broken glass into beautiful jewelry and donated the profit to the local conservancy.

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Jewelry Made from Reclaimed, Broken Glass Found in Fort Greene Park

the Project

After about five years of collecting the broken, littered glass from Fort Greene Park, I had roughly 300 pounds of it sitting in my basement, and I was looking for a creative way to get the message out that there is a broken glass problem in Fort Greene Park.

One of the buzz words I was studying in my graduate classes at NYU at the time was "growth hacking". It's the idea of getting other people to get their friends to do something for your business to achieve exponential growth. I wanted to try it out with my community project, so I came up with the idea to turn the glass into jewelry. Knowing very well that customers would be buying the story and not the product, my jewelry would become the centerpiece of conversations in Brooklyn.

My first jewelry setup in 2011 on the corner of Washington Park and Dekalb Ave in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn.

Only one problem, I had no idea how to make jewelry.

I had attended Pratt Institute and it had a pretty good jewelry making department. So I reached to some of my former classmates that had studied jewelry making there and they invited me into their studios to show me the ropes. It wasn't long before I was good enough to start drilling some holes through glass and actually monetizing the project.

Over the course of four years, I made quite a bit of money and I donated 10% of it to the Fort Greene Park Conservancy

The Process

I started making the jewelry by sorting through the 200 pounds of glass and finding pairs of similarly shaped and colored glass. This was by far the most time consuming part of the process.

Two children's rock tumblers that I picked up at Toys R' Us and used to polish the glass.

Next I ran the glass in batches through my rock tumblers that I picked up at Toys R' Us. It took about 24 hours per batch. Each batch contained about a dozen pairs of earrings. I produced about 600 pairs of earrings, 100 necklaces, and 50 studs.

I purchased the jewelry findings at a place called Metalliferous on 46th Street. If you're a jewelry maker in NYC, this is where you get your findings.

One of the most important tools when drilling through glass is a diamond plated drill bit. They're absolutely critical to ensuring that the glass receives a hole with a smooth opening and exit and does not break.

I started out using a Dremel drill but quickly learned from trial and error that it was too unstable–too many pieces of glass were breaking. So upgraded to a stationary drill press and it was like cutting through butter. I was able to decrease my drill hole completion time from 12 minutes to only 30 seconds. Soon I was producing 60 pairs of earrings per hour.

 

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Clinton Global Initiative


How a simple idea led to a meeting with the President of the United States.

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Clinton Global Initiative


How a simple idea led to a meeting with the President of the United States.

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Clinton Global Initiative University

the Project

I was selected as the NYU ambassador for the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative University for my concept of indexing the world's environmental solutions.

My presentation at the Clinton Global Initiative in Washington D.C.

The Process

I created a dynamic and interactive organizational system that categorizes the world's environmental solutions into geographic areas and sustainability categories using 100% user generated content.

Clearly, I was so excited to the POTUS that I quickly fell into a deep, zen-like trance that prevented me from opening my eyes at the exact moment this picture was taken.

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One Earth


How I'm taking everything I've learned over the last 30 years and using it to create a unicorn that will reverse Climate Change.

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One Earth


How I'm taking everything I've learned over the last 30 years and using it to create a unicorn that will reverse Climate Change.

the Project

In the back of mind over the last 20 years, there has been an idea. An idea so profound that it could actually reverse Climate Change.

It started with a chance meeting with Elizabeth Kolbert, the Author of "Field Notes from a Catastrophe". She wrote in my copy of her book: "With the hope that this inspires and doesn't despair."

Thank you, Mrs. Kolbert. I didn't.

One Earth is my answer to Climate Change. It relies on community sourcing solutions from every community around the world. Sounds easy. It's not. One of the greatest powers of the Internet is that it has the ability to flatten the world. Information is ubiquitous and often over generalized.

However, I'm attempting to harness the potentially the greatest power of the Internet has: the power to hyper localize information.

Imagine the world's largest directory of sustainable solutions, created and edited by local experts in every community around the world.

That is One Earth.

I launched One-Earth.com in 2007 and let it run for two years before privatizing the information. I have been using the learnings from the beta launch to fine-tune the machine. But before it came down, it did receive some attention from the media:

Feature in the Prattfolio, Pratt's quarterly magazine highlighting alumni projects.

The Process

Over the years, I've been developing the website and teasing out phases to test the user experience and effect it has. There have been many roadblocks and learnings. But there has also been some great opportunities.

A write-up in L Magazine about One-Earth.com during its beta phase.

The 2009 launch party, where I hosted a "virtual barn-raising" in the similar way that Wikipedia was loaded with content before launching.

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What's Your Project?


What will you do to make the world a better place?

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What's Your Project?


What will you do to make the world a better place?

Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe