New leader brings fresh perspective to Recycle Ann Arbor

Kirk Lignell named CEO of the non-profit subsidiary of the Ecology Center


Kirk Lignell is bringing an engineer’s perspective to his new role as chief executive officer of Recycle Ann Arbor.

“As engineers, we’re fascinated by shiny, metallic things, the latest technologies, the cutting edge,” he says. And the recycling industry, he believes, can separate itself from the waste industry by leading the way, through technology and research, in resource management.

“Resource management is becoming a more important industry, a blossoming industry as businesses find it makes sense to better manage their resources and investments in inventory and raw materials,” Lignell says. “Optimizing resource use from ‘cradle to grave’ is really what it’s all about.”

After serving as interim leader of RAA since last summer, Lignell had the “interim” removed from his title by the organization’s board earlier this month. Recycle Ann Arbor is a non-profit subsidiary of the Ecology Center, with a separate board.

Lignell earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, where he also earned his master’s degree in business administration.

Before joining RAA, Lignell held engineering, management and leadership positions at large companies including Ford and Whirlpool, as well as with smaller start-up organizations in energy and technology fields.

RAA came through some significant challenges in the last year, including renegotiating the contract for providing curbside recycling services in Ann Arbor. “The fact of the matter is that we actually made money last year, and are on a trajectory to do even better this year,” he says. “There’s no fairy dust involved, just good business practices.”

Challenges remain for the recycling industry, though. “There’s lots of competition on the collection side of things, all the way from the mom-and-pop businesses with a single trailer up to the big national players who can bring advantages of scale,” Lignell says.

“And on the retail side, selling the materials we collect, we have competition here on ‘Resale Row’,” as he describes the stretch of South Industrial that includes several other thrift stores near RAA’s ReUse Center, which sells household goods and building materials.

But RAA has some significant advantages in the area, too, Lignell says. “We have a long history here as a local, home-grown non-profit community organization that can leverage the idea of people wanting to do the right thing.” 

EcoLink — April 2012
An online publication of the Ecology Center

Comments and questions are welcome.
Please send to EcoLink Editor.