“The only way to make a living is to work for yourself,” Michelle Swiggers heard from her father as she was growing up. At 29, she’s decided to take the plunge, but not alone. Swiggers’ partner, Robin Gold, has driven a biodiesel car for more than three years, so when they decided to put their passion for the environment and sustainability to work for themselves, they decided to open a biodiesel filling station.
Biofuel, derived from biological elements instead of fossil fuels, burns cleaner than oil-based fuel. Made from used vegetable oils and animal fat, biofuel offers a sustainable alternative to gasoline and actually runs through diesel engines with little adaptation.
Swiggers and Gold live in San Francisco, where a mobile fuel truck is the only local biofuel source. Other Bay Area biofuel stations are located in Berkeley, Santa Cruz and San Jose, but the couple’s vision for their business, called Dogpatch Biofuels, includes a retail store stocked with sustainable products as well as space for classes on installing biodeisel filters and making your own biofuel.
Initially daunted by the idea of running her own business, Swiggers drew on her years of experience working for independent messenger companies. Swiggers also studied the business model of Biofuel Oasis, a woman-owned cooperative biodiesel station in Berkeley, and regularly meets with the San Francisco Biofuel Cooperative. So far, finding a lot has proved to be the most difficult part of the process, but the couple worked with a green realtor and finally found space that satisfied their needs.
Dogpatch Biofuels plans to purchase fuel from a plant that produces and sells to the public instead of making it themselves because of the high ASTM standards, ensuring a high-quality fuel that won’t damage engines.
Along with providing a quality product to the public, the couple wants to raise awareness. Says Swiggers, “We really don’t want to be the same kind of business as the gas stations. That is why we want to incorporate it as a cooperative. There is a potential that big oil companies will start to sell biodiesel and we want to stand apart from that. There are several ways to produce biodiesel. It can be done in mass quantity—shipped in from Malaysia. This is counterproductive. We want to promote the use of alternative fuel produced sustainably and locally.”
These gals want a successful business, but above all, they want to promote a sustainable lifestyle.
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