Bob Wenzlau: Waste Alchemist

A conversation with Bob Wenzlau, Terradex CEO and Environmental Engineer

by Lisa Van Dusen / Palo Alto Weekly

Bob Wenzlau, pioneer recycler and compost champion is now focused on what's under our workplaces, schools and homes that is known to be harmful to our health. Through his Palo Alto-based environmental information company, Terradex, Wenzlau developed a web application called What's Down as a kind of "Yelp for the environment."

What's Down gives "regular people" information aggregated into useful maps that interactively show where there is serious ground water and soil pollution, the status of any clean up efforts and what citizens can do about it. It also provides a platform for community dialogue and Q+A directly with Terradex. Their idea is if these issues literally get out the shadows, then perhaps clean up efforts will be accelerated.

A life long protector of "the special spaces around us," Wenzlau seeks to manage urban impact by offering realistic solutions rather being contentious. He learned the hard way when he and other Stanford undergrads were "slapped with a law suit" while trying to change labeling practices at the local food co-op. Wenzlau entered Stanford as a member of the class of 1978 and left with a masters in environmental engineering in 1981.

His entrepreneurial approach to mitigating the negative environmental impacts of cities and their people is inspired by his experience of "the shortcomings of hollering." Greenwashing, Wenzlau cautions, doesn't go far enough, and doesn't address the legacy of Silicon Valley that's left "all this pollution." Struck by the degree to which those less affluent residents come to expect a degraded environment as the norm, he calls for a new form of Silicon Valley leadership that applies the Valley's special set of skills, to clean up "the toxic secrets that lay in the ground." Rather than cover it up, Wenzlau asserts, "we can be a role model."

Host/interview, Lisa Van Dusen

Video, Ciera Pasturel, Veronica Weber

Production manager, Taylor Shoolery

This conversation took place on August 22