Troy Swope didn’t set out to save the planet, but his career path is leading him that way.
“I spent 15 years at Intel, and we had an issue where Intel’s products were getting contaminated,” says Swope, the CEO and co-founder of Gilbert-based Footprint. “Ultimately, what we found was the plastic was contaminating Intel’s product in just 24 hours.”
While Swope and his team were trying to figure out ways to eliminate plastic contamination, he was watching his wife come home from the supermarket and everything was in plastic.
“I have little kids, so I’m thinking, ‘If that’s happening to Intel products in just 24 hours, what’s on this food?’ So I started taking that food into Intel and testing it, and we went to college professors and showed them the data and they were like, ‘Yeah, this is bad. These chemicals are bad.’ One of their descriptions was, ‘Is eating a tire bad?’ And, basically that’s what this was.”
In 2014, in an effort to help eliminate that plastic contamination from the foods we eat, Swope and his colleague from Intel, Yoke Chung, founded Footprint, with a focus on eliminating plastics through the development and manufacturing of next-generation molded fiber food packaging.
Az Business: What has been the biggest challenge or appeal of building Footprint?
Troy Swope: We brought in engineers from Intel who were building semiconductors and asking them to build a paper bowl that has to protect the food for over a year, has to biodegrade in 180 days, has to compost in 90 days and has to be recyclable. So they’re going, “It’s got to work perfectly for a year and then as soon as you use it, it goes away?” So those challenges made it interesting enough for engineers and scientists from Intel to go, “OK, I want to do that.”
AB: From where did this passion for your mission develop?
TS: There’s an article that came out in 2019 that says we’re ingesting a credit card worth a plastic a week as humans. Once I understood the health impact to humans, I saw this as far more dangerous than smoking because not everybody smokes, but everybody’s eating and everybody goes to the supermarket. So I’m proud of the mission to reduce or eliminate plastics. I’m very proud of the team and the people I work with at Footprint, and they all bought into the mission. We haven’t done enough for the planet yet for us to have pride in what we’ve accomplished, but we’re well on our way.
AB: So, what’s next?
TS: With companies like Footprint, we believe that we will be the center of the sustainable universe. For most consumers out there today, they think Tesla is the most sustainable company in the world, but you only buy or make the decision to buy a car every six years on average. Footprint’s products are going to touch you every single day. So we believe we will be the center of the sustainable universe in the next five years. People will ask, “What’s the most sustainable company in the world?” They’ll go, “It’s Footprint.”