When Andrew Benedek sold his water treatment company, Zenon Environmental, to General Electric in 2006, he didn’t intend to start another company.
At the time, the Canadian CEO and water technology expert was 63 years old and hoping to retire to academia. Benedek took a job at Scripps Research in San Diego, where he was briefly a professor. But while at Scripps, he quickly became passionate about the next problem he wanted to tackle through the private sector: climate change.
“Governments around the world are failing to protect us from catastrophe,” he says. “And things will change, as they usually do, when the catastrophe gets unbearable.” Benedek hopes that things won’t get to that point and that his current company, Anaergia, can be part of the solution in weaning the world off fossil fuels. The corporation is one of Canada’s fastest-growing sustainable companies.
In 2007, Benedek left his academic job and founded Anaergia, which converts organic food waste into biofuels, such as renewable natural gas. This technology reduces the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, being emitted into the atmosphere from landfills. The company went public last summer, and in March, Anaergia announced it planned to raise $60 million by offering 4.8 million subordinate voting shares.
A current that flows through both Benedek’s old venture and his new one is his pursuit to solve environmental problems using technology. He worried that the world would face some nasty water shortages and sought to put a dent in water pollution through ultrafiltration membranes he developed with Zenon.
Governments around the world are failing to protect us from catastrophe. And things will change, as they usually do, when the catastrophe gets unbearable.
Benedek came to Canada from Hungary in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution. He became a professor at McMaster University, before fleeing academia a first time to start Zenon in 1980. During that first stint as a professor, he grew restless to make an impact on big problems.
That drive led him to found the company that topped our first list of the 50 Best Corporate Citizens 20 years ago (Zenon ranked first in 2002 and 2004). Back then we wrote, “Zenon provides one of the most basic of human needs: clean H2O, while conducting itself in the most chivalrous of fashions. Is it the Ideal Corporate Citizen? For 2002, it’s King of the Castle.”
Benedek came from a long line of shoemakers in Hungary, an occupation he was expected to fall into, but he was bound for bigger things. He hopes that his company will be part of a larger constellation of corporations that will help solve humanity’s greatest challenge.
“I get up every morning with the hope that I [can] find a new way, [and] I think about … how to get there. And then I also go back in history and I find examples where, [against] impossible odds, [problems were] resolved and humanity survived,” he says.