By Scott Smith
Scott Smith, BA ’87 Economics
Founder and CEO, AquaFlex Holdings LLC
Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, Aphex BioCleanse Systems
Mathematicians have a rule: “When a problem has no solution, you will end up with a statement that is false.” It was meant for mathematics, but Baylor taught me to use it in my career. If I cannot find a solution to a problem, then I consider whether I’m asking the wrong question—for example, a false statement.
But when do you really know when you are headed in the right direction or if you are wasting your time trying to solve an unsolvable problem? How can we, thought leaders and industry experts, overcome the “sunk cost fallacy” mindset?
Through dedicating my life to sustainability without compromise, working to make cleaning and sanitization actually environmentally-safe has proven difficult, because for many years it has fit within a belief system built upon the sunk cost fallacy. For example, the FDA and EPA have not approved non-toxic, sustainable disinfectants because they do not contain the chemicals that the FDA and EPA have outlined in their definition of a disinfectant. Also, there is no federal ban on single-use plastic booms and pads in disaster clean ups even though there are sustainable, harmless booms that exist and provide 30 times the efficacy.
This being said, there are three ways that have proved to be successful in working to overcome the sunk cost fallacy mindset, outlined here:
- Stay Focused on the Facts
Government regulators and large players in the cleaning industry are often directed by the quantity of resources (time, money, or effort) available and are further fueled by politicized science, the financially entrenched legacy companies and their powerful lobbyists exerting undue influence with the media, regulators and elected officials. When I invented Open-Cell foam, a sponge-like material full of tiny holes with the ability to safely and sustainably remove contaminants like oil and chemicals, germs and pathogens, and toxic algae, it became key for me to focus on the proven evidence that it was much more effective and environmentally-friendly than other cleaning tool alternatives. Paying attention to this proof has led to successful applications of this foam in more than 60 real-world disasters, including the 2010 BP America oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Find the Right Support
This Open-Cell foam, also known as bioFOAM, is powerful technology on its own, but how sustainable are the products people are using with it to clean? I had figured out a way to capture contaminants, but how was I going to help kill them without harmful chemicals? Aphex BioCleanse Systems, a company that had already invented a non-toxic, non-chemical, non-irritating disinfectant, came across my social media and met me at a trade show to help me create a comprehensive cleaning solution that would meet this need.
- Let Go of Your Fear of Failure
In 2020, my daughter, a frontline worker at a nursing home, became infected with COVID-19, along with over 50 percent of her coworkers, despite following safety protocols and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). Stories like this were popping up everywhere, but people were mainly focused on the airborne transmission of COVID-19. The urgency to find out why these infections were popping up was imminent and though I was afraid that the problem was much larger than I could see, a lot of trial and error led me to the discovery that the rags and paper towels used to apply disinfectant on surfaces at the nursing home were actually deactivating the disinfectants being used, making them useless against the spread of pathogens. Instead, we paired bioFOAM with EPA-registered disinfectants for all surface cleaning measures, and the staff immediately experienced a difference. They also reduced PPE waste because bioFOAM products are washable, reusable and sustainable.
These solutions may seem small amidst worldwide health and environmental crises, but they will prove to be how we continue to thrive, just as they’ve been the pillars of my life’s mission pursuing sustainability without compromise, and the same as Baylor has proven to be a pillar in my life, teaching me to never give up and never be afraid to ask a different question when faced with an “unsolvable problem.”