When corporations renovate their offices, they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to junk old furniture and equipment – 85 per cent of which ends up in the landfill.
That’s a waste, according to Richard Beaumont, CEO of Toronto-based Green Standards. The company finds new homes for old office furniture and equipment at non-profit organizations that welcome used phones and chairs with open arms.
Unlike many environmental organizations, Green Standards has found a way to turn “reduce, reuse, recycle” into a workable business model. It focuses on a “triple bottom line,” meaning performance is measured by profit, as well as the social and environmental benefits produced.
The company was originally a non-profit operating out of the U.K., which donated old office furniture to organizations in Africa. But when it almost collapsed, Beaumont, the lone remaining employee, realized a new approach was needed.
The for-profit model added resale, recycling valuable metals and a removal charge to make the premise scalable and cost-effective.
Now, Beaumont believes socially-conscious for-profit businesses like his are catching on among a new generation of entrepreneurs.
“When the concept clicks you kind of have an ‘aha’ moment of like: ‘oh of course that makes so much sense,’ and it’s really the implementation that’s the real trick,” Beaumont said.
Green Standards is one of a small but growing number of Canadian businesses operating in the “circular economy,” a system that aims for zero waste and no greenhouse gas emissions by using products to their maximum potential.
“It’s actually just the way that people used to do things making a comeback,” said Warren Mabee, director of the Queen’s University’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, pointing to his mother’s penchant to save and reuse everything from string to wrapping paper.
“We started to move toward a throwaway society – and industry really embraced it because of course it meant vast growth in their bottom line because people now need to purchase something every couple years.”
Globally, a circular economy could save as much as $700 million (U.S.) per year, according to a 2011 report by the McKinsey Global Institute. It calls the circular economy “a trillion dollar opportunity,” estimating that it could address up to 80 per cent of the growth in energy demand, 60 per cent of growth in water demand and 25 per cent of growth in demand for steel.
The Ontario government – along with China, the EU and municipalities across Canada – is also getting on board with alternatives to the “linear” produce-use-dispose economic model.
Ontario released a draft strategy for the province’s transition to a circular economy last year, touting benefits including reduced greenhouse gas emissions, job opportunities and savings to consumers and taxpayers through better waste reduction, improved design and increased reuse.
Cities and corporations across the country have also formed the National Zero Waste Council (NZWC), which in turn has a circular economy working group focusing on waste reduction beyond municipal recycling efforts.
“We hear stories all the time that businesses that adopt circular economy concepts are actually improving their bottom line,” said Malcolm Brodie, mayor of Richmond, B.C., and NZWC chair.
“I think more and more that will be the expectation in the future and that businesses have reason to embrace it.”
However, Green Standards CEO Richard Beaufort said he learned the hard way that for the “economy” part of the idea to work, environmental organizations need to shed the idea that “profit” is a dirty word.
“We want to have a real impact on this issue North America-wide and potentially globally and that’s only possible by being able to implement it in a cost-effective and profitable fashion.”
In order to appeal to clients, Green Standards’ services had to be comparably convenient and priced similarly to conventional junk removal, but offer a more appealing story for companies increasingly concerned with corporate social responsibility.
Those social and environmental benefits are some of the reasons that big companies like Rogers Communications are partnering with the startup. Rogers is using Green Standards in a multi-year program to overhaul offices across the country.
“The best part is 98 per cent of what we no longer need is helping others,” said Doug Jeoffroy, Rogers vice-president of corporate real estate.
But real change will need increased government pressure; big corporations can’t be expected to upend their familiar profitable business models simply out of the goodness of their hearts, Prof. Mabee cautioned.
“The best way to do it is a combination of the carrot and the stick,” he said.
“The stick is the fact that governments are restricting the ability of large scale landfills and easy waste disposal options. The carrot is that companies now can fill the need to take this material away and use it in more effective ways.”
Green grow the profits
Here’s a look at Canadian companies at the forefront of a circular economy—reducing waste and pollution while also booking revenues.
The Hamilton company turns animal fat and vegetable oil waste into fuel — diverting waste and also reducing pollution by replacing dirtier fossil fuels.
The plant, situated among the city’s steel mills, can process about 67 million litres of biodiesel a year. It takes the glycerine molecule out of the recovered oils and replaces it with methane to facilitate the combustion process in vehicle engines.
CEO Alan Rickard says government initiatives such as Ontario’s Greener Diesel program, have been key in encouraging companies to switch to biodiesel, which makes his business viable. The 2014 program requires that 3 per cent of fuel in diesel has to be biodiesel, a figure that’s rising to 4 per cent in 2017.
He believes governments need to go further to put a price on carbon emissions.
“The cost of carbon has never been fully captured in any industry. It’s only through public policy that that’s able to happen.”
Frogbox Inc. delivers reusable moving boxes and supplies to your doorstep and pick them up when you’re done. That might be why its slogan is “from one pad to another.”
The successful 2011 Dragon’s Den venture – backed by two dragons – has been expanding across the country. It now has 17 franchises from Victoria to St. John’s.
President Phil Harbut describes what they do as a “closed loop,” so saying they’re part of the circular economy makes a lot of sense.
Business is growing, but the company still only serves a small portion of the millions who move every year. He believes the sustainable trend will pick up steam and become the logical choice of a generation that grew up with the sharing economy.
“I think we’re really waiting for that inflection point where everybody just gets it,” he said. “It’s those little shifts that compound over years and then there’s companies like ours that come and fill a niche.”
The boxes cost about $160 for a two-bedroom apartment. The company’s plans to expand along the west coast of the U.S.
Enterra Feed Corp.
Who knew that flies and their larvae could be such a hot commodity?
Enterra Feed takes organic waste from supermarkets and feeds it to black soldier fly larvae, which are then used to feed animals. Any organic waste is transformed into a fertilizer.
The company was founded in 2007 with the help of David Suzuki. A fishing trip with Canada’s most famous ecologist and Enterra CEO Brad Marchant led to discussions about a potential solution for how fish meal — traditionally made up of small fish — has led to overfishing in some parts of the world.
Enterra charges the companies where it collects waste — who might otherwise be charged for putting organics in the landfill — as well as for the animal and fertilizer it sells to manufacturers.
Now, there’s growing demand for those freeze-dried grubs and oil as fish food. It can also be used as pet food or livestock feed.
“There’s a lot of nutritional value in insects,” said Victoria Leung, the company’s sales and marketing manager,
At 31 years old, Second Harvest was one of Canada’s earliest participants in the circular economy.
It’s a non-profit that used food that restaurants are discarding to feed those in need. Its motto is “no waste, no hunger.”
“It’s not something that’s top of mind but we recognize that we’re inside a circular economy, absolutely,” said Lori Nikkel, director of programs and partnerships.
Volunteers collect leftover food from area restaurants, retailers and caterers every day and deliver them to 210 charitable organizations including food banks and shelters.
The program, which started with six restaurants, has grown to the point that it will rescue 10 million lbs. of food this year that would otherwise become garbage, Nikkel said. It focuses on perishable items such as fresh fruit and vegetables and frozen meats, fulfilling a different need than a food bank.
It’s funded through donations and fundraising events and run with the help of volunteers.
Second Harvest also participates in a swap with other like-minded organizations in the region, to trade surplus foods for fresh items it needs.
Toronto-based Waterfarmers Aquaponics harvests fish that help grow produce in a greenhouse.
“That is a circular loop right there that essentially allows us to produce two crops in the same production system,” said Evan Bell, one of the company’s co-founders and project management lead.
They raise tilapia and trout, the waste from which is put through a series of filters and the nutrients go into grow beds for plants like salad greens or bok choy.
The water is then returned to the fish tanks that circulate the water from fish tank to grow bed about once an hour. It requires just 10 per cent of the water used in traditional soil-based agriculture and takes up a considerably smaller surface area.
It has projects as far away as Europe, the Middle East and Asia and as close to home as downtown Toronto. A demonstration of the system was recently set up at the Scadding Court Community Centre at Bathurst and Dundas Sts., where community members will be trained to grow and sell tilapia, herbs and greens to community members.
The company has plans to close the loop further by using food waste to compost with larvae that can then be used for fish feed.