The sustainability responsibility

Maryam Farag   

People and Skills Sustainability Energy Government Resource Sector Canada government manufacturing Sustainability

Ontario manufacturers challenged to reduce waste

The Owl Solutions CEO and founder Hugo Fuentes hopes that the Save A Tonne challenge will help Ontario manufacturers rethink their packaging processes.

With an eye on the need for sustainability and environmental responsibility, supply-chain-analytics platform provider The Owl Solutions have introduced the Save a Tonne Challenge. The challenge is designed to reduce waste materials used in packaging and production by asking Ontario manufacturers to commit to reducing their waste by at least one tonne per year.

“From our perspective, and we have been doing a lot of research on this the last few years, we’re facing a silent packaging waste crisis,” says Hugo Fuentes, president, CEO and founder of The Owl Solutions. “There’s millions of tonnes of paper, plastic and metal ending up in landfills each year. This is a silent crisis – it’s impacting us and it will impact us more in the coming years and we wanted to do something about it.”

The Owl Solutions work with many manufacturing companies and engage with their information and have identified a significant opportunity to help companies be more aware of the impacts of their practices so they can take action. Fuentes says there are several key means through which companies can achieve these reductions.

“A typical manufacturing company procure ingredients or parts form many suppliers and places around the world,” says Fuentes. “That’s the first flow of packaging waste into their facilities, whenever they’re bringing in a container of something, that container comes with wrapping paper, plastics, pallets, many things that are part of the normal shipping process of a product from a supplier to a customer. Not a lot of companies really scrutinize that inbound flow. They don’t really assess, for instance, how many tonnes of carboard, how many tonnes of plastics they’re bringing in.”


When companies dig into these logistics, they can identify which companies and inbound products are producing the most waste, and possibly identify alternatives that produce less waste. Then, after identifying excess waste sources in your inbound products, you can start identifying further efficiencies with your outbound products.

“If you’re a manufacturing company shipping a product, when you’re designing your product, you’re making decisions around ‘what kind of packaging should I use, what kind of plastic, what kind of cardboard configuration,’” says Fuentes. “Many times, those conversations internally within the company are not necessarily considering the packaging waste component of this. That’s another area of clear improvement – if companies have more visibility and are more aware of the different impacts of the use of different packaging elements, they could make better decisions.”

A third avenue for improvement is with regulations – there are many local government regulations regarding who is accountable for the end of life of the packaging, called an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR initiatives seek to transfer the responsibility from public hands like municipalities into private hands and making producers responsible for the cost of managing the problem. The Save a Tonne challenge dovetails with EPR initiatives, as companies begin to realize that ignoring these issues will cost them more and more money.

“When there’s less packaging inbound, there’s less fees that you have to pay to waste management companies to go to your facility and pick up the product,” says Fuentes. “The second thing is on the EPR fees – if you’re showing that you’re shipping less packaging in your products, you can show the regulatory bodies that you’re liable to paying less fees. You’re avoiding costs.”

The challenge is meant to be quantitative – reducing a tonne of waste for an individual company doesn’t make a huge difference, but if 1,000 companies participate in the challenge then 1,000 tonnes of waste have been diverted from landfills. Many companies working together can have a significant impact even if they haven’t made a massive change to their own operations.

“Instead of putting pressure on one or a few companies to save a lot, what we’re saying is we would like to have a lot of companies committing themselves to save one tonne a year,” says Fuentes. “When you think about one tonne a year, it’s actually about three kilograms a day roughly, which is very minimal. But when you multiply that 10 times, for example, that’s a much bigger impact.”

Fuentes also stresses that there are no fees or signup costs or anything related to taking part in the challenge – this is not a business endeavor for The Owl Solutions, it’s an attempt to build community initiatives.

“We’re here just to support in the background, trying to promote this initiative and to try and push things forward,” says Fuentes. “We’re not selling things out of this intitiative, we’re promoting it and I think it’s a win for everyone.”

The Save a Tonne Challenge is not set up with a specific beginning or end date. Fuentes says they are simply looking to make an impact and engage in dialogues around the topic. He would like to see a celebration of milestones in the campaign, and regular review of how the program can be altered as necessary – for instance, Fuentes noted the possibility of increasing the challenge to reducing two tonnes of waste in the future if the numbers support it.

“I’m a supply chain management expert,” says Fuentes on The Owl Solutions’ interest in this topic. “In our work with manufacturing companies, we touch a couple of things all the time. One is their supply chain management processes. We help them understand their processes.”

Fuentes notes that 20 years ago, manufacturing companies wouldn’t have much data available about their processes – today they may have so much data they are unable to make sense of it. 

“We started our company on the supply chain management side of things, but down the road we realized how important it is to bring in this initiative of sustainability, and supply chain and manufacturing is the perfect place to take action in using some of this data and best practices to identify where a company could be more sustainable,” says Fuentes. “That’s why we’re so interested in pushing this forward, because we have seen results, we have seen how a company that had no clear visibility of their waste management impacts, when they see the information and have access to those insights, the way they operate starts transforming. They can do much more things, do it more effectively and they can save money and be more environmentally friendly. It’s a win-win-win.”  


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