Working to develop circular business innovations that are technically feasible, economically viable, and ecologically impactful, a cohort of 19 participants embarked on a five-month journey led by the Centre for Building Sustainable Value’s Jury Gualandris and Innovation North’s Ju Young Lee, to explore the untapped potential of the circular economy.
Through a series of workshops from February to June 2023, representatives from forward-thinking organizations delved into the depths of their core strategies and operations, unearthing novel ideas to reshape their industries and champion a more sustainable future.
The Compass: A cutting-edge innovation tool
Innovation North's systems innovation tool, the Compass, informed and bolstered these ideas. The tool facilitated the exploration of each company's purpose (or North Star), the identification of problem statements, and the mapping of their position within the broader system. Additionally, participants gained valuable insights into their company's interactions with stakeholders, unravelling the complex web of connections that shapes their business model.
The program's participants, coming from diverse industries including healthcare, agriculture, food & beverage, manufacturing, and more arrived with varying perspectives and goals. Some had pre-existing ideas of what they wanted to innovate and sought solutions to specific problems, while others approached the program with open minds and a willingness to learn new approaches to sustainability.
The iterative process ignited creativity, propelling these companies to generate ingenious ideas. Waste reduction in supply chains took center stage, with organizations exploring strategies such as finding local suppliers, switching to eco-friendly packaging, and transforming what was once considered waste into profitable revenue streams. Some organizations underwent a complete paradigm shift, embracing a new, sustainability-rooted business focus.
Read about the details of how the Compass was used in the Circular Leadership Program’s first session.
Projects with a purpose
Let's take a closer look at some of the remarkable projects that emerged from this journey:
Escarpment Labs: This yeast manufacturing company, supplying craft breweries across Canada, adjusted their operations to focus on using waste products to replace costly international ingredients. In a final proposal, Attilio Consigli communicated that Escarpment Labs' new vision was to guide the brewing industry toward the understanding that “being sustainable is profitable.”
EcoWool: A visionary sheep farm, EcoWool harnessed the power of traditionally wasted wool, transforming it into fertilizer pellets. These eco-friendly pellets not only reduce waste but also offer a myriad of benefits including water conservation and carbon sequestration.
PaperSpree: A wholesale stationery and paper goods company, PaperSpree has always championed products made from pre-consumer and recycled organic waste materials. However, their journey with the Compass led them to begin advocating for improved waste management throughout their supply chain, aiming to revolutionize the handling of solid household and community waste.
Eat Local Huron: This online farmer's market is devoted to bringing locally sourced food to the residents of Huron County. By assessing the traditional grocery store system, Eat Local Huron discovered they could bridge the gap between local producers and buyers, keeping capital within the community and allowing residents to enjoy a wide variety of local products. This approach also significantly reduces carbon emissions, emitting 100x less carbon compared to the average retail grocery process.
AyA Kitchens and Baths: As an innovative kitchen design and cabinetry business, AyA Kitchens and Baths embarked on a quest to unearth revenue streams from traditionally wasted cabinet materials. By unlocking the hidden potential of discarded resources, they minimize waste while maximizing profitability.
Everything Recycling: Everything Recycling Inc. worked with its client, Gruppo Terroni, a renowned Toronto-based Italian restaurant group, to tackle waste management and emissions challenges. By using Innovation North’s Compass, Everything Recycling shifted Terroni’s focus towards prioritizing local suppliers and diverting food waste from landfill.
Jülide's Specialty Ice Cream: Through the program, this premium ice cream company developed an idea that allows small businesses to collaborate on bulk purchases, reducing waste and saving money, while also lowering carbon emissions.
Heartwood Farm & Cidery, a regenerative farm and cidery, notes that “the CLP program has encouraged us to assess every step of our supply chain, and look at all the potential areas of improvement.”
Additionally, companies such as Cafezia and Apical Ethical, and St Joseph’s Health Care Food and Nutrition Services, honed in on developing more sustainable packaging solutions, recognizing the urgency of reducing environmental impact.
Pitching their ideas
The climax of this journey arrived with a thrilling pitch competition, where five standout companies vied to secure up to $20,000 to fund their circular ideas. Esteemed judges, including Ludovic Marmet (Desjardins), Catherine McVitty (cmv Consulting), Abby Litchfield (Network for Business Sustainability), and Christopher Coghlan (Innovation Guelph) considered the novelty, feasibility, scaling potential, and potential impact (social, environmental, or economic) of the innovations.
The successful companies look forward to using this funding to scale their ideas and be leaders in their respective industries. COIL is supporting projects with funding, mentorship and resources.
More about the program’s conveners:
The first offering of the Circular Leadership Program was a collaboration between Circular Opportunity Innovation Launchpad (COIL), Ivey’s Centre for Building Sustainable Value, and Innovation North, and generously funded by FedDev Ontario and Desjardins. COIL is a project funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. COIL programs are delivered as a collaboration between City of Guelph, County of Wellington, Innovation Guelph, 10C Shared Space, and Guelph Chamber of Commerce.