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Donn Bernal: Bringing sustainability to the change-resistant asphalt industry 

Dec 14, 2023

IMG 5401 (Edited)

Donn Bernal: Bringing sustainability to the change-resistant asphalt industry 

Donn Bernal, EMBA ’20, is committed to redefining sustainability standards in the asphalt industry through his consultancy, Corfinium Solutions Inc. 

Donn Bernal began his career in the construction industry and gained a lot of technical experience managing asphalt operations. His journey took an unexpected turn when, as an asphalt performance analyst for Lafarge in the early 2000s, he stumbled upon the potential to integrate sustainability into projects, something quite unheard of in the industry at the time.  

Shifting toward sustainability 

When Donn was working alongside a team to develop an asphalt performance program across Eastern Canada, his perspective shifted. At first, Donn and his team were only looking at how the program could be used to reduce costs and save virgin materials. However, Donn realized the program was optimizing mix designs, incorporating recycled asphalt and reducing aggregate drying fuel consumption, naturally creating more sustainable products and producing less CO2 equivalent emissions. He began to envision implementing similar practices in his future projects. 

Donn later enrolled in the EMBA program at Ivey to further his education. A course led by Oana Branzei opened his eyes to the diverse landscape of companies incorporating sustainability into their projects. He was also involved in an exchange program to Mexico City, where he delved into how sustainability could be integrated into the entire supply chain, from the raw materials to the packaging and in some cases from “cradle to grave”.  

Embarking on impactful ventures 

Armed with an expanded knowledge set, Donn founded Corfinium Solutions Inc, a consultancy dedicated to helping companies integrate sustainable practices into their projects, especially in the asphalt industry. Because asphalt in its basic form is still being produced essentially the same as it was a century ago and new technologies take a long time to be adopted, he hopes to bridge the gap between the tried-and-true methods of the past and the innovative solutions necessary for a sustainable future. 

Notably, Donn is collaborating with the local Ontario asphalt association to develop a plant certification program to ensure environmental excellence, quality, and safety. The program aims to make certification mandatory for asphalt plants bidding on municipal contracts in Ontario, which guarantees more sustainable asphalt production. 

Donn is especially proud of a current project where he is working for an international company with a proprietary process to develop a new sustainable asphalt additive material to improve the asphalt pavement’s performance and pavement life. Donn’s expertise in asphalt technology coupled with his speciality in integrating sustainability into the product and business development stages made him the perfect person to spearhead this project. He is excited to bring sustainability to the forefront of the Canadian asphalt industry. 

Expanding your knowledge 

Donn believes that progress is being made in advancing sustainability within the business community. Many conferences and associations are highlighting the topic of sustainability in their forums and corporations are constantly creating new sustainability-focused job positions.  

However, Donn believes more should be done. He hopes to see sustainability become a part of the criteria when selecting contractors for construction projects. He would like to see the day when we move away from the low-bid system and instead advocates for a weighted system that rewards businesses and contractors for incorporating sustainable practices into their operations as part of the contract award selection criteria. 

For students seeking sustainability-focused careers, Donn urges them to develop a deeper understanding of the field they want to enter. He believes that without his prior knowledge and in-depth experience in asphalt operations, the market, and the management, he would not have succeeded in the industry. In Donn’s eyes, taking risks and accepting challenges to expand your knowledge as well as continued education are essential to make a significant impact in your industry of choice.  

“Now is the time to try new things, take chances, accept new responsibilities and new roles. Take more risks and accept the challenges brought to you. You may not always know where the journey will take you, but you will definitely learn valuable lessons along the way.”