“The 3 R’s, sustainable development, environmental business, cleantech, innovation and circular economies.” All these words and phrases, created over the past few decades, have one thing in common – Fielding Environmental. Fielding is North America’s leading chemical and refrigerant gas recycling company.
Long before there was a Ministry of Environment in any Canadian province, Fielding was helping customers save money and protect the environment. In 1955 the North American manufacturing sector was thriving and chemicals that companies used to paint, clean or cool became wastes after their primary use.
Companies had few options. Chemicals were buried, burned, vented or dumped. That’s what Jack McGregor saw. And that’s when he decided to pioneer chemical recycling as a business that also helped the environment.
He bought distillation equipment, set up a small lab, hired the right talent and convinced Ford Motor to send Fielding its spent cleaning solvents.
Fielding purified the material and returned it to Ford – at a price less than the price of virgin chemical – for reuse over and over again. Fielding grew its customer base to include companies that only wanted Fielding to safely treat their waste. They did not want it purified for their reuse. Fielding saw such waste as a raw material and they innovated to create new products for distribution.
Fielding gave manufacturers options for responsible treatment of chemical waste and built a reputation for making high quality recycled chemicals. By doing so, Fielding proved the merits of a value proposition that years later would be characterized as an example of the 3R’s, sustainable, innovative, cleantech and part of an innovation and circular economy.
Little did Jack know that he had launched a family-owned business that would see at least two more generations driving its growth. How could he? When he joined Fielding he was a President holding a small equity position. When the owner retired, Jack bought the company.
The Complexities on the Way
- Along the way, the business became much more complex and expensive. There were several reasons
- Banks were not prepared to extend a term loan to a family-owned business in a sector yet to be defined.
- Publicly traded customers demanded sophisticated quality and environmental management systems that equaled their own.
Fielding truly was a salmon swimming against a swift current in a river full of barriers. The company was under intense pressure to build trust, invest in capital, talent, and markets. Jack had hired his son, Ian, a brilliant mechanical engineer who designed new technologies to advance the business. And in 1994, Jack hired his daughter Ellen to assume the CEO position. One by one the barriers were strategically tackled.
Ellen championed the strategy to earn the trust of stakeholders- the City, regulators and of course new customers. In its industry, Fielding became the 1st company in North America to be registered to the quality standards of ISO.
It also became the 1st in the world to be registered to the environmental standards of ISO, the first to be verified to Responsible Care ®, and the first to be a member of Responsible Distribution®. While the list of credentials customer demands, the addition of each made the company stronger and sent a signal that Fielding was a business they could trust.
In addition, Ellen assumed advisory roles and board positions to build the Fielding brand. She sat on the Principal’s Advisory Committee, University of Toronto Mississauga and the Economic Development Committee for Mississauga. Boards positions included Sheridan College, The Credit Valley Conservation Foundation and Mississauga Board of Trade. New relationships launched collaborations with academia to advance research for commercial gain.
Ellen continues the work to advance the brand. She sits on the board of Sustainable Technology Development Canada, a federal agency that helps cleantech companies demonstrate technologies. Yet another board she is proud to sit on is the Canadian Council for Innovators, an association that advocates for innovation companies to strengthen access to capital, talent, and markets.
Fielding co-founded a not for profit called LINCit (Lincit.ca) that helps cleantech companies scale by matchmaking them with companies and agencies in the innovation ecosystem. What started as an effort to strengthen local trust resulted in something much bigger.
Today Fielding’s brand is recognized throughout North America and beyond with a tag line that signals vision and corporate commitment. Fielding Environmental The Right Way. ™ Our vision sees a world where people and industry live in harmony with the environment – and that world demands Cradle to Cradle® care of waste The Right Way. ™ Ellen
Investments for Growth
When the manufacturing sector began to erode in Canada, wastes previously produced locally became unavailable. Fielding responded by assigning sales talent in other provinces and the US to source waste across Canada and into the United States. It developed distribution channels overseas in places as far away as South Africa. Today, Fielding products can be found in over 30 countries.
The Montreal Protocol and its banning of certain refrigerant gases created yet another market – the collection and reclamation of refrigerant gases. Fielding invested in research, reclamation equipment, market development, and talent.
Talent & Succession
Most family owned businesses do not become owned and operated by third-generation members, but not so in the case of Fielding. Ellen’s adult son, Kyle Imrie, and adult daughter Katelyn Imrie are both shareholders and members of the Executive.
Kyle is seasoned in business development and marketing. Kyle championed a bold and covetable acquisition that put Fielding on a fast track for growth and extended its distribution channels – a plant in Freedom, PA. With operations in both Canada and the United States and exports to over 30 countries, Fielding is a global player.
Katelyn is also a seasoned professional in market development. When legislation changed, Katelyn defined how and where Fielding could play a lead role in the collection and reclamation of refrigerant gases. We defined what talent, assets, and systems were required to make Fielding the preeminent Canadian player in the refrigerant management industry.
And then there is Fielding’s operations expert- Ray Hurrell- Ray has become one of the family and an owner of Fielding. Ray finesses the balance between the growth of waste sales and the assets required to turn waste into new products. What sounds simple takes extensive knowledge of science, engineering, law and most importantly the leadership of Fielding team members. Fielding continually invests in people, assets and research to advance our capabilities”
But Fielding’s biggest asset is its committed people.
They are educated, skilled, trained and proud. Never before has the word “environment” had the profile it has right now. The effects of “climate change” are published, discussed and taught – everywhere. Fielding team members know that what they do contributes to mitigating climate change. Here is why.
- Through chemical recycling, Fielding prevents greenhouse gas emissions – if you planted enough trees to absorb the amount of C02 that Fielding prevents from being emitted, you would have to plant 2 million trees ever year.
- Fielding produces an environmentally superior fuel that is a drop in replacement for coal.
- Over time, refrigerant gases used to keep things cool – homes, hospitals, offices – lose their effectiveness. Venting those gases contributes to global warming. Fielding’s work keeps those gases out of the air and in the market for use again and again.
Our beautiful, thriving aquarium is a reminder of the importance of our work. Fielding team members know that what we do is good for human health and the health of all nature. And that makes Fielding team members committed and proud” Sean Barnett, Director Alternative Energy and Compliance.
Society relies upon chemicals for pretty much everything. From the clothes we wear to the pharmaceuticals that protect our children and extend adult’s lives, chemicals play a pivotal role in our well being. Waste chemicals do not belong in our air, water or lands. They should be given a new life.
Twenty-five years ago Ellen coined and trademarked the phrase “Cradle to Cradle”. Those words continue to drive Fielding innovation efforts. They drive partnerships with customers and academia. They drive advocacy efforts with the government, all of which helps Fielding out-perform the competition. Fielding will continue to give new life to new wastes and continue to grow its export markets.
One last thing. For decades Fielding has survived with winds in its face. Just think what it can do with winds of support at its back – support for cleantech – support for a circular economy – mounting societal support driven by the fear and reality of climate change. Fielding is postured for growth.