Remembering Don Bell
I recently learned that a friend, mentor and champion passed away in a car accident on January 23rd, 2017. I first met Don through our work with Tim Hortons’ Fruition Fruit and Fills plant in Oakville. The previous plant manager had hired us to address an environmental compliance concern. Halton Region was concerned that the thousand kilograms per day of organic material in the wastewater discharged from the plant could not be accommodated by the town’s effluent treatment facilities.
The problem could be solved with a conventional approach (a million dollar onsite biological treatment plant) or a preventative approach that would reduce ingredient losses in the first place while increasing net annual profits for the facility. However, the plant manager rejected both options and insisted that the facility could not possibly be losing a thousand killograms a day of organic material.
A few months later, I received a call from Don, who let me know that he was the new plant manager for Fruition. When I briefed him on the work to date, he immediately said great, where do we start. I was very impressed by Don’s motivational and leadership capacity. Together with his team, we implemented measures that cut ingredient losses to the sewer by 80%, even though production increased by 2/3 during this same period. Collectively, the ingredient & water savings as well as the energy conservation measures identified by Don’s brother Peter, saved Fruition $490,000/yr with a payback period of 0.4 years (4.5 months).
From the savings, Don provided a bonus to every one of his employees of $4,000, which left $8,000/employee of additional profit for the corporation. He also used 1% of the savings to sponsor the construction of 40 biosand filters in South Sudan through the Safe Water Project.
Don then asked me out for a beer. He said that his daughter Angela has two degrees and is still wondering what to do. Can we come with you to visit the biofilters in South Sudan? And so, after travelling as far as a 4 wheel drive van could go, then 25 miles on the back of motorcycles and waiting for a crew to remove landmines from the side of the road, the picture above was taken in a mud hut near a coffee plantation in Morrobo, South Sudan. Today, Angela is President & CEO of Speedo Foods & Flavours.
The Fruition project subsequently won a national sustainability award. Don subsequently moved on to Tradition Fine Foods, where he manged teams that improved and enhanced their production process. Angela & her sister Melissa went on to start up an ingredient business with the guidance of Don. And Tim Hortons hired Enviro-Stewards to revist the biofilters a few years later. The revisits found that 39 of the 40 biofilters remained in active use.
Don’s sponsorship of biofilters and visit occurred during the foundational period of the Safe Water Project. At the present time, all 4 of the biofilter construction projects in South Sudan have been put on hold due to civil war in each of their areas. However, the South Sudanese project managers have retained their capacity and are presently starting safe water projects in Northern Uganda that provide local employment and affordable safe water for South Sudanese refugees as well the local Ugandan population. In honour of Don’s passion and generosity, 10 discounted biofilters will be commissioned from these new projects in memory of Don. These discounts allow families with limited financial resources to purchase biofilters to provide safe water for their families for about 25 years.