In 2001, Marnie Brown took a giant leap of faith and left her job as a radiation tech to start a solid waste advisory company with her husband, George. Nearly 19 years later, she hasn't looked back.
The husband and wife duo founded MASS Environmental Services Inc., which is now a leading solid waste advisory company in Canada that provides services to more than 1,000 businesses across the country. MASS, an acronym standing for the first initial in their son’s, daughter’s and two nephews’ names (Mackenzie, Alexandra, Spencer and Sidney), manages services in non-hazardous waste, recycling and organics, hazardous waste, biomedical waste, confidential shredding, grease trap services and used cooking oil services. The company also completes more than 300 waste audits each year.
Brown’s husband previously worked in manufacturing but always wanted to run his own business. When he turned 40, his wife suggested it would be a good time to consider turning that dream into reality.
“George worked in manufacturing management, and one of the areas that he had always been concerned about was the waste expense,” explains Brown. “It was so significant in the plants he managed, and it seemed that no one on the procurement team had the expertise or experience to manage the contract—not only with costs going up, but they really weren’t diverting any material from landfill. So, when we were talking about business opportunities, this was something that he really felt strongly about. We realized there was a huge opportunity for us to solve some issues with cost control and really help companies divert material from landfill.”
At the time, Brown was working as a radiation tech and says her background eventually helped her when the company began to work closely with senior care facilities. The primary industries MASS works in are senior care, food services, higher education and retail property management.
“I knew [senior care] was really underserviced and could use assistance,” she says. “There were large volumes of materials going to landfill, and we were able to really help senior care homes put together an action plan to divert material from landfill. They have limited resources when it comes to staffing, so we were able to become their single point of contact for everything.”
Through the years at MASS, Brown’s role has changed. When she and her husband first started out, they did everything. Now that the company has a “great team” in place, Brown, in her role as vice president, is able to focus on new business and ensuring that customer service team members have the necessary tools to help clients divert materials from landfill.
And as the company continues to evolve, Brown has become a mentor for MASS’ growing team.
“It’s really exciting when we hire people with no background in the waste industry. As I work with them, seeing that lightbulb go on of how we can make a difference becomes very exciting,” she says. “We work on making a small difference every day and making sure that people understand if everyone does one small step today, we’ve accomplished so much.”
The Importance of Waste Audits
MASS Environmental conducts waste audits to help clients satisfy specific certifications and varying government regulations throughout Canada. Brown notes that the audit helps establish a critical baseline of data for implementing a waste diversion plan.
“We always say if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. So, the audit allows us to have a hands-on experience with our customers’ waste, organics and recycling to not only see what’s working, but most importantly, to see where opportunities are present,” she says.
Waste audits also help companies understand the major contaminants that can hurt their recycling program. Plus, audits give MASS employees an in-depth look at their clients' unique, hard-to-recycle items that could be repurposed.
Audits also have helped expand the company’s operations in other areas, such as grease trap services, used cooking oil services, medical waste programs and confidential shredding programs.
“As industry has changed, our audit division has grown exponentially and now completes waste audits from coast to coast year-round,” says Brown. “Even if we have clients that aren’t regulated to do waste audits, we have a number of them who do them to drive improvement.”
“I always like to say a waste audit is a modern archaeological dig,” she adds. “It tells us about users, what they do, what they value and then we get to use the data to develop a live-action plan to drive improvement.”
One of the company’s clients owns a series of restaurants, and over the past year, MASS has used data from audits to help the group launch more than 35 organics programs for their locations. What has been most exciting for Brown is that MASS is now in the process of helping this client change many of their locations’ waste compactors to recycling compactors because they are generating so little waste.
Addressing Industry Challenges
One of the major challenges in the waste industry today is contamination of recyclable materials. To address that, MASS has developed a plan that involves obtaining images from the facilities it works with to see how and when recyclables become contaminated.
“Our sustainability manager contacts that location, but more importantly, she contacts the user who is part of that program. Sometimes when we are talking about communication, the person who may have contaminated the recycling never gets the message. But because we work so closely with our organizations and we are the single point of contact, we send them the picture, explain what they did incorrectly and then educate them so they can pass on the information to other team members who need the information,” explains Brown.
“Contamination is everyone’s concern, and we all have to take responsibility for how poorly we have done it in the past,” she adds. “It’s not about finger-pointing; we all have to take ownership of it. But we can also drive improvement.”
Managing food waste and organics also has been a major challenge for the companies MASS works with. MASS has partnered with Rocket Composters to provide a composting and closed loop system for many of its clients struggling to manage food waste.
“We believe 100 percent in digesting and composting, but the other thing that we are seeing is people are beginning to really look at what they prepared and if there is an alternative to that if it’s something that is not being eaten. It helps their bottom line and it’s diverting material from landfill,” Brown points out.
As more and more major service providers require bagless recycling, MASS implements programs to help clients adjust to their haulers' new policy changes. Brown says it sounds simple, but for many businesses, particularly large office buildings, the bag has been used as a mode of transportation.
To help alleviate this problem, MASS has been tasked with helping many of its senior care clients redesign “the waste room of the future.”
"One of our concerns is the aging population,” notes Brown. “Staff are getting older, but in the waste industry, drivers are getting older and they can’t pull and tug the way they used to. So, we have been able to design a space that’s been approved by operations to have direct truck access if everything is set up in the room. So, we have health and safety for the users and for the service providers. It’s everyone’s responsibility.”
Personal and Professional Motivation
Personally, Brown says she finds motivation in her faith and family.
“I know one day when I sort of look back on what I did and didn’t do in my life, I know I made the right decision to take this huge leap of faith to start this company with my husband," she says. "If someone were to tell me 19 years ago that I would have the privilege to work alongside my husband and now my children and their spouses as well, it’s something we never imagined. It’s a dream come true.”
Professionally, through MASS’ methodology and through hard work, Brown and her team are focused on helping their clients make just one small difference every day. And seeing her own staff, plus her clients’ staff succeed, is especially motivating for her.
“I believe that it doesn’t matter what you do; hard work and showing up are always going to be the keys to success. I want everyone to provide a perfect effort with purposeful actions,” explains Brown. “Perfect effort means that you give the best of your ability every day. When we use those abilities together, we’re an amazing team. Purposeful action means that we should always strive to do something that makes a difference. This helps remove ‘busy work’ and the tasks that people feel they have to do but that really don’t drive any greater purpose. It’s about giving the best of your abilities every day, not perfection.”
As we continue this series, we invite our readers to email Waste360 Editorial Director Mallory Szczepanski at [email protected] with suggestions of women to feature in the coming months.