June 15, 2023

Interview with Polyexpert - Implementing a carbon footprint reduction approach

Reduce your environmental impact: Polyexpert shares its experience in carbon footprint management

For almost 10 years, COESIO has been supporting organizations in their strategic, tactical, and operational approach to sustainable development. This year, we're taking the time to talk to some of them to take stock of their achievements, the obstacles they've faced, and the opportunities they've seized. In this series of publications, you'll have the chance to discover the details of their sustainable development learnings, developments, and successes, so that you can be inspired to take action.

Today we talk to Donald Pelletier and Pierre Sarazin, respectively Vice President Finance and Vice President R&D and Sustainable Development at PolyExpert, a Laval-based company expert in the production of polyethylene films. Sensitive to the impact of plastics on the environment and aware of the imperative to transform the industry, they have both strongly contributed to the eco-responsible turn taken by PolyExpert starting in 2017. Involved since 2021 in a process to reduce the carbon footprint of PolyExpert's value chain, Donald and Pierre share their experience with us.

Who is Polyexpert?

Polyexpert is a family-owned company located in Laval, Quebec, founded in 1979 by Mr. Gilles Plante and his wife, Mrs. Ghislaine Plante. PolyExpert is a manufacturer of single- and multi-layer polyethylene films, and is positioned primarily in North America to meet the needs of the following markets:  

  • Food packaging
  • Agricultural films
  • Industrial films

In 2004, Lise Plante, daughter of the owner, joined PolyExpert, and in 2014 she took over the management of the company with the aim of deepening reflection on the environmental footprint of the plastics industry. These reflections took on a transformative scope with the realization that environmental challenges could not do without more global strategic reflections, on investments, the well-being and commitment of teams, and consideration of the entire value chain.  

To help it deepen and structure a genuine approach to sustainable development, in 2017 PolyExpert turned to EcoresponsibleTM Certification from the Conseil des Industries Durables du Québec. Since then, PolyExpert's journey has been punctuated by a series of successes that have only strengthened the company's strategic positioning in favor of ecoresponsibility:  

  • Levels 1 (2018), 2 (2019) and 3 (2021) of EcoresponsibleTM Certification;
  • Annual water consumption reduced by 95%;  
  • Development of recyclable films and/or films containing recycled materials;  
  • Commitment to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a circular economy.

Our speakers

Donal Pelletier,

VP Finance has been with the company for 28 years.

Pierre Sarazin,

VP R&D and Sustainable Development with the company for 4 years.

Faced with the urgent need to act, businesses are at the heart of climate action

Since the Industrial Revolution, human activity has drastically increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This leads to an increase in average temperature, which is referred to as global warming or climate disruption, reflecting major changes in natural cycles. Global temperatures have already risen by 1.1°C compared with the pre-industrial era (Shields, 2021). Among other things, this warming is causing soil degradation which, according to the second edition of the "Global Land Outlook" published by the UN Convention, threatens the quality of life of more than 3 billion people (Valo, 2022).

To limit this global warming, 197 parties (196 countries and the European Union), civil society (NGOs, trade unions) and the media have been meeting every year since 1995 at the COP "conference of the parties". The COP21 held in France led to the Paris Agreement in 2015. This is the first international emissions reduction treaty aimed at containing global warming to well below 2°C, and if possible to 1.5°C, compared with the pre-industrial era. This treaty has been signed by 195 states and ratified by 189 (UN, 2022). This objective is consistent with the recommendation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to keep global warming to 1.5°C and no more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. This objective can only be achieved by aiming for a carbon-neutral society by 2050.

To comply with this agreement, countries are making commitments to reduce their emissions. Canada, for example, has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, and to reducing its emissions by 40-45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels (Department of Justice, 2021). Carbon neutrality means that the Canadian economy no longer emits greenhouse gases, or offsets its emissions through measures such as tree planting or the use of technologies that capture carbon before it is released into the atmosphere (Government of Canada, 2020).

As major emitters of greenhouse gases, businesses have a crucial role to play in the fight against climate change, reducing their dependence on fossil fuels and resources and transforming extractivist, linear production modes into circular, low-carbon production modes. Many major players have already made commitments and taken action to reduce emissions across their value chains, with direct repercussions for small and medium-sized businesses.

What is the origin of PolyExpert's sustainable development approach? What were the first steps taken?

Donald Pelletier  

As soon as Lise Plante took over in 2014, there was a desire to change the company's vision to include a more environmental aspect by changing internal ways of doing things, in particular. This led the company to look at what was being done in Quebec in this field, particularly in terms of certifications. Initially, the approach focused more on the environment, but the team's growing competence on the subject, the arrival of Pierre with his knowledge of the circular economy, and collaboration with COESIO led the organization to take a more global view of eco-responsibility, integrating aspects of governance, the economy, and the social dimension. This thinking led to the award of Level 1 EcoresponsibleTM Certification by the Conseil des Entreprises Durables in 2018.

Has obtaining this certification led to any changes?

Donald Pelletier

‍Sustainabledevelopment and its challenges have been integrated over time into the organization's strategy, which takes the form of action plans. These various steps have enabled the company to obtain level 2 certification and level 3 certification last year. The company is now seeking more international certification.

When was there first awareness or discussion of the carbon footprint, the evolution of the industry, and the role of plastics in this transition?

Pierre Sarazin

‍Thereis currently a general disparagement of plastic. This stems from the fact that climate change issues are discussed a lot, but are ranked at the same level in people's perception as plastic pollution, which is the plastic industry's main problem. However, it's much easier to take action against plastics by wishing to eliminate them, as this is more tangible and easily assessable, without having to think about the overall carbon footprint of the value chain. There are two main ways of assessing the carbon footprint:

  • A carbon footprint assessment for the company, like the one carried out by COESIO within PolyExpert, identified the main emission points within the company. We've already made a great deal of effort, particularly in the area of resins, which is our main source of emissions and one on which we can take direct action.
  • The second facet is to analyze how plastic films are used in the packaging value chain, adopting a systems approach. At the moment, it's all the rage to ban single-use plastics, but this doesn't have to mean an increase in carbon footprint. For example, in the food sector, to which over half of our products are destined, there is a risk that food waste will increase without the services provided by plastic packaging, thus increasing the food sector's GHG emissions. It is therefore important to assess the system in its entirety before taking measures to ban it. It would therefore be appropriate to consider actions on education and the functionality of plastics so that the overall balance sheet is not increased by actions against plastics.

So you're saying that eliminating plastic can in some cases increase GHG emissions?

Pierre Sarazin

‍Yes, because current actions mainly seek to eliminate plastic to reduce waste and pollution without consideration of the consequences associated with application. Eliminating single-use plastic can increase the carbon footprint, and replacing one material with another is not a solution in line with the circular economy. It's the other way around. Packaging serves the product!

Carbon footprint methodology

Companies are key players in reducing GHG emissions as part of the ecological transition. Since it is only possible to reduce what can be quantified, a carbon accounting methodology has been developed. The Green House Gas Protocol (GHGP) is the main benchmark used by COESIO to produce Polyexpert's carbon footprint. Emissions are broken down into the following three scopes:

  • Scope 1: Direct GHG emissions from sources controlled by or belonging to the organization, such as the consumption of company-owned vehicles, the combustion of natural gas or fuel oil for heating the entity's buildings, and so on. Emissions from biomass combustion (biogenic carbon) should not be reported under scope 1, but in another section.
  • Scope 2: Indirect GHG emissions linked to the purchase of electricity and steam by the entity.
  • Scope 3: Other indirect GHG emissions. This scope includes the purchase of goods and services, business and employee travel to and from work, the use of products sold, upstream and downstream transport, etc.

The diagram below illustrates the breakdown of emissions across the different scopes:

Figure 1: The different scopes of a GHG balance (WBCSD & WRI, 2011)

In a GHG balance, emissions are counted in terms ofCO2 equivalent (CO2 eq) to provide a single unit for comparison. TheCO2 equivalent of a greenhouse gas corresponds to the quantity ofCO2 required to cause the same radiative forcing, in other words, the quantity ofCO2 with the same capacity to retain solar radiation.

Figure 2: PolyExpert's 2019 GHG balance sheet

What projects/actions have been implemented following the assessment carried out by COESIO in accordance with GHG Protocol guidelines (scope 1, 2 and 3)?

Donald Pelletier

The air conditioning equipment cooling the entire plant was reaching the end of its useful life. The GHG balance sheet showed that there was an alternative to replacing it with a new model running on natural gas. A first approach was to try to take advantage of Quebec's hydroelectricity by installing a geothermal system. However, the estimated costs were very high, and given the plant's location, this was not feasible. After a great deal of research, we opted for a heat pump system recovering heat from the plant, which made it possible to almost entirely eliminate the use of natural gas. It was a nice project that we didn't align ourselves with at first, but with the GHG balance sheet project, it made us realize that we could do something different. We worked with Transition Énergie Québec and Hydro-Québec, from whom we received subsidies, and the consultants PG Énergie and COESIO helped us a great deal with the project. For a solution at the same cost as what we wanted to do in the beginning, we came up with a solution that enabled us to reduce our GHGs for the heating part of the plant in winter.

This example of a reduction of more than 500 tonnes illustrates your actions to achieve an almost carbon-neutral plant for the emissions you control. How do you approach the emissions you don't control?

Pierre Sarazin

‍Whenwe did the GHG assessment in 2020 on the year 2019, we realized that our scopes 1 and 2 represented less than 1% of emissions. We went on to reduce this 1% to almost 0%. On the other hand, we have no control over transport, which accounts for 15%, and almost everything else, such as resins, so it's much harder to take action. Nevertheless, the rising cost of transport is encouraging us to change our ways of doing things, which is reducing costs and the associated greenhouse gases. In terms of products, since last year we have been a signatory to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Global Commitment, intending to have 5% post-consumer recycled material by the end of 2025. That may not sound like much, but in reality, it is. Recycled material of the required quality does not currently exist in sufficient quantities. This is mainly because flexible plastics are not collected and recycled, or are collected and recycled in very low proportions. In addition to low quantities, quality is also inconsistent. Nevertheless, good progress is already being made by recyclers, which should improve the situation in the next few years for non-food applications. However, only a few recycled resins are approved for food use at present, which is a major restriction for us. So we have a dilemma: yes, we want to reduce our GHG emissions, which come mainly from resins, but few recycled resins are available with the required properties.

For the food industry, "advanced recycling" is a promising avenue: companies will use chemical processes that break down the plastic to return to the monomers that are polymerized into virgin plastic. These resins earn credits, and by purchasing these credits using the "mass-balance" approach, it is possible to guarantee that films contain a percentage equivalent to certified resin from advanced recycling processes. This recycling makes it possible to produce virgin resins from used plastic, which are then accepted for food use and therefore have the same properties. It remains to be proven that these processes can reduce GHG emissions. These processes are already criticized by those who want to reduce the use of plastics.

With regulations changing every year, what role does PolyExpert play in influencing regulations and the integration of recycled plastics into the market?

Pierre Sarazin

‍Weeducate the stakeholders in the value chain, but we are rarely in contact with the players located close to the consumer, at the end of the chain. Yet it is they who possess the power to demand packaging containing post-consumer recycled resin. We work upstream with manufacturers of recycled resins, and we are also able to obtain the necessary certifications, which are very costly for resins derived from advanced recycling. These resins are currently available in small quantities, but it is expected that within 5 years they will exceed several million tonnes per year.

Donald, can you tell us more about all the transportation and other projects that directly and indirectly affect greenhouse gases?

Donald Pelletier

‍AsPierre mentioned earlier, there is a part of the emissions over which we have no control. For the raw materials part, we try to maximize the train over the truck, because the quantity received is greater, for example. As for delivery to the customer, we have, as with raw materials, begun to ship by train to more distant customers. In addition, we try to maximize the quantity per truck sent to our customers to reduce GHGs. All this requires collaboration and the involvement of various stakeholders, including customers, planning, production, and others, to maximize the mass put on the trucks. Another aspect where we have an impact and where we need to think further is in trying to work more with local customers who will have less impact on our GHG emissions. What's more, with the rapid rise in transport costs, it's increasingly complicated to travel long distances and be competitive against more local suppliers.

Did you encounter any resistance to change when you started taking action following the carbon audit? If so, how did you deal with it?

Pierre Sarazin

‍Resistanceto change is very low internally, there's a very good climate for making sustainability-related changes. What is most worrying at the moment are the global disruptions to supply chains. However, these upheavals are a great opportunity to change the way we do things. For example, companies that used to source from low-cost Asian sources are starting to change their practices and go local again, as prices rise and transport uncertainties increase. Unfortunately, no one does the environment for the environment's sake; there always has to be a price incentive.

Donald Pelletier

‍Whenwe first started talking about eco-responsibility, it didn't mean much to people. However, as soon as we started implementing concrete actions and it was possible to demonstrate to employees and stakeholders, that these projects had a considerable impact on the environment, it was much easier to reduce resistance to change for subsequent projects. What's more, those involved realize that adding an eco-responsibility component to a project doesn't necessarily make it more complex. As a result, projects have a positive, motivating impact without taking longer or being more difficult to implement.

Has implementing a GHG quantification approach and subsequently rolling out reduction projects represented a cost and subsequently enabled you to make savings?

Donald Pelletier

‍Interms of investment, there are plenty of financial incentives from governments like Transition énergétique Québec and Hydro-Québec, as mentioned above. Using these subsidies even if the initial investment is sometimes higher, the return on investment is quite quick. In the case of the air-conditioning project, for example, it is possible to see a return on investment only 3-4 years later, while still having a significant impact on our GHG emissions. This is a great incentive for employees to see projects that are both economically viable and good for the environment.

Pierre Sarazin

‍Forall the teams, there's a certain pride in taking part in these projects. For example, when it's -20, -30 degrees Celsius outside and we're able to heat the plant without any outside input, it gives everyone a sense of motivation. When it comes to investment, there are grants, as Donald mentioned. However, when it comes to developing new products, there are few incentives. The development of new eco-designed products is to be preferred, but it's difficult to find funding for such costly activities.

What are the next steps for GHGs in the short, medium and longer term?

Pierre Sarazin

‍Productswith post-consumer recycled content are starting to find great applications that will be examples to move forward faster in this field. We are working with our customers to offer them films with a high level of recycled content, i.e. at least 30%. We also work with our resin suppliers to evaluate their recycled resins, and this collaboration is appreciated to improve resin quality. It's a way of distinguishing ourselves as a small company. The more we develop our knowledge in this sector, the more we prepare for the future, hoping that common rules will apply.

Donald Pelletier

‍Thefirst step would be to carry out another assessment and quantify the impact of the projects we have carried out on our greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, we need to think about the next steps to be taken, particularly regarding products, which are our main source of GHG emissions.

If you had to talk to the Pierre and Donald of 2017-2018 before embarking on the ecoresponsibility project who was still wondering whether or not to go ahead with it, what would you say to them to reassure them or warn them about the project and what you've achieved?

Donald Pelletier

‍I'll say to the Donald of 4-5 years ago that I didn't think a finance person could play a certain role in a company's green shift. So it's not necessarily the panacea of people who know the subject and everyone can play a role in the company and be a player in this shift. I would add that it's not very complicated, and if you put in a little effort and commitment, every company can have an impact. It's the accumulation of all these companies doing their bit that will have a major impact in the end.

Pierre Sarazin

‍Theproject was already underway when I arrived, and the whole vision motivated me to join the company. I think I'd say to him: don't worry COESIO is going to help us move forward. I think this is where the difference lies in the support you provide. We know plastics, but your guidance and the way the process is structured are essential in this type of project. COESIO's support really stands out from what I've seen with other consultants.

Sources :

Government of Canada (2020, November 19). Carbon Neutrality by 2050. Government of Canada.

Ministry of Justice. (2021, June 29). Carbon Neutrality Accountability Act. Legislation (Justice) website.

UN. (2022). The Paris Agreement | United Nations.

Shields, A. (2021, August 10). Climate disaster in sight, IPCC warns. Le Devoir.

Valo (2022, April 27). Land degradation affects half the world's population. Le

WBCSD, & WRI. (2011). Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard: Supplement to the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard. World Business Council for Sustainable Development & World Ressources Institue.

Written by :

Pierre Chênel, Analyst

Adèle Renon, Consultant

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