Small firm creates big waste management solutions

February 01, 2010— Winnipeg, Manitoba

Emerge Knowledge Design Inc.

Rick Penner had been helping set up recycling programs, writing reports and conducting surveys in the waste management sector for 11 years when he hit upon the idea for Emerge Knowledge Design Inc.

(left to right) Jen Peters (Operations Manager), Brian Lowe (Senior Programmer), and Rick Penner (President).

Penner, a self-employed entrepreneur, knew that as the greening of governments and industry gains momentum, public and private organizations across North America were increasingly setting up their own waste diversion programs. Penner started Emerge Knowledge Design in 2001, creating a way to help businesses and organizations, track data about the waste they are generating and recycling in buildings and facilities distributed at different sites. The program also enables governments or organizations to estimate their reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and in the energy they save, based on the weight of materials they divert from a landfill.

In 2003 Penner, 45, developed Re-TRAC, a Web-based system that he licenses to organizations, enabling them to collect information about the amount of hazardous, solid, organic, construction and demolition and electronic waste they are generating and diverting through recycling and re-using programs.

Re-TRAC enables reporting entities, such as municipal governments, to log in and submit reports about the waste they generate and how much they divert. a province or state can then analyze those communities' waste diversion efforts, review the information submitted, look for trends, and compare performance to benchmarks set by municipalities of a similar size and population base.

"They can track information right down to the dumpster level using Re-TRAC, and then run these sophisticated reports," says Penner. "It's a very useful internal tool for overseeing the waste management aspects of their operation."

"Whether they are reporting to shareholders or to taxpayers, businesses and organizations can now use these web-based tools to demonstrate that they are meeting sustainability goals, instead of relying on manual spread sheets and tallying," Penner adds.

The company has expanded their market, developing a Re-TRAC program for universities and one for the hospital sector, Emerge is now managing data for customers in North America serving about 65 million people.

"It's all hosted on our servers here in Winnipeg," Penner says. "Everybody just logs in and reports their data."

Emerge's government clients include the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, Nebraska, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The provinces of Alberta and Manitoba use the system here in Canada.

Since the beginning, Penner has worked with the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), which he considers a partner in his efforts.

"They have supported the development of a number of the tools we've developed over the years," Penner says.

For example, when he identified an opportunity to generate a new Web-based service, NRC-IRAP supported the company's internal staffing costs, which allowed Emerge to create and build the software for the system. In addition, an NRC-IRAP contribution has helped defray a portion of the salaries for two recent graduates that Penner hired in 2008.

An important benefit of Emerge's association with NRC-IRAP has been the financial advice provided by NRC-IRAP's advisors, which helped Penner and his team think through financial decisions, he says.

"It's been a great program for an innovative small company with limited financing. We wouldn't be here at this point without the NRC-IRAP support. It's been a tremendous boost."

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