KBL is a name synonymous with innovation and know-how in the environmental and waste management service sector throughout some of the toughest terrains imaginable. As the only government approved receiver of hazardous waste in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, the company assists other businesses in developing and maintaining successful environmental management programs.
This is a niche industry, with only a few key players, but what separates KBL from the competition is its ability to forge strategic partnerships in remote service regions as well as with Aboriginal groups. This also aids it in covering site remediation projects for a vast area that includes the North West Territories, Yukon, Nunavut, British Columbia and Alberta. In a relatively short time, KBL has established itself as the waste management contractor for the mining, exploration, oil and gas and mine industries. We spoke with Business Manager Jeff Dirks.
Jeff has a background in the environmental sector, specifically waste management and site remediation. In 2008, he and his brother started a company in Alberta which dealt with the transport of contaminated soils. In 2009, he was approached by John Oldfield,a business owner in the Northwest Territories who owned a domestic waste service company in Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories for household and commercial waste collection.
“We had actually worked together when I was at a bigger company,” he explains. “He approached me to help him grow KBL, which at the time was really an entity on the coattails of his other operating entity, and servicing hazardous waste management services primarily in Alberta. So, I came on board as a partner in 2009 to provide some expertise.” From there, the company initiated a facilities approval process to construct Northern Canada’s first hazardous waste transfer facility, which opened its doors in early 2010.
The company’s core business is in very remote areas within the three northern territories in Canada. Naturally, the distances mean that logistics is extremely challenging, and so the company has had to become very innovative in how it moves waste. A lot of its clients generate waste that’s challenging to handle, so it has worked with a North American manufacturer of containment bins and custom-built means of containment whereby it could move waste by air, large shipping vessels or rail.
Another example of KBL’s innovative practices is in solidification technologies for waste sludge. This is useful not only in Northern Canada, but also in the oil and gas sector in Western Canada. “Basically, we signed the rights of a chemical supplier out of Eastern Canada and then worked with a manufacturer out of the US to come up with a process that effectively manages waste sludges and, at the same time, reduces the volume of this material going for landfill disposal. It also reduces the cost for our clients.” This makes it the best outcome for its customers, from a cost perspective, as well as being a green initiative by reducing the waste going to disposal.
The logistics involved in covering such a vast expanse of land can be complex, and the company achieves coverage via several strategic partnerships with different transport companies. For example, it uses shipping companies that move commodities into very remote communities by water, air or land. Instead of returning empty, the assets can transport waste materials on the return journey. “We will utilize their resources and backhaul waste out of these remote communities for ultimate management, whether that be recycling and or disposal.”
KBL introduced air shipment of waste streams to its clients. At diamond mines, a lot of materials are flown into the facilities. Again, so the planes do not have to go home empty, waste can be transferred out of the community. The staff of KBL has been educated in the protocol and requirements to move dangerous goods by air, which is rare in the industry.
Generally, the company looks at areas that are under-serviced and possibly unattractive to its competition. It evaluates smaller markets where it can implement facilities to support localized, micro-economies. Its strategic development of facilities in remote locations has been quite successful to date.
KBL has a network of contractors with whom it works in close collaboration in various communities. “Those are services that we could easily invest in ourselves, but it does not make any financial or logistical sense. So we will work through subcontractor relationships to access work, and it is mutually beneficial because they are able to generate some revenue. It is a positive for the client and ultimately the environment because we clean up contaminated sites.”
Considering both waste facility development and acquisitions, the company is looking to acquire businesses that complement existing areas of expertise. “We have gone down the road of initiating due diligence for a couple potential acquisitions. We hope that one will materialize and come to fruition in the next twelve months.”
When the company first began, it did not anticipate the close ties it would forge with Aboriginal groups. KBL realized that, in order to grow, this was both important and, in some cases, vital. In some jurisdictions, it is a requirement to work with an Aboriginal company based on land use and access agreements or agreements with the governing bodies.
“One of the key components is accessing work, but, further to that, we are becoming really close with Aboriginal companies indirectly through work activities in some remote areas. We quickly understood how important culture was and how different cultures can actually be within the Aboriginal community.”
Sustainable development is a term that can be overused, but it applies, not only to the company, but also to the Aboriginal communities. Respect for the culture has helped develop partnerships that aid in the growth of majority Aboriginal owned companies that also have a minority ownership by KBL. The idea is to promote socioeconomic development and support services in these regions rather than simply enter into a partnership with individuals from a community. “In our opinion, that is not the best outcome for the community or a partnership because you (only) have individuals benefiting.”
KBL’s partnerships with development corporations or operating businesses have added value to communities and operating companies through training, education and other areas such as administration. To date, it has formed several partnerships which have been fruitful because KBL took a great deal of time and energy to evaluate and validate how it wanted to go about it.
In 2013, KBL was presented with an award for Business of the Year by the Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce. “They look at standard business criteria such as growth rates in the region, local content, employment creation, and socioeconomic benefits like Aboriginal partnerships. Not to gloat, but in 2014 of November, we also were named the Corporation of the Year from the city of Yellowknife for the same thing.”
The services that KBL offers are unusual and there are probably only three to four players in Canada that offer what it does. “Generally, large companies will submit RFPs to whomever they are comfortable with and who may be in their local service jurisdiction. It is a formal tender process. So, generally speaking, companies will come to us through a formal procurement process.”
In the case of KBL, it has established operations, continually grown the company and gained capacity. It is not always approached for its services, but it has never really needed a targeted sales team either. KBL will target large operating entities, indicating its existence and the services that it offers. It can be a longer sales cycle to get an account – from six months up to three years. The company then typically works on longer term, larger scale contracts for operating facilities.
“A lot of what we do is similar to our competitors. Some of the things that are a bit more unique to KBL are the remoteness, facility development in smaller service areas and technology development. That is what sets us apart.”