Written by Angela de Burger
The Adopting Common Measures program is highlighting key social purpose organizations across Canada and showcasing their impact and the progress they are making towards a more sustainable future for Canadians in keeping with Canada’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“If we all come together, we can create positive change in society,” says Erika Reyes, CEO and co-founder of Inwit. “We don’t have to wait for governments or others to do it. We can do it together. We are ready.”
An accidental environmentalist
Inwit is a social enterprise on a mission – they are Canada’s first zero-waste restaurant takeout app, inspiring and empowering people to take action against the climate crisis in a straightforward, tangible way. They work with individuals (who order takeout food), restaurants and food retailers (who sell takeout food), by offering reusable packaging so that everyone participating can contribute to the reduction of single-use and plastic packaging.
“I’m an accidental environmentalist,” shares Erika, with a smile. From her early years to becoming a successful marketing professional as an adult, she says she never thought about social or environmental issues – they just weren’t on her radar.
Education was very important to her parents and growing up in a hard-working, middle class Mexican family, Erika followed the expectations of her family and society. When deciding which topic to focus on in her post-secondary studies, she chose business marketing because she believed financial achievements could be made in that field. After witnessing her parents struggle at times and knowing it had been hard for them to advance in terms of social and economic mobility, she saw opportunities arising for all of them if she followed this educational path.
She became the first woman in her family to earn a university diploma! Professionally, she worked hard and found success all over the world, living in Mexico, India, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and Canada. Her job was to help companies sell their products and that’s what she did, very effectively.
Until one day, when she saw a photo that stopped her in her tracks. It was a picture of a sea bird that had died, its stomach filled with plastic. Erika explains, “In my mind, I instantly saw all of the products I had helped market and sell over the course of my career, and I realized that I had unknowingly contributed to this serious environmental problem.”
At that moment, Erika realized she cared deeply about the issue and found her “why” in terms of what she wanted to achieve in her life. She wanted to take action. The climate crisis and related environmental concerns became top of mind and she was ready to use her skills to make a positive impact on these important issues.
Photo by Melanie Valente-Leite
“I quickly learned how our actions are interconnected with everyone else in the world, and in fact, every living being on this planet,” says Erika. “I decided to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce my own consumption of plastics, starting immediately.”
The next time she went to a grocery store, she was determined not to bring any plastics home with her. She began shopping and quickly realized it was going to be impossible. The system just wasn’t set up for what she wanted to do. She knew that no matter how hard she tried as a consumer, it wouldn’t be enough to make significant change.
“I was heartbroken, to tell you the truth,” confides Erika. Right there and then she gathered her courage and decided to do something bigger, setting her sights high.
“I paid attention to my own day-to-day reality and saw an opportunity that wasn’t being addressed on a wide scale – the waste created from the restaurant takeout industry – and that sparked an idea for something I could focus on.”
She developed and ran a pilot program called Wisebox, the first reusable takeout container program offered city-wide in Canada. It was offered in Toronto in early 2020 with 15 restaurant partners. The program saw real success and Erika learned an enormous amount. Then the global COVID pandemic arrived and after the initial pilot program concluded, Wisebox was interrupted because of the public health situation. “But the pilot’s early success showed that the market, made up of people just like me, was looking for this service,” Erika notes.
Erika Reyes, CEO and co-founder of Inwit
Big goals through accessible actions
With a deeper understanding of the science of behaviour change due to her Wisebox experience, Erika started to identify the biggest barriers standing in the way of people making changes with respect to using plastics. “I thought about how I could help bring sustainability to the forefront in an accessible way so people could personally make meaning from the impact of reducing their use of plastics.”
By now, she had left her marketing career and was determined to create a reusable container industry. With the reality that every single year in Canada, the takeout industry is generating over 1 billion single-use takeout containers, she believed this effort was sorely needed.
Enter → Inwit.
Established in 2021 by Erika and two co-founders – her husband Clément Bureau (Chief Executive Officer) and Mohammad Tahvili (Lead Tech) – they say “We don’t wait for solutions, we co-create them.”
The concept is straightforward: through an easy-to-use app, customers order takeout food from one of the many restaurants who participate in the initiative. When preparing orders, the restaurateurs pack the to-go orders in reusable containers that are provided by Inwit. The containers are made of stainless steel, are insulated and have a sleek design. They can easily be washed, sanitized and re-used up to 10,000 times!
Customers pick up their take-out orders, full of delicious food that stays hot until they get it home, and afterwards, return the containers so they can be used again. As a “thank you” for choosing sustainable take-out packaging and to encourage (ongoing) participation, an element of gamification is being used. Customers earn Impact Points for every dollar spent on the app, as well as when they return containers to any participating restaurant. This accountability aspect is powerful, underscoring the fact that this is a shared sustainability effort.
“Our take-out container is more than just a food delivery system. It’s a symbol for the world,” Erika says, passionately. “People who use this service and are on this same track in their own lives feel like we are creating a community, working together for a low-carbon future.”
Starting a social impact tracking journey
Since Inwit is focused on creating true social change, they are in the beginning stages of determining the key indicators they want to track as well as collecting data that can be assessed in the future, once this element of their operations is fully underway.
From a local operations perspective, these measures include the numbers of:
- restaurants participating
- people choosing to order through their app
- people returning to use the app again
- reusable containers that have been circulated (they’re specially tagged)
- single-use plastic containers not used
- people participating in the community events they host
Considering the global impact of this work, Inwit has also identified three of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that connect to what they’re doing: #11 sustainable cities and communities, #12 responsible consumption and production, and #13 climate action.
At this time, they are tracking numbers and collecting stories though an in-house database system, spreadsheets and documents.
In addition to these metrics, Erika says that other elements of their operations create social impact that they also want to measure and track. Many of their activities are community-building in nature and they are vitally important elements of the work they do overall.
On a monthly basis they host a Climate Optimists Zero-Waste Dinner. Each event welcomes community members for sustainability story-sharing, guest speaker presentations, and a tasty, zero-waste meal. Information about each event is noted and added to the impact tracking database.
Additionally, Inwit hosts interns through their Ambassador Program. Erika shares that “one of the primary goals is to inspire students to explore career opportunities that further sustainability practices and social impact innovation.” Interns are matched with a coach and have the opportunity to learn about sustainable business practices, work on important projects, and inspire more people to embark on their own sustainability journey. Metrics for this program, such as the number of students who move on to sustainability-focused careers, are tracked and added to Inwit’s social impact database.
“This year, we’ve been working on translating carbon reduction into impact – what does it mean?” says Erika. “We have partnered with a company on a life cycle assessment so we’ll know the impact of every container used. For example, the amount of carbon emissions that have been averted through the use of our reusable take-out food containers.”
Another valuable source of impact measurement is via storytelling, and they’ve been working on a project with the University of Toronto to collect stories as well.
Erika is looking to gauge deeper impact; to conduct deeper translations of data. She asks, “What does it mean to have 100 people attend an event by Inwit? What does it mean to avert 200 containers from a landfill – what’s the impact?”
“I want to figure out translations that will motivate people the most and help them start taking action for sustainability. Together, we can make a difference for our world,” she concludes.