L-R: Jacqueline Tung, Windfall Ecology Centre; Ken Whyte, Quarry; Jen Atkinson, Windfall Ecology Centre; Harry French, Windfall Ecology Centre; Brent Kopperson, Windfall Ecology Centre; Mike Morrice, Green Economy Canada; Chris Ballard, Ontario's Minister of Environment and Climate Change; Kelly Craig, EcoBusiness Network; Jennie Tao, Green Economy Canada; Lauren Fowler, EcoBusiness Network; Sarah Van Exan, Green Economy Canada; Matthew Hoffmann, University of Toronto
THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/J.P. Moczulski
 

Global warming and climate change are gradually becoming top priority issues for governments and corporations globally. Ever since the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic was discovered in 1985, a lot of money and resources been funnelled into businesses and government departments to reduce their environmental footprint. While it is easier for larger corporations to utilise their resources on environmental stewardship, what about small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which make up over 90% of Canada’s workforce? Like any other enterprise, SMEs need to at least break-even to sustain themselves financially. However, unlike larger corporations, SMEs cannot subsidize environmental sustainability from profits, and with ever-so strict regulations and environmentally conscious customers, it is becoming increasingly difficult for SMEs to keep pace with larger players in their respective industry.

Typically, there have been numerous forms of financial and business-oriented support (both private and public) for SMEs from the government, banks, investors, mentors, top industrialists etc. However, there had never really been any form of support for SMEs when it came to their sustainability initiatives. All that changed in 2008 when two Wilfred Laurier University graduates, Mike Morrice and Chris DePaul, founded Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR), a not-for-profit organization that advises SMEs on their sustainability initiatives, and piloted the first Green Economy Hub: the Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI). The RCI, was created to support a network of local businesses to set and achieve sustainability targets, by bringing together, empowering, and celebrating businesses as they achieve their goals. The success of RCI led to the creation of Green Economy Canada (formerly Sustainability CoLab) to help replicate the Green Economy Hub model in communities across Ontario.

Being a not-for-profit organization rather than a funding organization, Green Economy Canada (GEC) does not fund the sustainability initiatives of SMEs. Rather, it provides them with a local network, support to meet sustainability goals, and recognition for progress made. At present, GEC supports Green Economy Hubs in 7 communities in Ontario, with plans to launch four additional Hubs in Ontario by 2020 with the support of a $2.55 million multi-year investment from the Ontario government. Plans are also in place to expand to other provinces and territories in Canada in the future. Businesses that are members of these Hubs measure and report their current environmental impacts to each other and GEC, and then develop an action plan to reduce their environmental footprint. Once their action plan has been developed, they set a realistic target to reduce their environmental footprint, and implement it into their operations.

Today, nearly 250 businesses are taking action with the support of Green Economy Hubs across Ontario and have collectively achieved a reduction of 47,140 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – equivalent to taking 10,094 cars off the road for a year. Through government funding and support, GEC plans on doubling the number of SMEs belonging to its sustainability network, while simultaneously reducing a total of 94,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases by the year 2020.

At present, Green Economy Canada is not alone in supportingbusinesses on how to improve their carbon footprint. Along with The Natural Step, Climate Smart Business, and Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow (QUEST), GEC is part of a coalition known as the Low Carbon Partnership. Founders Mike Morrice (GEC), David Hughes (The Natural Step), Brent Gilmour (QUEST) and Elizabeth Sheehan (Climate Smart Business) believe that by working in unison, they can achieve greater levels of success in the fight against climate change. The main aim of this coalition is to not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but to ensure that they can do so profitably. The coalition currently serves over 1200 businesses, ranging from start-ups to the biggest players on Bay Street.

 

Shahan Engineer is a second-year Environment & Business student (not an engineering student; he doesn’t understand sciences) at the University of Waterloo.

Hailing from Karachi, Pakistan, one of the most polluted cities on the planet, Shahan was inspired to take-up an environmental program at university to understand how humans can alter their production and consumption techniques of various resources so that there is less impact on the environment. His core environmental concerns include the prevention of food waste, product lifecycles, renewable energy sources, and curbing the use of harmful materials such as plastics and toxic chemicals. 

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