En Route to Paris: From the Ground Up – How Small Businesses are Cutting Carbon and Growing the Economy

Guest blog by Elizabeth Sheehan, Founder and President, and Michelle Bonner, Vice President and Training Manager, Climate Smart

It’s official. Pretty much everyone and her sister is going to Paris.

Provincial leaders are already working to upstage one another at the forthcoming COP21 climate summit. Senior executives will be talking up their renewable energy leadership. Expect rock stars, rap stars, and a full-on media circus.
But one band of climate warriors will likely be staying at home here in Canada: the entrepreneurs who run small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) across the country. Instead, they’ll just keep on doing what they have learned to do—drive down carbon emissions across the value chain.
Here in British Columbia, where I live, these businesses constitute a stunning 98 percent of the province’s private sector, and employ more than one million people. The sector largely flies under the radar, but it’s arguably Canada’s true innovation engine. These companies are driven by passionate, committed entrepreneurs who know how to get things done and make things better.

Climate Smart, a Vancouver-based social enterprise, we help SMEs reduce their carbon emissions. Each tonne of eliminated greenhouse gas on average puts continental roofingthese firms an additional $397 into the black, and removes the same amount of pollution as a car would spew idling for 10 straight days.

Climate Smart certified companies operating in B.C. and beyond are finding strategic, cleaner ways to deliver their products and services to their customers. We help them out with training, software, support, and certification.
To date, we have trained over 800 firms – from across the economy- in energy and carbon reduction strategies, permanently averting the release of  an estimated  97,000+ tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.  That is the equivalent to removing 22,000+ passenger vehicles off the road.
Pacific national 2While my team is justifiably proud of these reductions, with respect to the unrealized potential, they are barely scratching the surface. To be sure, if we are to make a transition to a prosperous, low carbon economy, these players will be key partners.
That’s because provincial data reveals that here in Metro Vancouver. these local businesses are responsible for a whopping 27 percent of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions. They burn fuel in vehicles and equipment, use natural gas to heat and power their buildings and operations, and they generate waste as they make products and deliver services.

Mills office productivityAt Climate Smart, we are focusing on three approaches to accelerate innovation among these enterprises:

  1. Everybody, Find a Partner: We forge strategic collaborations with partners that include, serve, or sell to large aggregate groups of small and medium sized businesses We collaborate with local governments such as the City of Vancouver, financial institutions such as Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (Vancity), and regional transport hubs such as airports and ports. We bring our turnkey program to engage their business customers, suppliers and tenants to find profitable ways to reduce their carbon, invest in innovation and strengthen the Canadian economy from the bottom up.  
  2. Data Mining for Carbon Savings: Climate Smart is exploring and testing how to use our modest but deep datasets to inspire insight and drive action among more businesses by showing business owners how their peers and competitors are reducing costs and emissions.
  3. Investigating Fiscal Tools: Again, here in B.C. we are looking into fiscal tools that could complement the province’s existing carbon tax and incentivize the private sector to invest in training, technology, retrofitting and improved processes. This would tap the innovation potential of our small and medium sized business community, to accelerate our transition to a thriving, low carbon economy.

Finally, with support from the The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, we are working with aligned organizations such as the Natural Step Canada and The Sustainability CoLab, to strengthen our unique approaches and collectively bring a spotlight and spark back home to innovation among our local businesses.
Elizabeth Sheehan is Founder and President of Climate Smart and Michelle Bonner is Climate Smart’s Vice President and Training Manager. Climate Smart has worked with more than 800 small and medium-sized businesses and organizations to help them track and reduce their carbon footprints and related costs, and to gain competitive advantage through their leadership and innovation on climate action.
This blog is part of the En Route to Paris series. In preparation for the Conference of the Parties (COP-21) taking place in Paris this December, we created a series that showcases Canada-wide initiatives promoting a low-carbon economy. The En Route to Paris series posts will expose the views of experts who collaborate with us in our initiatives focused on ‘Energy and the Economy.’ Our goal is to support initiatives geared towards transforming the discourse on climate to illustrate all the benefits of sustainable development.
Click here to view other posts in the series
Disclaimer: the views expressed in the following blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Foundation.