A business moves into a leadership position when it begins to work to affect change beyond its borders. For instance, it may work to affect change in its industry, within its supply chain, or how its employees behave at home, or work to involve others in protection of the planet’s vital resources and in tackling key social challenges such as poverty. It may even work with government, whether local, provincial or federal, to help advance government policy on the environment or social conditions.
Read further to learn more about what you can do to infuse an environmental ethic into your corporate culture, your community relations and the influence you have through your business relationships. You may also wish to consider a role for your business in climate leadership.
What’s Your Culture?
Culture reflects the attitudes, beliefs and values of a business. Culture influences how staff interacts with managers, with each other and with other stakeholders outside the organization, like suppliers or customers. Culture is a reflection of staff alignment with organizational values; in responsive and adaptive cultures staff is well aligned with business values and respond quickly to change.
Creating an Adaptive Culture
Sustainability requires changes in behaviour and in mindsets; business is best positioned to lead when it creates a culture that expects and anticipates change. If you involve people at all levels in the change effort, they will become a vital part of the creative process. Creating an adaptive culture is based in a work environment that allows ideas to flow, and makes room for mistakes. Staff begins to do things because they believe it is the right thing to do, and the deep involvement of staff creates a cohesive group that function to meet the goals of the group rather than the motivations of individuals within the group. Creating an adaptive culture can foster sustainability and product innovations. Allowing creative freedom and support for change is a competitive advantage when you can be more flexible, adaptive and responsive to market shifts than your competitors.
Set the Tone from the Top
Leadership from the top is essential for any sustainability initiative to succeed, since it provides direction from the place where decision-making is expected. In this way, a culture of environmental values is communicated through action, reinforced through decision-making and understood by staff who see the organization demonstrating its values and goals, or “walking the talk”. Ensuring that the business owner and management set the example for the company is crucial. One way of doing this is to incorporate sustainability performance into the salaries or bonuses of executives and managers to ensure that it is taken seriously and fairly compensated. As a leader you might also want to consider things like how you get to work, whether you use a lap top to record notes in meetings, or what type of container you use for your morning coffee at the office, etc. It is the little things that communicate "support from the top".
Create "Sustainability Teams"
Creating groups of employees committed to various projects and initiatives is a way to divide the implementation work, create synergy and foster team spirit. Green or sustainability teams typically are groups of employees representing different business areas, such as purchasing, marketing, facilities, sales, etc. They can be self-selecting or hand picked or some combination of the two. One important advantage of this approach is that groups of employees from different parts of the business can come together to solve problems, meet goals and bring their divergent viewpoints and skill sets to the tasks at hand.
- Incorporating Sustainability Into Corporate Culture
- Embedding Sustainability in Organizational Culture, A How-To Guide for Executives
Community Giving & Volunteerism
Community giving is an opportunity to demonstrate your environmental and social commitment to the broader community. It’s important to donate to worthy causes, and it provides an opportunity to market your business (see more under Marketing). Contributing to community and international causes has a great impact when it is consistent with your goals and values. For instance, a number of years ago Mountain Equipment Co-op aligned its charitable donations with its environmental goals of protecting and providing access to wilderness. This focused their contributions on organizations and events that protect wilderness. They subsequently launched a campaign called “The Big Wild” with other partners working to increase the amount of Canadian protected wilderness to 50%.
Some businesses link sales of their products to social or environmental causes. Ethical Bean Coffee Company in BC, for example, is owned and run by adoptive parents. A portion of the proceeds of each bag sold goes directly to the Adoptive Families Association of BC to support their mission of finding a family for every child.Note 1
Another way to contribute to community causes and provide a benefit to employees is to encourage employees to volunteer for a local charity or non-profit organization during work time. The charity or non-profit benefits from the donated talents of your employees, while your business benefits by creating a better image and happier more engaged employees. Not only that, but it can help build skill sets for employees and can supplement your employee training program. The Knowledge Development Centre of Canada reports that businesses supporting employee volunteer activities benefit from an improved public image (33%), employee morale (21%) and relations with the surrounding community (17%). Since large businesses are more likely than small ones to support such initiatives, it offers a way for small businesses to distinguish themselves from competitors in the small business sector.
You can also build employee team spirit by participating in local projects together. Stream, shoreline and community cleanups, and de-littering highways are some of the environmental opportunities available. Social projects could include building a children’s playground together or holding a fund-raising auction for a health agency. BC-based Scott Construction provides its staff with paid time each year to participate in its Volunteer Program. In 2009 Scott staff volunteers contributed their construction skills and revamped a playground at the YWCA Citygate Early Learning and Care Centre.Note 2
In addition to charitable giving and employee volunteering, organizations can also contribute “in-kind” or non-cash items to community groups, such as surplus equipment or furniture, access to meeting facilities, or professional services such as accounting or training. Think of the many non-financial resources of your firm from your physical plant, to your fleet, to your knowledge and skills, and consider ways these assets can be shared with community organizations to help their cause. For instance, Groupe Aeroplan's “Beyond Miles” program makes it possible for Aeroplan members to donate air miles to one of eight Canadian charitable organizations. To date, more than 151 million miles have been donated. Aeroplan itself assisted the earthquake relief effort in Chile in 2010 by donating 1 million miles to the Canadian Red Cross.Note 3
A further opportunity to advance social and environmental well-being is to look for ways to partner and collaborate with organizations on collective projects. In Nova Scotia, iNova Credit Union collaborated with a grass-roots network of thirteen other municipalities, businesses and non-profit organizations to create the "Atlantic Canada Sustainability Initiative", a project to build capacity and momentum around sustainability within the Atlantic Region.
Set up a Donations Program That Incorporates Your Environmental and Social Goals
Ensure that your community or international giving has impact that reinforces your environmental and social goals by:
- Targeting some donations to environmental and/or social projects
- Reviewing your sustainability goals and see how your community giving can help advance your overall aims
- Enhancing your marketing efforts by sponsoring environmental and social initiatives, non-profits and events
- Contacting your local environmental or community / international development organization to see if there are projects you can support with dollars or employee time.
Create an Employee Volunteerism Program
Create a program to benefit your staff and the community by allowing employees to volunteer to community organizations on work time. Survey your staff on their existing volunteer activities and their charities/non-profits of interest; discuss their interest and potential structures for the program. Some options are:
- Paid time to volunteer
- Award schemes to recognize employee volunteering
- Short-term secondments to environmental organizations
- Team-based programs in support of sustainability projects, such as building a Habitat for Humanity home, or a stream cleanup
Partner on a Sustainability Initiative
Consider where you and your organization would like to make a difference. Sometimes what is lacking is a network of like-minded people and organizations to move a cause forward. Brainstorm some ideas with staff; contact local organizations or a city councilor to find out where the greatest needs are, such as affordable housing or a green jobs agenda. Read the local papers to spot the big issues. Contact other business owners and community leaders to see if they would be interested in working together. Convene a meeting, scope out the issue and discuss how to collaborate on a project to address the priority or the opportunity. Agree to terms of reference, secure funding and other necessary resources, and develop and implement your action plan.
“Business Support for Employee Volunteers in Canada” provides information from a study of Canadian employers on their employee volunteering programs. (PDF - 855.12 KB - 40 pages)
Imagine Canada is a national program that promotes public and corporate giving.
Leverage Your Influence
Leveraging your influence sets you apart as a business leader and helps distinguish your brand. It demonstrates that not only are you a business-savvy leader, reaping the financial benefits of reducing your negative and enhancing your positive social and environmental impact, but you are working to tell your story, share best practices, bring others along, and influence public policy for the betterment of the environment your community and broader society.
Work With Others in Your Sector
No one understands your business like others in your sector. Telling your story and sharing best practices can drive innovation, stop you and others from reinventing the wheel, and raise the bar for the entire industry’s sustainability performance in a shorter period of time. Work with your industry association or group to leverage your influence, tell your story and share best practices with others. The risk to your business of course, is that if your entire industry or sector has a poor social or environmental record, government might decide it needs to regulate for improved performance. The opportunity is that if your industry association helps move your sector forward, you can all benefit from the social license to operate and an improved industry brand locally and in global markets. Contact your business association and ask them how you can get involved or whether you can head up an effort to launch an environmental committee.
Collaborate with Other Businesses and Organizations
There are many sustainability l improvements a business can make on its own. However, working together with other businesses can reduce the costs of improvements a single business cannot afford, or may give rise to opportunities for sharing services or exchanging waste (so each can incorporate waste as a product input, for example) or joint contracting of recycling services. For instance, business members of the Chicago Waste to Profit Network diverted almost 50 tonnes of waste and related CO2 and produced $1.9 million in revenue generated or cost savings in 2008, creating much more value and savings than these businesses could create on their own. A business might share a recycling bin with a neighbour, or work with a group of businesses to install geothermal or solar heating. To get started contact your local Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade to see what efforts or initiatives are underway. Or offer to lead a networking group yourself.
”Eco-industrial networking” is an approach to developing relationships between businesses in a geographic area (such as an industrial park) to collaborate to reduce energy, material, water, human and infrastructure resources.Note 4 Burnside Industrial Park in New Brunswick has over 1000 small and mid-sized businesses. Through the New Brunswick Eco-Industrial Network, Burnside businesses collaborate to reduce waste. They exchange business by-products that would formally have been disposed of as waste. Businesses have been especially successful in exchanging packaging and shipping materials, like cardboard, plastic and metal containers, fillers and pallets. These materials are waste to the business donating them, but provide useful materials for packaging or shipping to the recipient business. The exchange of materials eliminates the need for new materials, and saves both businesses money.Note 5
Engage with Government
Businesses show leadership by engaging with government to influence public policy and public programs. For example, there may be no local pick up of compost and a group of businesses might want to get together to work with government on a solution. Local building codes might not permit innovations in processing facilities that allow you to reuse water in your systems.
Contact your industry association or local chamber of commerce or board of trade to find out if efforts are underway you can join. Contact your local mayor or councilor, or your local provincial representative or Member of Parliament to get their advice about how to get started or engaged.
Beaubear Credit Union (BCU) in Miramichi, New Brunswick engaged with their local government and like-minded organizations to facilitate the start-up of a local transit system. Spurred by a strong need in the community and within their business, Beaubear spearheaded a group made up of representatives from the City of Miramichi, the local college, school board, hospital authority and others. BCU provided support instrumental in the success of the transit initiative, chairing the Advisory Board early on, and committing financial support (10 years worth of paid bus ads) that helped to leverage the funds to purchase vehicles and bus shelters. Current ridership of the transit system is estimated at 4,000 per month. Economic development has resulted from the new transit system; 7 full time and 1 part time job have been created, and the City is now being considered as a possible site for the relocation/expansion of a number of companies that specifically request availability of public transit for staff.
Climate Change Leadership
Why it’s important
Climate change is one of the most important environmental issues of our time. It involves a long-term shift in average weather conditions over time, including temperature, precipitation, winds, and other indicators. The impacts of climate change may affect our infrastructure, weather patterns, wildlife and landscapes.
Climate change can be caused by both natural processes and human activities. In Canada, 80% of the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with human activities are linked to the production or consumption of fossil fuels for energy purposes.
What the Role of Business Is
Through energy use, transportation and other activities, businesses big and small contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. Although it’s easier to point the finger at big industries, small businesses collectively contribute a large portion of Canada’s commercial emissions. Actions big and small are needed by all businesses to reduce these emissions. This calls for leadership at a grand scale. Those businesses that get ahead of the curve and measure and reduce their own emissions will be better able to withstand the predicted rising costs of oil and potential future government regulation in this area. Those businesses that don’t take the lead run the risk of lagging their competitors and having to play catch up at greater expense down the road. Recognize, too, that the public sector and private sector are starting to require their suppliers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in their products and services. Those that get ahead of the game will fare better in the marketplace.
Your action to manage your greenhouse gas emissions will be closely connected to your action to reduce your energy use. See energy management strategies in the Resource Use section.
Companies that aim to show leadership on climate change typically adopt climate change strategies with the following components:
- Get your house in order by first reducing your greenhouse gas emissions. Have a greenhouse gas management plan. Set bold targets to reduce your emissions. Some businesses set a target of carbon neutral. Others are starting to go carbon negative, in which they become net generators of energy, selling their surplus energy back to the grid. As you work on reducing your greenhouse gas emissions, consider the opportunity of switching to renewable energy, such as solar, wind or hydro. Many energy utilities are starting to profile their renewable and alternative energy efforts. Contact your energy provider to see if there are opportunities to purchase green energy certificates to reduce your emissions further. There are also private renewable energy providers who can help you achieve your carbon reduction goals.
- Offer innovative products and services that address climate change and enable your customers to reduce their greenhouse gas footprints
- Use your purchases and investments to influence the behaviour of your suppliers (e.g. require your major suppliers to have greenhouse gas management plans) and to get those who manage your money to invest in sustainable companies which are responsibly managing their own greenhouse gas emissions
- Offer public education and awareness programs on climate change issues and what the public can do about lessening their impacts
- Work with others to influenceall levels of government to take action on climate change
Quebec-based Reseau-Bureautique, an office furniture supply company, offers innovative products to its business customers, helping them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and material use. The company refurbishes old office furniture by changing fabric panels and workstation surfaces, redoing trim and pedestals, and updating to modern colour schemes. This is offered as a product (recycled office furnishings) or as a service (refurbishing an office’s existing furnishings). They guarantee their customers 30-50% savings over buying new furniture. The company provides potential clients a carbon calculator that helps customers calculate the reduced carbon emissions associated with the purchase of their refurbished office furnishings compared to new office furnishings.
Use a Rule of Thumb: Estimate Your Biggest Contributions
For businesses that want to start reducing their greenhouse gas emissions without getting involved in measurement, there are several areas to target. As a rule of thumb, according to the Climate at the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, the top three areas where businesses should focus their efforts include reducing:
- Energy used in their buildings
- Employee travel
- Paper consumption.
To achieve reductions in employee travel:
- Replace travel to meetings with teleconferencing, video or web conferencing
- Reduce employee commuting by offering flexible work options (telecommuting, condensed work weeks), arranging carpooling and encouraging transit use. Consider providing showers for employees who cycle to work, and having secure lock-up facilities for commuting bikes. Hold contests to encourage employees to get engaged. Make your free parking spots available to carpools or hybrid vehicles to send a message.
Going Carbon Neutral
For businesses that want to take a more rigorous approach to managing greenhouse gases or even go carbon neutral, follow these three steps:
- Measure: Complete a full accounting of your areas of greenhouse gas impacts (i.e. a greenhouse gas inventory). (Often firms hire an energy auditor to help them with this step as it can be quite technical)
- Reduce: Create action plans to reduce your emissions as much as possible
- Offset: Consider purchasing carbon offsets for the remainder of your emissions that you cannot reduce. Go to the Carbon Catalog to find an offset provider that meets your needs. Carbon offsets are financial credits you can purchase which invest in local or global projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions to “offset” those you are not able to reduce. Some businesses start by offsetting one part of their business, such as the greenhouse gas emissions associated with air travel, the owner’s office or a key product.
What’s a Product’s Carbon Footprint?
A product’s carbon footprint is a way to measure the relative impact of your product in terms of its contribution to climate change. Carbon footprints are a measure of the tonnes of carbon emissions emitted over the life of the product, from the extraction of the raw materials, through manufacturing, transportation, retailing, use and disposal.
Carbon footprints are particularly important for small businesses that are suppliers to larger organizations. As the “Walmart effect” hits small suppliers everywhere, large corporations are requesting small suppliers to disclose and reduce their GHG emissions. In 2007 Walmart piloted a program to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of seven products. It’s likely that over time this list will grow to include many more of the company’s 60,000 plus suppliers.
This effect will be seen by many of the world’s smaller suppliers as global programs like the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Supply Chain Leadership Council identify supply chain carbon risks for companies like Cadbury Schweppes, Dell, HP, IBM, L'Oréal, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Heinz, Johnson Controls, Vodafone and others. Many of these companies identify that the majority of their emissions are in their supply chain, and that they will engage their suppliers to understand the carbon liability and to reduce emissions. Suppliers that effectively manage their emissions are most likely to maintain their business with large companies.
Guide to Climate Change for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (The Canadian Champber of Commerce)
Climatebiz: an American resource that provides companies tips and tools on reducing their GHG emissions
- Adoptive Families Association of BC. Family Blend. (return to reference 1)
- Scott Construction. No Date. In the Community. and YWCA. Touching Lives, Building Futures. (return to reference 2)
- Aeroplan. 2010. Aeroplan Members can Donate Miles to Recovery Efforts in Chile on Aeroplan.com - Aeroplan Donates 1 Million Miles to Canadian Red Cross. (return to reference 3)
- Canadian Eco-Industrial Network. What is An Eco-Industrial Network. (return to reference 4)
- Canadian Eco-Industrial Network. Eco-Industrial Networks Currently Developing in Canada. (return to reference 5)
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