How to cut costs while cutting carbon

B.C.’s Van Houtte Coffee Services has reduced its carbon emissions by 25 per cent, saving over $100,000 in annual operating costs
B.C.’s Van Houtte Coffee Services has reduced its carbon emissions by 25 per cent, saving over $100,000 in annual operating costs

Small and medium-size businesses are key to climate change

This week, the Province of British Columbia unveiled its much-anticipated Climate Leadership Plan. We don’t know what it includes, but hopes run high that it will outline a slate of ambitious new commitments to ensure our economy remains competitive as we roll into a carbon-constrained future. This would involve, at minimum, a schedule of further increases to our carbon tax—a policy that has cut emissions and grown business while unlocking one of the nation’s lowest corporate income tax rates.

What we do know is that the province has, for the past six months, consulted with experts, listened to citizens and more or less turned over rocks from White Rock to Fort St. John in search of opportunities to cut carbon and hit its legislated greenhouse gas targets without dinging GDP.

It may be overlooking an opportunity right under its nose. While the big industries tend to get the headlines, it turns out that close to a third of British Columbia’s carbon pollution is under the direct control of the province’s 170,000 or so small and medium-sized businesses. Though widely perceived as “mom and pop” operations, these enterprises constitute a stunning 98 per cent of our private sector and employ more than one million people. They are, in my view, British Columbia’s true innovation engine. Passionate, committed entrepreneurs run these companies—people who know how to improvise and get things done.

Within the past week, dozens of small and medium-sized B.C. businesses joined bigger players like Mountain Equipment Co-Op and Concert Properties, among others, in calling for strong climate leadership. The list includes T&T Supermarket, Cypress Mountain, Easy Park, Hemlock Printers, Kerrisdale Lumber, NEI Investments, Atticus Financial, Perkins+Will and Pacific Coach Lines, among others. By making changes or upgrades to equipment or processes to reduce their fossil fuel reliance, these companies can not only grow more competitive as the world moves to price carbon, they can save thousands of dollars. In some cases, the average savings can be as high as $65,000 a year.

And that’s just scratching the surface. According to a recent analysis my team submitted to the province’s Climate Leadership Plan, British Columbia’s small and medium-sized enterprises are collectively responsible for 17 million tonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide—about 28 percent of our total greenhouse gas emissions. If government were to introduce targeted investment tax credits to help those companies cut their carbon—and if a third of them apply for those credits—according to our preliminary figures the province could purge about 1.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gases off its books by 2020. This would have the same benefit as removing 260,000 vehicles from the province’s roads, and yield collective annual operating savings to those businesses of half a billion dollars. That’s hardly mom and pop territory.

Some in this province’s private sector are still advocating for stalling and delay on climate leadership. But when one considers the severe economic risks associated with two degrees of warming, it’s clear that a strong recommitment to action just makes good business sense. It will help communities, businesses and families invest wisely in our prosperous future.

Whatever policies the province puts on the table this week, it’s clear that significant opportunities exist to reduce fossil fuel reliance in the province’s tens of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses to insure they—and everyone else—prosper far into the carbon-constrained future.

Elizabeth Sheehan is co-founder and president of Climate Smart Business (@climatesmart). Since 2007, Climate Smart has helped more than 800 companies profitably reduce their carbon emissions via training, software, support and certification. This has had the the same impact as removing 22,000 vehicles from our province’s roads.