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Businesses fighting climate change improve bottom line: report

Hadley Archer of WWF Canada.

Blaine Kyllo
For bchydro.com

A new report issued by WWF-Canada in May demonstrates how businesses can improve the bottom line by addressing climate change.

Titled "Rethinking Business" [PDF], the document collects four case studies of corporations involved in WWF's Climate Savers program: Hewlett-Packard Canada, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Coca-Cola, and Catalyst Paper.

In an interview, Hadley Archer, vice president of strategic partnerships for WWF-Canada explained that the intent of "Rethinking Business" was to share experiences and successes. Archer is pictured above addressing the audience at the release of the report on May 26 in Toronto.

Seven GHG reduction strategies

"We have seven key learnings which were extracted from these four case studies that at their very core are just basic business principles," said Archer, "but seen through the lens of sustainability and greenhouse gas [GHG] emission reduction."

1. Integrate strategies 2. Be holistic 3. Be innovative 4. Estimate, measure, report 5. Use tools to support the effort 6. Develop partnerships 7. Influence policymakers and improve reputation

Frances Edmonds, director of environmental programs for Hewlett-Packard Canada, explained that her company believes that climate change is a "real and pressing" issue and being able to help other companies "start the journey up Mount Sustainability" was important.

"Business is a real innovator and driver of change in the area of sustainability and climate change/GHG emission reduction," said Archer.

See the forest and the trees

It's a mistake, said Archer, to expect that setting up an environmental team is all a business needs to do. "Companies need to look at sustainability and greenhouse gas emission reductions in an integrated way, across the entire business."

Carbon, he continued, is embedded through the entire business, "so the companies that are being successful are integrating the greenhouse gas emission strategies into their entire business."

Including the supply chain

Edmonds said that HP has focussed on managing products after they've been sold to customers. That includes developing products that use less power and automatically enter low-energy modes when not in use, to performing "above-ground mining" by stripping valuable metals from obsolete products that have been turned in for recycling.

"Anything we can do to reduce the footprint during the use-phase of our products' life cycle is a great win for our customers, too."

Start within your own four walls

But companies don't have to be that big to take advantage. While the "Rethinking Business" report focused on large companies, Edmonds said that the same principles being used by those corporations apply to small and medium enterprises.

"It's not just corporations that have full-time people that will be able to access and use this information," she said.

Start by reducing electricity consumption

Reducing electricity consumption is a quick and easy way to start.

"Any company can start to look at what their utility bills are and how much fuel they purchase and burn," said Archer, "and then start to expand beyond that. And if they integrate across the business, and they get people from different departments who have a different slant on understanding the business, they will realize pretty quickly that there's probably more opportunities than they know what to do with."

Some of the solutions that HP offers customers, for example, have a payback period of three months. And while quantifying all savings as a result of GHG emission reduction is difficult, being able to measure electricity consumption is simple.

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Spreading the message further

While more and more people are aware of environmental issues, Archer said the message hasn't spread far enough.

"Not that every corporate executive at every company totally gets it and understands the need to act," he said, "but it's permeating there, and it's certainly permeating the environmental and sustainability teams. The challenge now is to get that more widespread and not just from an education, but from a reporting and rewarding perspective as well."

Even if a procurement officer understands the implications of greenhouse gas emissions, for example, if her performance is being evaluated on the basis of pricing alone, she'll make decisions based on cost. The trick, said Archer, is to inspire and reward behaviours and decisions that take environmental impact into account.

But the potential benefits are real. HP invested more heavily in sustainability programs during the recession. "The most sure investment over the past two years has been an investment in energy efficiency," said Archer. "The whole point of this is use less energy, lower your costs, and be able to predict a payback."

"That's really why the report is called 'Rethinking Business'," said Archer, who resisted calling the greening of business a trend. "We don't see it as a trend at all. It's actually a complete shift in the way companies are going to need to think about doing business."

Blaine Kyllo is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to bchydro.com.