Ask the experts: How can I make my business more environmentally friendly?

Darcy Dobell, vice-president, Pacific Region, WWF Canada

Darcy Dobell, vice-president, Pacific Region, WWF Canada

Sustainability commitments vary with company size, business model and market drivers, among other factors. But a consistent lesson is that ultimately, the characteristics of sustainable businesses – employee engagement; close attention to internal operations, external trends, and relationships; and a strong leadership drive – are exactly those of successful businesses.

The transition to green business does not happen overnight. We see companies take steps toward progressively deeper commitments, including:

Within the workplace: Start with the basics of energy efficiency, recycling and employee engagement. Employee participation can include information sharing and incentive programs on the job, as well as team-building activities employees can do outside the office to support conservation efforts in their community.

Within the business: Invest in infrastructure, such as water or emissions treatment. Conduct an energy audit – the results may surprise you. Examine ways to reduce use of resources, cut carbon emissions or reduce waste through changes in behaviour or technology.

Within your supply chain: Businesses can use their influence with suppliers and clients to find sustainable ways to operate. Do the research to source sustainably, looking for independently audited eco-certifications where possible. Set policies for office supplies, raw materials and contractors. Spread the word – let your suppliers, and customers, know your standards.

Within your sector: Companies can demonstrate leadership in their sectors by engaging openly in formal solution-building processes; by investing in conservation through directed philanthropy or cause marketing; by demonstrating high environmental standards that raise the bar and shift consumer demand across a sector; and by engaging in policy advocacy in support of laws and policies that protect the environment.

Lisa von Sturmer, founder and CEO, Growing City

These days, it's not enough in business to just make a profit. Being sustainable is the new norm. Many companies can save money by implementing sustainable solutions. Getting staff to participate is often the real challenge. Here are some ideas.

1. Gamification: This is a hot trend right now because it's been shown that one of the best ways to encourage new behaviours in people is to train them with games. Essentially, if you make a game of your newest initiative people are far more likely not just to participate in it, but to actually get excited and enthusiastic about it. Keep it fun instead of having one person nagging everyone.

2. Competition: Having a mini-competition is a sure-fire way to create enthusiasm. Create teams and have them work toward a measurable target (like who can reduce the most waste). Don't underestimate the power of positive reinforcement and public recognition.

3. Staff buy-in: You can launch a new program with the best of intentions, but if your team doesn't get on board then it's doomed. It's so important that suggestions and ideas come not just from the top down, but also from the bottom up. Get staff to vote on which initiative they'd like to launch first or which prize they'd prefer to win.

4. Community spirit: For most people, seeing is believing. That's why composting is such a popular green initiative with staff – because when they see their full comp-capsule they know they've diverted that waste from their local environment. Volunteering in the community can be a great way for staff to feel connected.

5. Implementation strategy: Too much all at once can overwhelm people, and that creates disengagement. It's important to stick to one new thing at a time.

Sustainability is a process, not a destination. Break programs into bite-size pieces, create goals and work toward getting your company as green as you can. There's no limit to the positive impact you can achieve.

Bob Chant, senior vice-president, corporate affairs, Loblaw Companies Ltd.

As Canada's largest grocery retailer, Loblaw carries responsibility to minimize its environmental impact and set strong examples. We're proud to be recognized as one of Canada's greenest employers. How we got there may suggest opportunities for others.

Align with credible partners: Today's consumer demands that companies act responsibly while delivering value. Companies that are genuinely interested in meeting customers' environmental expectations should ensure they're working with appropriate non-government organizations that can validate their efforts and lend credibility to their claims.

Look at your own footprint: For example, we have:

  • reduced plastic bag use by more than three billion;
  • increased the recyclability of many of our products; we now have more than 250 control brand products packaged in an easily recyclable, single type of plastic;
  • implemented an organic diversion program in 14 Real Canadian Superstores in Greater Vancouver; and
  • reduced energy consumption by replacing the general lighting and reach-in freezer door case lighting to more efficient sources in some RCSS stores. In B.C. alone, these changes have allowed us to reduce electricity use by more than 7,600 megawatts annually – enough electricity to power 800 homes for one year.

Check your sourcing: In 2009, we committed to source 100% of our seafood from sustainable sources by 2013. We are collaborating with WWF (World Wildlife Fund), the Marine Stewardship Council, seafood scientists, government and seafood vendors to achieve this goal.

Engage your employees: A company's employees are its strongest ambassadors, and it is essential to get them involved. For example, our colleagues now receive paystubs electronically. Also many of our staff members are green advocates in the community, supporting projects such as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup every fall.

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