Green is the new black in the business world—and we're not talking about the fashion.
A green business strives to be more than just an advocate for the environment and communities, but it also develops green business strategies with a commitment to a sustainable future. More Canadian companies are focusing on bringing green initiatives to their everyday business practices, whether it's directed at their internal teams or their target markets. From LED lighting in offices to eco-friendly consumer products, these eco-stars are tackling all angles of the environment in their businesses.
Their initiatives originate from a sole source:their values. Whether it's corporate or personal, these values are evident in each sustainability mandate or company description, and have received nothing but positive response from employees and clients.
Aside from the push to go green, these eco-conscious initiatives are opening up opportunity for new jobs and are attracting young talent who share the same values.
We profile eight small and large companies in different industries across the country with unique green practices from a sustainable clothing line to a 100 per cent paperless business to a one-stop shop for energy services.
Even the fashion world is going green. Nicole Bridger Design is a Vancouver-based fashion clothing line focused on its commitment to the earth and its people. Made only from sustainable materials, president and designer Nicole Bridger says the idea for her business stems from her values.
“To me, I can’t turn off my values when I’m creating a company,” she says. “Essentially the company’s values are an extension of my own.” And creating ethical clothing is how Bridger fuses her career with those values.
“We use sustainable fabrics and ethical manufacturing—90 per cent of which is made in Vancouver and the other 10 per cent we use fair trade in Nepal,” she says. With materials from eucalyptus plants, peach trees, and common fabrics like silk, wool, and cashmere, Bridger is able to design and manufacture her fashion line in a sustainable way. “We look for factories that have certain certifications,” she says. “It also helps me to feel good about how the fabric is made without me having to physically go there.”
The green efforts at Nicole Bridger Design don’t stop there. Along with her plans to have 20 stores by 2020, she says she’d like the company to become a closed loop business. “That means zero waste; every year we’re figuring out how to do it better and technology is really changing quickly. Every step of growth that we take is going to open new doors for us.”
As one of the Big Four professional services firms in the world, PwC continues to be a leader in the industry through its roots in corporate responsibility. Employing approximately 6,000 staff in 26 Canadian offices, company leaders like James Temple, director of corporate responsibility at PwC Canada, has the pleasure of overseeing the firm’s community and environmental engagement projects.
“Part of being one of Canada’s greenest employers is also knowing that we have to reflect the needs of society, so environmental sustainability is key to that,” he says. PwC Canada has since introduced green teams to every office.
“They support us in thinking about environmental issues that impact their own office,” like paper reduction, eating locally, and sustainably furnishing the offices, says Temple. “At a higher level, when we look at our environmental strategies, we focus on measuring and managing our greenhouse gas emissions that are given off through our offices and through air travel.”
Implementing green strategies at PwC is important because of their belief in using employee skills and relationships as a catalyst for change. “Most of our new recruits come in and join our green teams and we empower them to be environmental stewards in their local office,” says Temple. “It’s a way to engage our employees in something that relates to our values as a firm.”
And the response has been huge. In their most recent millennials at work survey, Temple says, “approximately 60 per cent of our new recruits wanted to work for an organization that shared their values and identified specifically our corporate responsibility work and green initiatives.”
ALL Strategy’s green practices were in full effect ever since its debut in the market. With the plan to be 100 per cent paperless, Carla Wood, founder, speaker, and strategist, created her all-electronic-based company with an objective to advocate strategy for small- and medium-sized businesses completely online. She provides her staff with eco-friendly work gadgets such as Macbooks, iPads, and desktops, and carries out the business solely through cloud software.
“The truth is that if you’ve looked at paper six months after you’ve printed it, it’s not important anymore and it’s only important in the moment,” says Wood. “When I started this company, I just couldn’t find a good reason to use paper so I didn’t.”
Wood’s dedication to the environment started well before ALL Strategy was established. “I’m pretty passionate about the green movement to begin with. When I started thinking about how to incorporate green into a service-based business so it was a pillar, the only thing that I could think of doing was that,” she says.
Wood believes the biggest obstacle for companies is not understanding the best ways to go green. “Like most change, education is the first step,” she says. “Everyone says they can’t do it; they’ve got special requirements and that it won’t work for them, but as you become educated in it and you experience it, it turns out that with a click of a button you can make an appointment wherever you are.”
IKEA Canada has a long history working with sustainability. Decades ago, the company started flat-packing its products to maximize space in shipping containers, thus reducing emissions from distribution trips. “This type of common-sense thinking, along with a strong social conscience, is truly embedded in the core of IKEA,” says Brendan Seale, sustainability manager at IKEA Canada.
Today, IKEA is one of Canada’s greenest employers and is focusing on a new sustainability strategy: People & Planet Positive. The strategy outlines three main change drivers: inspiring and enabling people to live a more sustainable home life, pursuing resource and energy independence, and building a better life for communities and its people.
Within these strategies, IKEA Canada has been able to offer LED lighting products to its customers. Seale says the company is also committed to producing more renewable energy than the world consumes by 2020. “We are making significant investments in wind and solar energy, and most recently purchased a 46MW wind farm in Alberta that we expect to produce enough electricity to power 32 IKEA stores.”
Lastly, IKEA’s code of conduct for suppliers IWAY, sets out the requirements for all home furnishing products in regards to social impact, working conditions, and the environment. “Every year, IKEA conducts over 1000 audits to verify that our business has a positive impact through our supply chain,” says Seale.
Sustainability has always been an important practice at IKEA. “By pursuing sustainability in a genuine way, we are seeing an alignment of people’s values and the company’s values, which makes IKEA a rewarding work environment.”
GSky Plant Systems brings a unique spin to green business practices. Providing worldwide markets with vertical green walls for spaces like corporate offices, hotels, airports, health care facilities, and malls, GSky strives to not only provide businesses with aesthetically pleasing wall art, but also to make a positive impact on the environment.
“Our company focuses on plants,” says Vicki Lee, marketing and social media coordinator at GSky Plant Systems. She adds that through integrating plants into spaces, GSky seeks to improve people’s lives, as well as the quality of the environment.
Giving buildings an immediate wow-factor, Lee says GSky’s green walls “have a great potential to transform a space, creating a whole new look and atmosphere that improve people’s experience.” With over 150 green walls installed and maintained worldwide, some of GSky’s high-profile clients include Westin Hotels, Whole Foods Market, Twitter, and American Express.
Beyond its aesthetic appeal, the green walls provide environmental benefits. “People spend as much as 90 per cent of their lives indoors breathing in volatile organic compounds that are emitted from building materials,” says Lee. “The plants on the green walls can remove toxins in the air and capture dust,” adding that the photosynthesis process “improves the quality of air and provides more energy-rich oxygen that can benefit our health.”
As cities continue to transform into concrete jungles, Lee says the green walls provide people with a spiritual and physical connection to nature. “Green Walls are space efficient, making good use of vertical surface areas where space is limited. All of this explains the increasing trend towards implementing living walls inside and outside of buildings to bring nature back into our lives.”
At a large company, technical environmental coordinator Carolyn Serzysko says it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what inspired Accenture Canadato go green. “Back in 2007, we established our global environmental responsibility policy, so this is the mantra,” she says.
With Accenture’s focus on management consulting, outsourcing, and technology services, they also strive to be environmentally conscious. Accenture’s environmental department focuses on three key practices: the implementation of green teams, travel smart challenges, and eco-smart games.
FRESH teams—short for Focused on Responsible Environmental Sustainability for a Healthy planet—are groups of passionate employees who drive green initiatives. “They’re set up in each of our locations,” says Serzysko. “I meet with them on a monthly basis and advise them as to what’s going on across Canada and what to implement locally and create awareness to their local office.”
The Travel Smart Challenge takes place between Earth Day and World Environment Day and is designed to inspire employees to challenge their methods of travel. Serzysko says staff is encouraged to “think creatively on how to reduce their travel-related carbon footprints” by holding virtual meetings or reducing ground transportation by working from home.
Through the Global Eco-Challenge, employees engage in interactive games that test their eco-smarts. “What this does is it encourages our people to embrace environmental stewardship and adopt eco-smart work practices,” says Serzysko.
She believes these initiatives are essential to any high-performance business. “In order for us to reduce our environmental impact, we not only need to work closely with our employees but also with our clients and suppliers so everybody is on the same page.”
Recognized as a one-stop shop for green energy fixes, Francis and Emma Gough of Florida-based SuperGreen Solutions decided to bring the company’s services north of the border. After opening its doors for the first time last month in their Edmonton location, Francis and Emma hope to educate Albertans on the green solutions available to them.
“With our showroom we let people look, touch, feel, and see what it’s like to go green and I think that’s a game changer,” says Francis, president of SuperGreen Solutions Canada. “I think lots of people want to go green but they have to understand how easy it is.”
SuperGreen Solutions provides businesspeople and homeowners with products and services like LED lighting, energy efficient water, insulation, ventilation, and wind power. Catering to everyday people as well as ultra environmentalists in Western Canada, Francis describes how clients can connect. “We come and review their energy efficiency and the full envelope, gage what their needs are and then start proposing solutions like products, service, and installation.”
For the couple, running a green business has been an interest for them for the last ten years. Coming from an environment management background, Emma, director of projects and operations, researched space saving and green renovation ideas. “We found SuperGreen and it brought a lot of things together that we really liked,” she says.
For loyalty marketing and programs providerLoyaltyOne, the importance of sustainability practices comes from their belief that companies have the ability to create healthy environments and strong communities.
“We’ve implemented many innovative programs and strategies that are focused on driving environmental sustainability,” says Debbie Baxter, chief sustainability officer and VP of workplace services at LoyaltyOne.
One way the company has implemented these strategies is through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certified customer care centre in Mississauga, Ontario. Baxter says at the time of opening in 2009, the centre had “the largest rooftop solar panel installation in Canada,” with more than 800 solar panels—enough to power 16 medium-sized homes.
Today, LoyaltyOne continues to push to LEED certify their existing Toronto head office. “This meant making changes to the building’s recycling programs, energy and water usage, exterior maintenance, and replacing key infrastructure items to allow for more sustainable options,” says Baxter.
In an effort to tackle sustainable transit practices, Baxter says LoyaltyOne provides electric and hybrid cars to its associates during working hours. “LoyaltyOne offers on-site vehicles for associates to take to meetings during the day, allowing them to still travel home using their discounted public transit pass, or by walking or biking.”
By implementing these initiatives, Baxter says it’s crucial for both the business and associates to be on board. “The drive for sustainable business practices was met by the associates’ passion to create healthier and more environmentally friendly work places and communities.”