Sustainability in Business 101
November 28, 2021 | Megan Lambe
This is part 1 of a part 2 series covering the Sustainability in Business 101 event. Make sure to check out the Q and A in part 2!
On September 7, 2021, Sustainable Waterloo Region hosted four program members to cover the topic of Sustainability in Business:
- Stephanie McCallum, Kuntz Electroplating (RSI member since 2016)
- Matthew Rodrigues, WSP (TravelWise member since 2013)
- Bruce Taylor, Enviro-Stewards (Regional Sustainability Initiative member since 2011)
- Mathew Thijssen, University of Waterloo (TravelWise member since 2012 and also RSI member)
Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Executive Director Tova Davidson opened the event with some context about the need for sustainability work in Canada, and in our region. Some quick facts:
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we now have 9 years to cut global emissions by 45% or face irrevocable climate disaster
- Canada’s warming twice as fast as the rest of the world
- Canada has the highest per capita emissions of the G20 (three times the global average)
- Canada’s emissions have increased the most in G7 since Paris, and are the only ones that increased emissions over the last decade
Tova highlighted that water, soil, and air pollution are typically worse in less affluent areas in every community in North America: and that those who are most disadvantaged already are most impacted by extreme weather events. While climate migration is a clear example of this in lesser developed countries, freezing rain and wind most affect the unhoused right here in our region. In this way, climate justice is human justice.
A major motivator for companies in pursuing more sustainable practices, is Return on Investment (ROI). Five sustainability focused ROI for businesses are:
- Reduced operating costs: More sustainable = less energy = less expensive operations
- Risk management: In addition to climate impacts, there is also a reporting and policy risk for multiple levels of government, as well as competitors who are already doing more. Green branding: It is all about numbers and measurement. What are you doing, how far have you come?
- Employee retention and attraction: There is a competitive employment market – people want to work somewhere that is aligned with their values.
- Increased innovation: Innovation requires that we work beyond the status quo. If you’re already innovative, you should be in the sustainability sphere.
Before passing it over to the speakers, Tova noted that SWR virtual events like this one have been made possible by the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s post-pandemic support funding.
Mat Thijssen echoed Tova’s sentiment about Canada as a great contributor to global greenhouse gases. If everyone lived the way Canadians did, with such things as carbon emissions, wasted materials, pollution, deforestation etc. he said, we would need five planets to sustain us. Even at the global average, we still have way more than what one planet can sustain.
It’s also important to remember, Mat said: it isn’t just about the amount of resources we use, but equitable distribution of them. Compare a rich developed country to those in dire circumstances. In this way, we need to think about how our actions impact other parts of the world.
For better or for worse, we will need a reconciliation, or we will start to see consequences. Acknowledging that every industry will be impacted by changes in the environment, Mat said the University of Waterloo recognizes that every university graduate will confront the question, personally or professionally, what’s my role in this? Like other Ontario Universities, it is united under a shared vision from the Council of Ontario Universities, Waterloo seeks to:
- Assist finding solutions
- Share knowledge about sustainability
- Incorporate wherever possible principles of sustainability into our own operations
With 100 acres and 40,000 people, the University campus is its own small city: and in that way, there is an ability to engage students and employees as citizens. Mat acknowledged that with a business as large as Waterloo’s, there are many facets to consider, such as waste management, water, etc. In response to the demand for a coordinated effort across campus, Mat shared these points from Waterloo’s current Environmental Sustainability Strategy:
- Be a leader in sustainability education and research
- Operate the campus sustainably
- Embed sustainability practices into campus culture
Some examples of the initiatives happening under this strategy are included in this “what” slide:
On the “how” side: Mat acknowledged that while not always successful in their efforts, continuing to focus on these three key areas keeps Waterloo on the right track:
Mat states that as a world-renowned institution best known for its innovation it is critical for Waterloo to be a leader and engage in meaningful partnerships in the community; and to “Engage in these networks, not only to make your own journey easier but to help others in achieving their goals as well,”
Stephanie McCallum, introduced as the “champion at Kuntz Electroplating,” spoke next. Kuntz is a manufacturing company that has been in business servicing the automotive industry for 73 years. McCallum brings 20 years of experience to her role as Kuntz’ Environmental Compliance Coordinator, and deals with a broad range of topics. Stephanie’s thesis for her Master’s in Environmental Practice focused on a circular economy approach to reducing food waste in industrialized countries, with focus on responsible production and consumption. “This opened my eyes to how poorly [Canada] performs with food waste in comparison to other countries,” Stephanie said.
As a result, Kuntz is focusing a lot of her work on hunger at the community level. The goal is to bridge the company’s internal wellness dimensions, focusing on reporting on zero hunger. Others include health and well-being, no poverty, and quality education.
Kuntz has a diverse group of subject matter experts on their sustainability team who support strategic planning. “What we focus on is a high commodity user: to reduce water, gas, lots of electricity, and manage risk.” Over the last five years, Kuntz has set greenhouse gas reduction targets as well as their leadership team building sustainability into their core values. This means continuing to look at business practices not only in their own facility boundaries, but externally. Kuntz ships parts around the world, including transporting waste to different parts of Canada and the U.S. It also means making declarations to their customers about decision-making, such as choosing to opt-out of supporting conflict mineral use. An example of this is to avoid a supply chain out of the Congo.
Kuntz is also focused on their return on investment. Building relationships and partnerships like the one with SWR continues to help them to achieve their goals. Kuntz also belongs to an additional four associations supporting the belief that “sharing knowledge is crucial in a heavily regulated industry like theirs.”
Matt Rogriguez is an urban planner at WSP and an SWR volunteer. WSP is headquartered globally in Montreal and has about 32, 000 employees, with a head office in Thornhill area, and a local office in Kitchener. On a corporate level, WSP has made strong commitments in other regions (such as the U.S. and the UK) to reduce emissions and achieve sustainability targets. Matt spoke of the unique challenge in bringing Canada in line with these other regions, as WSP in Canada conglomerate many former companies. Like many businesses, COVID has affected their ability to work toward national targets.
According to Mat, what is unique and beneficial about being part of a larger organization is that you can look to colleagues who do it differently than we do. An additional benefit of sustainability work is the advantage of having in house knowledge with building specialists who look at climate change.
The WSP office in Kitchener is a showcase for sustainability. There are bike lockers, shower facilities, permeable pavement, community gardens etc. There is a “super-efficient” heating and cooling system, and the blinds are automated to follow the sun and regulate temperature in summer. “Starting with this space that makes new initiatives doable and feasible,” said Mat.
Mat himself is a Travelwise member, and says the program has had good uptake from staff. Mat shared that their slow-building toward national targets is important for their work, as corporate citizens, but also acts as an opportunity to showcase their work to different audiences/stakeholders.
Bruce Taylor, founder and President of Enviro-Stewards spoke last. Bruce shared that his motive in building Enviro-Stewards was to create a “company he’d want to work for.” Part of this effort involves giving employees 24 hours of paid volunteer time, as well as an unlimited amount of unpaid volunteer hours. With a small team of 18 individuals, Bruce says they are all involved in the work to “cultivate resilient businesses and improve lives in extraordinary ways.”
Enviro-Stewards creates environmental and economic sustainability solutions for a wide range of businesses, such as Maple Leaf Foods: the first food company to be carbon neutral and saving money. After going into 35 factories to evaluate practices, the company is now using less water and energy, and has increased their product yields. This leaves them with more than enough savings to pay for their remaining footprint (such as feed, fertilizer etc.)
Referencing his TEDx talk from 2017, Better than Charity, Bruce talked about the importance of giving back to improve lives. Enviro-Stewards, for example, is involved in special projects like Safe Water Social Ventures which trains locals in developing countries how to build, test, and sell biosand filters in their communities.
Next, Bruce highlighted the importance of partnerships for his company and listed some groups worth looking into: Join Living Wage Ontario, Water Efficient Business Waterloo Region, E-Corporation, Net Zero by 2030, and of course SWR. By far, he said, B Corp is the most challenging and rewarding.
Some of the projects at the Enviro-Stewards main office worth highlighting:
- Windows were replaced to get light around the building interior.
- Installation of a living wall.
- Installation of a Blue Roof. This roof is designed explicitly to provide initial temporary water storage and then gradual release of stored water. It is also an effective cooling system.
Impressively, the snowmelt has been enough to provide for their water needs, with exception to the building’s toilets. The installation of the blue roof could provide organizations to become not only carbon positive but also water positive.
To get companies they work with to net zero, Bruce says his company starts with the question, where are you? This allows them to target the right area of their footprint. For food companies: 1/3 of all food globally is currently wasted, with an estimated cost of $900 billion/year. While there is considerable focus on diversion from landfill, food is still being wasted. Source reduction for many organizations helps to target this area of concern.
Sustainability in Business: Q and A with the experts
This is part 2 of a part 2 series covering the Sustainability in Business 101 event. If you missed part 1, you can read all about it here! Please note: answers have been edited for brevity.
HOW DO YOU WORK TO CREATE A CULTURE OF SUSTAINABILITY?
Stephanie: We work with so many different stakeholders, vendors and suppliers in addition to internal employees making a collaborative approach key. Kuntz is a longstanding supporter of community initiatives. Part of that means that when we get involved with programming, such as those that support hungry children in the community, we do it not only to help but to raise awareness. In this case, we helped to highlight that even though we are in an agri-rich community, there are still a lot of kids going without food.
Matt R: Focus on a shift that easily enables doing the “right thing.” If you take garbage receptacles from each desk, this forces a decision about whether they will go to a sorting station. Easy things can make people think: like reserving the closest parking spaces to your building for energy-efficient or carpool vehicles. WSP is currently thinking about: How do we incentivize behaviour? Currently, parking is free. But what about an incentive for not parking in the months of April to September, when you can ride your bike instead?
Bruce: We start with that investment for staff. In pre-COVID times, it was things like a bike-to-work challenge, community events, etc. The key was something fun people could do together. We also sell shares of the company to staff which creates an ownership mentality.
On inspiring the businesses Enviro-Stewards works with: Sustainability is often quick and easy wins: most of the work is just getting individuals to agree on the what and how and move forward from there. We include the first $10, 000 of project work with the first assessment to decrease the barrier to entry. We can achieve projects before we even finish the study. Part of this conventional procurement is based on big expensive capital stuff. We can start by focusing on those quick wins.
Mat: What we understand to make culture happen in any sense is about an intersection between values, resources, and the systems we use to make decisions. If those things aren’t all pointed toward sustainability, then we won’t be able to get there. If people really want to change something, and there is a bottom-up groundswell, but the systems don’t allow it to be done, it doesn’t move. Keeping systems as they are and asking individuals to change is not going to allow for progress. We need to look at the policy and standardizations of procedures.
WHAT BARRIERS DO YOU FACE, AND HOW YOU GET AROUND THEM?
Mat: The size of the campus means that change needs to be looked at as long-term and is sometimes difficult to implement. Some changes are capital-intensive. Communication, and trying to communicate with all stakeholders, means we have to cut through the clutter so people truly can understand.
Stephanie: Even in a small organization, we see some of the same challenges. We have done some of those same efforts with forcing a decision on sorting stations versus at-desk receptacles. We also do a lot of large stream metal recycling – we reclaimed hundreds of thousands of kilograms each year. When we don’t need it, we can send them out to other types of vendors who can.
Bruce: We work in a 100-year-old building, formerly a warehouse space. We’ve been very lucky with our landlord who allows us to renovate when we need to. There are sometimes building codes to get around. With our blue roof we can be so water efficient that you’re above the sewer limit. But a good thing to ask [in making change] is, what is the actual risk? The perception is doing nothing is the lowest risk possible; but you might be gone if you don’t implement anything. Risk mitigation means having to do things. When working with other cultures, such as Sudan if you don’t understand how that culture works you aren’t going to get anything done. So you have to ask, how do we get past that.
Matt: For WSP, we are so big that our office in Kitchener can seem so small in the grander scheme of things. Working with legacy corporations presents its own challenges. It does take convincing and understanding why someone in Hamilton benefits from the Travelwise program.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO KEEP GOING? PERSONALLY OR IN YOUR BUSINESS?
Matt: It’s the organization – being part of this group of people that have great ideas that I can learn from and connect with. Demonstrating to managers how [sustainability efforts] can be revenue generating.
Bruce: I always took Thursday afternoons off to volunteer – it keeps your problems in perspective – you can see, they aren’t actually problems. I also create the kind of place that I would like to work.
Stephanie: Sharing knowledge. Learning holistically how different people move around in the world is a driver for wanting to change. Our problems aren’t as big as other people’s problems.
Mat: We are up against the laws of physics. We’ll choose to change or we will be forced to change. It’s important work – it has to be done. If we choose to do it right, it can be a more prosperous and equitable world as a result. I want to look back 30 years from now and know what I did made a difference.
ARE THERE OTHER PROGRAMS/SUPPORTS THAT YOU USE? and WHAT ONE PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A NEW SWR MEMBER OR HASN’T STARTED WITH THEIR SUSTAINABILITY JOURNEY?
Stephanie: Be patient. When you’re dealing with human behaviour, change its slow process. Everyone learns at a different pace, and the message may not always be received as you think it is. You have to continue to give clear messaging.
Matt: Don’t go it alone. It will make it more rewarding in the long run, easier, and there’s a benefit in bringing more people along.
Mat: It’s increasingly common that most communities will have programs like SWR to connect to. Industry associations, service industry, etc. Another thing is, be brave. If you’re only asking comfortable questions you probably won’t be successful in transitioning your organization. “Business as usual” needs to be changed in most cases. Hope for sustainability as hope is useful, but courage is actually more important.
Bruce: B Corp is the most rewarding thing we’ve ever done. You don’t even have to join; just go to their website and take a free survey that will tell you how you’re doing. It gives reference examples that you can use on where and how to go. There’s that old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. The most efficient light is the one that’s not on. The Food banks are great but how about paying a living wage so they don’t have to access in the first place. Of course, that’s harder to sell.
Most Importantly work on an important problem. At Campbell’s Soup, they had 200 suggestions in their suggestion box, and they were paralyzed. They didn’t know where to stop. When we went through them we found that six would save them $15,000. Find the biggest cause of your footprint and start there.
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