Leading business leaders and policymakers have traditionally led the case to pivot and integrate sustainability across business practices. These conversations have usually targeted large corporations and neglect small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) in many countries, including Canada.
At least, that’s according to the organizers of Montreal-based PIVOT. In conjunction with McGill University and the National Film Board of Canada, PIVOT shares stories of Canadian SMEs across the country that are embracing sustainable practices. SMEs account for closely 90 percent of Canada’s total private labor force and employ 10.8 million people.
Global sustainability action plans will need to include all businesses and industries, regardless of size – now, PIVOT is helping more companies find success while sharing their stories.
Led by McGill University Associate Professor, Dror Etzion, the goals of PIVOT include helping the general public understand the need for SMEs’ engagement in climate action; gain insight on the potential of these companies’ collective business impact; and empower other SMEs to adopt more sustainable business practices.
The project focuses on telling the stories of businesses in all major sectors including food, agriculture and manufacturing. The impact generated by several of these companies and business groups extends across industries. Take, for example, Rafiq Dhanji, the executive director of the Sustainability Leadership Program, based in Hamilton, Ontario. Dhanji helps businesses across all sectors engage in climate action by reducing their GHG emissions.
Another such project is Reid's Automotive Recycling, a business that reprocesses damaged or end-of-life vehicles by decontaminating and disassembling them and then resell those cars’ parts - reducing the need for building new ones.
SMEs have a plethora of opportunities to implement change coast to coast and affect national environmental goals. In 2018, Canada ranked as the 10th-largest GHG emitting country, accounting for 1.5 percent of global emissions. Despite the relatively low number, Canada’s per capita GHG emissions exceed the G20 average. The transportation, energy and industrial sectors are among the largest contributors to Canada’s emissions. Furher, between 1990 and 2017, Canada's total GHG emission increased by 19 percent.
Before COVID-19, and now - despite the country’s lockdowns and consequential decrease in emissions - Canada has not been, and is still not, on track to meet its 2030 nationally determined contribution goal: decrease GHG emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This shortfall will consequently affect Canada’s alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement effort of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In a recent interview with TriplePundit, Etzion explained the primary function of PIVOT: creating “peer to peer inspiration.” This means creating and sharing stores that will resonate with SMEs, which could then enable a social movement of adopting sustainable practices.
"The whole idea of the project is that SMEs don't really want to listen to me or to a politician or to a guru to tell them what to do," Etzion said. "SMEs really care about what others SMES are doing."
These stories are compiled on gopivot.org and according to Etzion, the group will use social media and marketing tactics to reach wider audiences. The project’s organizers will focus on community, engagement, building social networks and storytelling.
SMEs can take climate action right now
The conversations, inspiration and actions surrounding business sustainability can be attributed to consumer preferences as well. Etzion explained that consumers in industries like food, hospitality, cosmetics and fashion are increasingly seeking sustainable products and services. To meet these demands and help companies do their part to contribute to climate action, Etzion shared various ways in which SMEs can embed sustainability in the manufacturing of goods, delivery sources and sourcing.
For example, PIVOT has showcased Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company, which grinds its own grain and bakes its own bread and pastries, many of which have gained popularity. Before establishing the business, co-owner Tabitha Langel worked with various partners to understand market demand and provide a product that was both appealing to consumers and valuable to farmers.
For industries that serve consumers who aren’t inclined towards sustainability, Etzion suggested that SMEs can re-strategize their resources, adopt energy efficiency technologies and switch to renewable energy.
Flexahopper is one such company that exemplifies this shift. The plastic fabrication company based in Alberta has installed solar panels atop its molding plant in Lethbridge, which resulted in significant reductions in electricity costs.
"I think the next few years are going to be dramatic and meaningful in terms of more and more people becoming committed to this cause, recognizing its importance of allocating resources to it and doing meaningful things," added Etzion.
PIVOT illustrates that large-scale changes, such as efforts to decrease per capita GHG emissions or get Canada back on track for its national targets, is a collective and incremental effort. And going beyond competition, small and mid-sized enterprise owners can also look to each other for inspiration to develop more sustainable practices within their companies.
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