MBiz Magazine | Setting a Baseline for Sustainability

Jun 10, 2024 | Front Page, MBiz Magazine, Natural Resources & Environment & Energy

BY JENNIFER MCFEE

A new environmentally focused project is poised to help strengthen Manitoba’s role as a leader in the green economy. On March 1, 2024, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce launched the Manitoba Green Advantage (MGA) initiative to help bolster Manitoba’s role in the green economy.

Program director Christa Rust recognizes the importance of promoting Manitoba as a leader in the transition to net-zero. She also understands the importance of providing financial support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to help them to assess and plan for a greener future.

“The first phase of the initiative focuses on developing a roadmap to identify both strengths and growth opportunities for Manitoba in the green economy,” Rust explains.
“All this is made possible with critical funding from PrairiesCan and support of the province.”

She notes that the initiative aims to bring together business and community leaders to develop the data-driven strategy. Program manager Sarah Duval explains the details of the granting program, which is the second phase of the initiative.

“MGA will provide 60 SMEs with up to $10,000 each in financial grants, which will identify opportunities to incorporate sustainable practices into their operations,” Duval says.
“These grants will help businesses develop an understanding of where they’re at when it comes to sustainability and empower them to invest in smart green initiatives. ”Rust points to Statistics Canada data from the first quarter of 2024 indicating that only 7.2 per cent of Manitoba businesses with 20 to 99 employees currently have commitments to net-zero carbon emissions.

“This is significantly lower than in neighbouring prairie provinces, where 17.4 per cent of similar businesses in Saskatchewan and 14.5 per cent in Alberta have such commitments,” she says. “Comparisons aside, in order to achieve our national targets and mitigate the growing impacts of cli-mate change, we all need to engage in the net-zero economy.”

The recent Manitoba Business Outlook Survey further highlights that Manitoba businesses need substantial support to transition towards sustainability practices.

“Despite growing concerns about climate change, only 45 per cent of Manitoba’s business leaders currently incorporate environmental considerations into their strategic planning,” Rust says. “They specifically need financial support, energy-efficiency programs with incentives and methods to identify cost-effective emissions reduction strategies.”

A net-zero economy is achieved when the total amount of green-house gases emitted is balanced by an equivalent amount removed from the atmosphere.
“For business, this means fundamentally overhauling their operations, products and supply chains,” Rust says. “To achieve this balance, companies must engage in research and innovation, investing in renewable energy and sustainable materials. When a complete reduction of emissions is not feasible, adopting carbon offsets can serve as a viable alternative.”

Business leaders can enhance operations by assessing environ-mental impacts, setting ambitious reduction targets and embedding sustainability throughout their business models. Rust says it’s vital to integrate environmental concerns into business practices for several reasons.

“First, it ensures compliance with increasingly stringent regulations, helping companies avoid legal and financial penalties. Second, it aligns with consumer preferences, as more customers prioritize sustainability in their purchasing decisions, thereby enhancing brand reputation and loyalty,” Rust says. “Third, it fosters operational efficiencies and innovations that not only reduce costs but also improve profitability. Moreover, by com-mitting to environmental goals, businesses can position themselves as leaders in sustainability, making them more attractive to investors and future talent.”

Multiple Manitoba businesses are already on the forefront of sustainability. At NFI Group, sustainability is deeply ingrained in the company’s DNA. NFI Group is the publicly traded parent company of New Flyer Industries, Motorcoach Industries, Alexander Dennis, ARBOC Specialty Vehicles and NFI Parts. Paul Soubry, president and CEO of NFI Group, says the company’s sustainability pledge was originally drafted in 2006 to serve as a foundational commitment that shapes organizational values and decisions.

“Sustainability is not a tick-the-box or a bolt-on initiative. It is one of our core company values and a fundamental pillar that guides our decisions from long-term strategic planning to our day-to-day operations,” he says. “Having a strong corporate governance framework provides structure to drive our strategic planning and ensures our board of directors is continually updated on our progress. The support and encouragement from our board runs unbelievably deep.”

Sustainability also serves as a catalyst for driving innovation at NFI, which offers 17 different zero-emission bus and coach models.

“The transition to a zero-emission economy is here, with public and pri-vate transit and coach transportation playing a pivotal role in significantly reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution,” Soubry says. “Zero-emission products and ser-vices — including the electrification of transit and coach buses — glob-ally drives technological innovation and advancements in battery technology, charging infrastructure and smart-grid integration.”

In 2023, NFI established a sustainability council made up of leaders from every business division and supported by its sustainabil-ity functional team. This council is accountable for fulfilling respon-sibilities related to its sustainable strategy and program roadmap. To counter challenges along the way — such as navigating complex regulations and balancing short-term costs with long-term benefits — NFI takes a collaborative approach.

“Before making any significant business decisions, we make sure to understand what environmental, so-cial and governance issues are most impactful to our business and to our stakeholders,” Soubry says. “This allows us to weigh potential benefits against risks and identify opportunities where we can align our business objectives with sustainability practices.”

At the same time, NFI team members aim to incorporate sustainability into day-to-day aspects of the job.

“Our vision is to drive business success by engaging and empowering our workforce,” Soubry says. “We work to ensure consistent two-way communication, and the feedback we receive informs our people strategy and drives action plans to further enhance our work-place culture, foster inclusivity and improve retention of our people — our most valuable assets.”

Looking ahead, the company remains focused on developing achievable targets to reduce its impacts on climate change across its value chain while also addressing sustainability within supply chains.

“Understanding our current state across all our businesses is an incredibly important first step to really building in a program that will have a positive corporate impact,” Soubry says.
“Throughout 2024 and beyond, we continue to pursue investments in a future where our contributions to the environment, society and overall economic well-being are built into our operating model.”

A green approach is also top of mind at Assiniboine Credit Union, where sustainability has been locked into corporate strategic plans for several cycles. Dennis Cunningham, ACU’s sustainability manager, notes that “concern of community” is one of the seven co-operative principles.

“One of the ways we adhere to this principle is through our environmental actions,” he says. “At a high level, our strategic plan commits us organizationally to achieving annual greenhouse gas emissions targets. These reduction targets can only be achieved through actions like improvements to building energy efficiency, promoting green and active commuting, reducing paper usage, recycling and composting.”

ACU includes environmental sustainability in its values-based banking commitment. Since ACU is a certified B Corp — a designation that recognizes social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency — its environmental actions play an important part in retaining this certification.

“We are the only credit union in Manitoba that has taken an environmental leadership position — carbon neutral since 2018 and B Corp-certified with one of the highest scores in the world,” Cunningham says. “We know our members and the communities we serve appreciate our efforts on this. Our employees also report a strong sense of pride because of our commitment to environmental sustainability. We know there is value in these actions from market differentiation, employee attraction and retention, and organizational efficiency perspectives.”

To support sustainability, ACU has incorporated an extensive waste-management program that includes composting at many of its locations. Energy-efficient branches also support green and active commuting by having lockers, showers and secure bike storage. “Many of our branches are located near transit or active transportation routes,” Cunningham says. “In 2023, 58 per cent of employee reported being green and active commuters. A decade earlier, 63 per cent of all employees were drive-alone commuters.”

Since 2012, ACU has also been measuring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions. “We set annual greenhouse gas reduction targets and use our progress toward the target as part of the calculation of annual bonuses,” Cunningham says. “We also developed a sustainable procurement policy that establishes clear guide-lines for ensuring social and environmental criteria are included in all procurement decisions.”

With an eye on the environment, ACU has provided $40,000 in the past two years in support for urban reforestation initiatives coordinated by Trees Winnipeg. Looking ahead, ACU’s sustainability plans include collaboration with local builders and developers to support deep energy retrofits, passive house and net-zero construction. ACU is also starting the process to measure greenhouse gas emissions from its lending portfolio. As well, it’s building better systems to identify climate change-related physical and transitional risks that may impact members and operations.

“Climate change represents real and long-term threats to human health, the ecosystems we rely on, and demands significant action from government, civil society and business,” Cunningham says.

“We are taking these actions to be a responsible business and good corporate citizens.”

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