A new report due out this week has some encouraging news on meeting Canada’s Paris Agreement targets by 2030; it could cost a lot less than previously anticipated. The study from the Institute for Sustainable Finance at Queen’s University suggests that the targets can be achieved through a $128-billion investment over the next ten years. This is a large sum by any reckoning, and would be used to reduce Canada’s emissions by 789 million tonnes. As the report’s author Ryan Riordan says:

“If there’s one message that I think we get out of the whole report, it’s that it’s very doable.”

Meeting emission targets nationwide

Over the eight industry sectors cited, most investment would need to be made in the transportation sector, requiring $52.6million, and the oil and gas sector, requiring $26.3million. The transportation sector is responsible for 24% of national emissions in 2018, and needs more investment as it involves adapting, as the report says:

“Vast amounts of locked-in capital and established networks built for carbon intensive vehicles.”

What can your business do?

It’s important that every Canadian business plays its part where it can, and the pandemic lockdown may have already helped you reduce your emissions in terms of transportation alone.

  • Your employees might be working from home, substantially reducing their vehicle emissions normally emitted during the daily commute.
  • You may be selling more goods curbside or as click and collect, reducing your own distribution and transportation costs.
  • You may also be doing more home deliveries, which in effect are shared journeys between multiple suppliers. This too may have reduced emissions compared with individuals shoppers coming in person.

The flip side of home working

On the flip side, your employees at home may be using more power to cool and now heat their homes during the day. This individual usage will inevitably be less efficient than the energy saving HVAC systems in a shared environment such as an office. You may also have less employees on your premises at any one time due to restrictions, so your business premises in turn are using more energy per worker capita than before.

Reducing waste in your business

The renowned environmentalist Sir David Attenborough was interviewed by BBC TV this week and was asked, what can we as individuals do to help save the planet? His reply was simple:

“Don't waste anything, don't waste electricity, don't waste food, don't waste power. Just treat the natural world as though it’s precious, which it is, and don’t squander those bits of it that we have control of.”

This is equally true for small businesses, who can make small but significant workplace changes more easily to reduce waste. As a small business owner, you can look at your use of plastics in both products and packaging, and look for more recyclable, eco-friendly options. You can look at better ways to recycle waste, including organic waste. You can assess your current workplaces and facilities and look for a more efficient and effective way to use current resources and space. In the pandemic lockdown, you may have created new ways of working and trading that tick these boxes already – you just need to keep these going.

Many businesses will cite how working from home has reduced emissions from commuting, but there is the potential that working from home simply shifts the location of some business waste from office to residential districts. In September 2019, Canada was the eighth worst country in the OECD index (a measure of how effectively countries manage their waste per capita). Canadians produce around 673 kilograms of waste per capita per year, of which 510 kilograms of waste goes direct to landfill. According to the Sensoneo report:

“The decomposition of waste in landfills releases methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.”

Canadian recycling rates are also low at just 20%. So, how can your business help your home workers or remote employees reduce their waste when working for your business offsite?

Save energy

Home workers will be using energy to heat and light their homes and to power their laptops, recharge their phones, cook their lunch, use their bathroom more frequently, and make cups of tea and coffee. By encouraging workers to save energy (and water) where they can, your business can help reduce this additional usage. They may seem small steps, but over your entire workforce, it could make a substantial difference.

  • Encourage employees to sleep their computer when they are not actively using it, such as at lunchtimes, breaks, and when making that third cup of coffee. According to a blog at Paylesspower:

“The typical laptop uses 15-60 watts of energy when in use – and just 2 in sleep mode. The typical desktop and monitor uses 80-320 watts when in use, but just 5-10 watts in sleep mode.”

  • Help employees set up power saving settings. Modern laptops and desktop computer operating systems have setting that can pro-actively reduce power usage.
  • Don’t FILL your kettle. Yes, it’s a tiny thing, but remind employees they don’t need to fill the kettle each time they want to make a hot drink. A UK expert calculated that a massive 6% of UK total power consumption was used on boiling kettles – even before the pandemic changed working patterns. According to Tom Baxter, visiting professor of chemical engineering at Strathclyde University:

“I regularly overfill (a kettle) for the task in hand, particularly for a cup of tea or coffee. Let’s say 80% of kettles are overfilled by treble the quantity of water needed. That means overfilling translates to 3.2% of our domestic electricity bill.”

This will also cut down on water usage, saving another precious natural resource.

  • Zone your heating / cooling / HVAC

Encourage employees to heat their home offices to a comfortable working temperature, and work within a part of the their home, rather than heating every room.

Save water

Water is a precious resource at any time of year.

– More efficient toilets

According to the BC government, toilets account for 24% of all indoor water usage. Whilst the larger capacity models were outlawed in Ontario in 2010, some may still remain. Even the standard six litre flush can be upgraded to an ultra-low 3 litres or less. Rebates may also be available. So, why not partner with a local supplier to see if you can help your employees upgrade as a ‘thank you’ to them for working at home?

– Don’t overfill the kettle

See above!

Reduce landfill waste

Home working will, inevitably, produce some additional waste, from printer ink carts, to shredded paper, and even coffee filters. Encourage employees to recycle what they can, when they can and perhaps provide small bins for their office to help sort recyclable items at time of use. If their residential recycling is less comprehensive that your business’, encourage them to bring in their (non-perishable) work recycling next time they come to the office.

Every action counts

Making small changes now will over time contribute to long-term benefits for your business, your community and your employees, and show the next generation that we all can make a difference as we adjust to working in the “next normal”.