Climates of (Positive) Change

smoke2.pngLast year, when the government of BC declared significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in BC, many environmental groups applauded the move. Even so, support was cautious because the announcement did not lay out a path for how and where reductions would be realized.

Since then, the BC Government and its Climate Change Secretariat have crafted a series of measures – including a carbon tax and associated reductions elsewhere in the tax system – as part of their reduction plans.

Opposition to the carbon tax was initially muted but is now gaining strength as the Vancouver Board of Trade, BC Business Council, and various municipalities increasingly voice their concerns. To help quell the backlash, it’s now being rebranded a “pollution tax on carbon emissions.”

Arguments against the tax are focusing on fears of increased costs (particularly in rural areas) and reduced competitiveness. However, even world-renowned fiscal and tax policy specialist, Jack Mintz, from the University of Calgary’s School of Policy Studies, questions the doomsday scenarios being trumpeted. Rightly so; we should be looking at these policy solutions to climate change as drivers of innovation and efficiency.

Many large corporations have already realized these opportunities and developed comprehensive strategies to reduce their carbon footprints (and costs). However, one of the most challenging business constituencies to engage on carbon reduction initiatives is small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). They typically have fewer resources – financial and human – than “the big guys”. But, at the same time, they are the engine of the economy. In BC, they represent about 30 percent of the GDP and 58 percent of all private sector jobs. The cumulative emissions of those 300,000+ SMEs are significant.

Enter Climate Smart, a program of Ecotrust Canada, in partnership with the Pembina Institute. Successfully piloted in 2007 with 10 organizations, Climate Smart provides SMEs three workshops that show them how to measure, reduce and offset their carbon footprint. Then, to ensure that each participating business gets the most out of their participation, they receive four hours of one-on-one technical assistance by telephone and user-friendly software designed to track greenhouse gas emissions.

About 75 companies will participate in five workgroups in 2008. Once they’ve completed the program, it won’t take long before they’ll realize increased energy and operational efficiency, and cost savings. As well, they’ll gain a peer network of climate change-savvy businesses.

With a cost of just $1,500 for up to two participants per company, the program’s a real steal. To make it even more appealing, Vancity Savings is providing a scholarship to help pay for 25 businesses that want to enrol in Climate Smart.

Plans are afoot to scale up the program. Funding is being sought from a range of sources in the hopes of reaching hundreds of BC SMEs in the next few years. If successful, the model could be rolled out more broadly across Canada. Stay tuned.

Another new initiative that will benefit businesses and communities in BC is Vancouver’s first-ever Timeraiser. Previously held in Toronto, Ottawa and Calgary, Timeraiser is a program of the Framework Foundation, a non-profit that is working to empower Canadians to participate in volunteering and philanthropy.

Each event is designed to facilitate connections between a variety of groups: young citizens, businesses, charitable and not-for-profit agencies and emerging artists. The Vancouver Timeraiser will be held this Thursday, September 25 at the Roundhouse Community Centre, and has a goal of raising 5,000 community hours.

The model seems to be working. According to Anil Patel, Executive Director of Framework Foundation, “Taking the total financial and social community impact into account, the program’s return on investment is estimated to approach 220%, generating nearly $2.20 in ‘social good’ for each dollar invested in programming.”

The eight Timeraisers held to date have engaged 2,300 Canadians, generated 38,000 volunteer hours, benefited 200 non-profits organizations and invested $190,000 in emerging Canadian artists. Like Climate Smart, Timeraiser is in growth mode. From 2008 through 2010, an additional 16 Timeraisers will be held across the country. They give new meaning to the adage, “It’s about time. “