Community Conversations with Sustainable Waterloo Region

Each month we feature a conversation with one of The Cord Community Edition’s partners. This month, Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Jennifer Carreiro tells us why sustainability is good for the environment, and even better for business.

With fall’s arrival, Ontarians are breathing a sigh of relief as they bid farewell to one of the hottest and driest summers in history. With global temperatures on the rise, climate change has become a hot topic and it often appears the challenge falls to everyday citizens to be the change so desperately needed to mitigate, halt and reverse the looming repercussions of our changing climate.

But where does business fit in this conversation? We spend at least 40 per cent of our weekly waking hours at our places of work, and in Waterloo Region, business accounts for a 39 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, we struggle to find ways to hold businesses to account for their environmental impact.

So how can we assure business leaders, entrepreneurs and key decision makers of the value of environmental sustainability?

By speaking their language.

The key to demonstrating the value of integrating environmental sustainability into the operations of an organization begins and ends with the bottom line.

Local environmental not-for-profit Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR) has identified four key tenets that comprise a sound business case for environmental sustainability: risk mitigation, green branding, employee attraction and cost savings. Local businesses are taking note. With over 50 organizations currently working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through SWR’s flagship program, the Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI), it is evident environmental sustainability is gaining momentum among Waterloo Region’s leading institutions like Sun Life Financial, Grand River Hospital, Ernst & Young and the Region of Waterloo.

Demand for socially-responsible business is on the rise in the marketplace. Nielsen reports that 66 per cent of consumers worldwide prefer to buy from socially responsible companies. Such is also the case with students taking the leap to post-secondary education. “The introduction of a number of campus-wide sustainability initiatives, including our real-time energy consumption dashboard, have been met with enthusiasm throughout the student body,” notes Claire Bennett, sustainability coordinator at Wilfrid Laurier University. “Not only is Laurier’s leadership in campus sustainability a source of pride for students, it has also proven an important asset in the recruitment of prospective students.”

The call for socially-responsible organizations also extends to the workplace. People want to work for socially-responsible companies. At a recent RCI event, James Gray-Donald, VP: sustainability at real estate investment giant, Bentall Kennedy, noted that a strong climate of social responsibility within the workplace can cut the number of employees actively seeking new jobs by as much as half and increase the percentage of employees that would recommend their workplace as an “employer of choice.”

A commitment to environmental sustainability can also mean cost savings for business. Local manufacturer Veriform has implemented more than 72 sustainability projects since 2006, including basic projects like replacing plant lighting with T5 lights and installing a tamper-resistant, programmable plant thermostat and motion sensors on five bay doors. While reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent, Veriform is simultaneously seeing cost savings of over $160,000 per year. In fact, the first 37 sustainability projects resulted in an average payback period of 6.2 months and almost doubled their return on investment.

It’s clear we’re on the cusp of a cultural shift in how organizations in Waterloo Region operate, integrating sustainability in their day-to-day business, with a view towards increasing their profitability while decreasing their carbon impact. And as a community that prides itself on being at the cutting edge of innovation, that this surge of organizations working to make meaningful environmental change is taking place in Waterloo Region only makes sense.