SME Sustainability Roadmap

This tool will assist you in achieving your goals of sustainability. Each section is also part of a larger area of management, operations or leadership. The business case is a stand-alone document. Many examples of sustainability in practice are offered throughout the document. Where possible, they refer to the practices of SMEs.

Table of contents


It's likely that your business already has some initiatives that save resources, protect the environment or otherwise contribute to sustainability—initiatives that look beyond pure financial considerations to include social and environmental aspects. Although some small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are motivated entirely by environmental concerns, others are saving resources and greening production to reduce operating costs, innovate and remain competitive.

Sustainability offers SMEs a competitive advantage since their smaller size and staff allows them to be more flexible integrating sustainability into their business, making them more responsive and adaptive to shifting markets. Canadian companies are known for their flexibility in responding to the fluctuating Canadian dollar, and scaling up or down in response to changes in trading with the US. There are many opportunities for small businesses in what is called the "green economy", as innovators retool to expand existing product lines or adapt their offerings to supply parts to clean tech firms.

Given that SMEs account for 99.8% of enterprises, 60% of employment, and 57% of gross domestic product in Canada, they are an essential partner in the country's action on climate change, resource conservation and other areas of environmental management. This roadmap is intended to assist SMEs in their work to manage their social and environmental impacts, develop products and services that meet the needs of a greening market, and show leadership on climate change, poverty, and other pressing environmental and social issues.

How to Use the Roadmap

The roadmap is intended to be modular—you can drop in to any section and you will find a concise guide to the topic area. However, each section is also part of a larger area of management, operations or leadership. The business case is a stand-alone document.

This roadmap applies to both product- and service-based businesses. However, some modules are more relevant than others depending on your focus. If you are a product-based business, all but the Services module apply to you. If you are a service-based business, read the Services module for context first, and then refer to all other modules except Product Development, which is specifically focused on products.

Many examples of sustainability in practice are offered throughout the document. Where possible, they refer to the practices of SMEs. In some cases, however, examples that refer to larger companies are included for illustrative purposes.

Business Case

Why Do It?

Businesses embarking on new environmental programs and initiatives are typically driven by three main drivers: values, compliance or opportunity.Footnote 1

  • Values: "the right thing to do" refers to those businesses that seek to reduce their negative and enhance their positive sustainability impacts as a demonstration of their values.  Businesses that show concern for reducing their environmental footprint and for generating positive community benefits earn a reputation as a good company with employees, customers, suppliers, investors and community members.
  • Compliance: "the thing you must do" focuses on reducing time spent to manage current regulation, and the advantages of staying ahead of future regulation. All regulation can affect a business' ability to operate and its profitability. Reducing regulatory risk of fines, reducing time to understand and comply with regulations, and anticipating new regulation is just good management. For example, many businesses are working to reduce their energy use and carbon emissions, expecting that regulation will soon follow and force businesses to pay for their emissions. Other businesses are focused on improving the health and safety conditions in the workplace to reduce their regulatory burden.
  • Competitive Advantage: "the thing you can do to make money" highlights that an environmental focus offers businesses the chance for increased revenues and profits. Some businesses improve cash flow by reducing resource inputs (water, energy, waste services) to lower operating costs, while others diversify existing product lines to meet new customer demand for green products and services. Still others might look at new ways to meet social needs via the marketplace, such as products and services accessible to seniors or people with disabilities.  Once a business has embarked on this path, marketing and advertising their green successes and social responsibility can help build brand and market share.

Benefits You Can Expect

Attract & Retain Good Employees

Environmental and social responsibility programs affect human resources by putting a business’ values into action, and by engaging employees in the change. Such efforts can improve the morale and productivity of existing employees, and attract new talent to the business.

Since many workers feel that they are greener than their employersFootnote 2, environmental initiatives allow them to bring their values and their ideas to work. When employees are proud of the business they work for, they are more productive, more creative, and more committed.Footnote 3 Employee retention can reduce the costs associated with turnover. When considering recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, and reduced productivity it costs a business approximately $3,500.00 to replace one $8.00/hour employee.Footnote 4

Sustainability commitments can provide the following benefits to a business' attraction/retention efforts:

  • Increase competitive advantage for recruiting;
  • Create a sense of teamwork among employees; and
  • Establish an emotional tie between employee and the business.Footnote 5

Reduce Your Operating Costs

Environmental initiatives reduce operating costs by reducing material and resource costs. More efficient use of materials—even if it's a simple as using less toner and paper—reduces the cost of inputs. Resource efficiency—using less water, energy and sewage—reduces utility costs. It is also possible to reduce maintenance costs. For example, efficient lighting needs to be changed less often and waterless technologies require less maintenance. Small businesses can save up to 40% of energy costs simply by following recommended maintenance schedules for their equipment—cleaning and sealing ducts, changing filters and cleaning coils.Footnote 6 Studies show small commercial buildings have duct leaks twice that of residential buildings. Identifying and repairing these problems is a cost effective way of reducing your energy costs and your impact on climate change.

Improve Your Brand

Brand is a business' most important asset. It represents your company's intangible worth—your reputation in the market. Sustainability initiatives help protect and enhance your brand. By walking your talk, you protect your brand from being tarnished. Further, a visible commitment to reducing your negative environmental and social impacts and enhancing your positive impacts can help foster strong relationships with your customers, your employees and your community. Many businesses refer to this as "social license to operate."

The good news for resource-strapped small businesses is that it doesn't take fancy marketing campaigns to broadcast your reputation. When surveyed, customers say that their decision to buy is mainly influenced by a product/company's reputation (21%), word of mouth (19%) and brand loyalty (15%). Dollars spent on green advertising impacts their decisions only 9%.Footnote 7

Maintain and Improve Your Market Share

As large organizations green their supply chains, the small businesses that supply them are affected by increasingly stringent environmental and social requirements. Innovative small businesses will maintain if not gain market share and stay ahead of competitors. For instance, global giant Walmart is pushing many of its suppliers to green their operations, working to reduce waste from product packaging and reduce carbon emissions from production of products.Footnote 8

Your business'sustainability strategy can help you stay ahead of competitors, create a market differentiator, and gain access to new markets. In the refillable water bottle market in 2008 for instance, consumer concerns about the potential dangers of bisphenol-A (BPA) created a market opportunity for a small upstart called Klean Kanteen, positioning them as the safer alternative to BPA containing Nalgene bottles.Footnote 9

Reduce Your Risk

By reducing your negative environmental and social impacts, your business can reduce the risks associated with volatile energy and commodity prices, and rising insurance premiums. Environmental initiatives help your business hedge against rising natural resource (water, energy, wood, minerals) costs by reducing demand. In some instances you can switch to alternative and renewable sources. By eliminating hazardous materials, you can reduce the risk and costs associated with spills and injuries.

Businesses who demonstrate they are proactively managing their sustainability impacts are more likely to reduce their insurance bill as they are perceived by insurance companies as having a lower risk profile. Companies that are effective managers of their social and environmental performance are better managed companies overall and likelier to have fewer insurance claims and pay lower insurance premiums.

Improve Your Access to Bank Financing

Businesses that are managing their sustainability impacts are more able to access credit. Perceived as capable managers because of their integrated approach to managing their financial, social and environmental risks and performance, sustainability-oriented companies are increasingly perceived as better investments by financial institutions.  Some Canadian banks, including HSBC and Vancity, have begun scrutinizing the environmental and human rights track records of potential loan recipients as part of the loan assessment process.

Find Further Resources

Social Sustainability

Businesses large and small can contribute to social sustainability—to improving local and global social conditions of workers, their families, communities and society at large. There are many social challenges which are barriers to advancing sustainable development, including poverty, unemployment and social exclusion and the social problems related to safety, inequity, health and working circumstances. Businesses can play a role to address these issues by fostering worker and community well-being, generating many intrinsic and financial benefits as a result.

The obvious social role of business is job creation, wherein business can directly reduce poverty and promote economic and social development through the jobs they create. However, global consensus is emerging that businesses have a greater social remit than creating jobs and paying taxes. Increasingly they are expected to take social considerations into account in how they conduct their daily business and use their sphere of influence in fulfillment of their overall "social responsibility". Many businesses have always taken this approach to business; for some businesses thinking strategically and holistically about their social responsibility is a new endeavour. The result is that more and more firms are incorporating a social lens on their day-to-day activities (their direct impacts), and considering social factors in how they affect those with whom they have a relationship (their indirect impacts).

There are two international resources for businesses seeking to scope out their role in advancing social well-being internally and through their relationships:  ISO 26000, which is a set of voluntary guidelines on social responsibility for organizations, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are 8 goals adopted by the international community at the Millennium Summit in 2000 committing nations to a global partnership to reduce extreme poverty. The MDGs focus on poverty and hunger, primary education, gender equality, and child mortality, among other priorities. You can go to the Millennium Project for more information on the MDGs.

Businesses can use these guidelines and tailor them to the local context, or they can use a "stakeholder approach" to identify their greatest social impacts and opportunities. In a stakeholder approach, the business can consult with internal stakeholders (employees) or external stakeholders (customers, community members, suppliers, local government and others) to determine their top priorities.

This section of the roadmap will focus on three aspects of social sustainability relevant to most small firms:  employee relations, community relations and customer relations. (More information on stakeholder engagement is available under customer relations.)

Employee Relations

Job quality should be a key objective of any employer. Happy employees create happy customers which produce business results. Employees want fair, respectful, healthy and democratic workplaces that value their participation. The key determinants of job quality include:  the pace of work and work stress; opportunities for input; job security; work-life balance; workplace relationships; individual development and physical working conditions.Footnote 10Employees also look for excellent employee benefits, competitive salaries, flexible schedules, and a focus on placing employee's personal well-being front and centre. The following sections will profile different aspects of these employee priorities, including workplace practices; training; safety, health and wellness; work-life balance; diversity; and living wages.

Workplace Practices

Workplace practices are the procedures and practices affecting how work gets performed in your organization. They include recruitment and promotion, discipline and grievance, termination, compensation, and practices that affect working conditions, such as employee participation. (They also include training, health and safety and working time, which are discussed below.) While governments have the primary responsibility for ensuring fair treatment, businesses that seek to be good employers will go further than required by legislation to foster a quality working environment.

A starting point could be an employee survey to determine employee job satisfaction and areas of strength and weakness. Or it could be a staff retreat, where the staff are engaged in identifying job-related issues that could improve their work experience. Talking to other employers to find out what works for them can also be worthwhile.

At a minimum you'll want to ensure you are providing decent wages and hours of work and medical and dental benefits if you can. Listening to and involving staff in your business direction can benefit your business both through the goodwill generated and the opportunity to capitalize on their ideas to grow the business. As the eyes and ears for your business, they can bring new and important perspectives critical to your firm's success. And in the event of significant operational changes, employees will expect timely consultation to minimize the adverse impacts on themselves and their families. "Best employers" often have the following practicesFootnote 11:

  • senior leaders maintain visibility with employees, helping to build trust
  • regular communication with employees about the company's direction, strategy and progress and the employees' role
  • promote a culture of participation, encouraging employees to provide input and help solve problems
  • celebrate achievements
  • hire within and conduct regular performance reviews
  • support work-life balance

Work-Life Balance

Ten years ago, the number one work priority of Canadians was career advancement; today it is work-life balance: nearly 40% of working women and men say they would leave a job for work-life balance reasonsFootnote 12. With this reality, flexible work practices can be a key source of competitive advantage for recruiting companies. Work-life balance includes combining paid work and family care, but goes beyond it to include support for a variety of non-work roles, including education, culture, recreation and volunteering. Small businesses have an advantage here in that employers can negotiate informal arrangements on an individual basis, by-passing the bureaucracy often associated with large formal programs.

Practices that support work-life balance include:

  • flexible work schedules (flextime / telecommuting)
  • ability to work from home (flexplace)
  • bankable hours for time off
  • time off for personal issues
  • reduced work load
  • voluntary reduced work time, e.g. part time work
  • flexibility in scheduling vacation
  • compressed workweek
  • job-sharing
  • leaves of absence
  • child care and elder care support e.g. sick child care options, on-site or near-site daycare programs
  • maternity, paternity, and adoption leave

Successful work-life programs depend on the example set by top managers and corporate culture. Employers committed to supporting their employees to achieve a healthy balance between work and other pursuits need to demonstrate a personal commitment to this goal and not foster a round-the-clock work culture.

Safety, Health and Wellness

An estimated $12 billion dollars is lost to workplace absenteeism each year, according to Statistics Canada, with companies spending 5.6% of their payroll on absenteeismFootnote 13. Consider that the average direct cost of employee absenteeism in 2000 was $3,550 per employee per yearFootnote 14 and you can see how the costs can quickly start to add up, having a big impact on your bottom line. Indeed, records show that companies with fewer than 20 employees lose an average of 6.2 days per employee; those with 20 – 99 employees lose an average of 7.3 days, with the numbers of lost days increasing with the number of employeesFootnote 15.

Small businesses may have goals to improve the safety, health and wellness of employees for these bottom line reasons, or for social responsibility reasons, or some combination. Some companies even see workplace wellness as a business strategy, because of the connection between health and improved employee satisfaction. Regardless of the business motivation, healthy workplace efforts typically start with a focus on worksite safety and injury prevention for workers and evolve to include programs that help employees choose healthy behaviours such as quitting smoking, healthy eating or getting physically active.

Your goal could be to promote the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of your employees and the protection from risks to health caused by working conditions. Some of today's major workplace health issues include stress, smoking, the inability to balance work and family, and feelings of loss of control over workplace schedules and environmentsFootnote 16. Health and safety concerns can arise over dangerous equipment, processes and substances. To help ensure a safe, productive workplace, businesses can adopt a safety, health and wellness policy, conduct inspections to ensure hazards are eliminated and controlled, train employees on workplace hazards and applicable health and safety regulations, and hold regular meetings to identify unsafe conditions and implement solutions. It is important to ensure employees are interested and involved. A positive health and safety culture can help you to attract and keep your employees, reduce the health care costs associated with disability, drugs and absenteeism, and improve morale.

To encourage active lifestyles, modest investments can help employees make active choices. Bike racks, showers, health and wellness newsletters, lunchtime walking programs, team sports, healthier alternatives (e.g., fruit and bagels) at business meetings, and cafeterias and vending machines that offer healthy options are just some of the simple measures that go a long way to encourage fitness and healthy lifestyles amongst employees.

Promoting health in the workplace needn't be complicated or expensive.   Success depends on management commitment, employee engagement, adequate resources and a healthy workplace policy that sets the tone and direction. As a result you will have healthier, more productive employees, and may replicate returns on your investment of two to eight times the amount invested realized by other businessesFootnote 17.


A number of trends are driving businesses to actively consider employee diversity as a strategic business advantage, such as:  the need to remain competitive, demographic shifts and labour shortages, immigration and globalization. Diversity goes well beyond employment equity legislation, quotas and targets which characterized the discussion of equal employment and affirmative action of the last few decades. Today's approach to diversity is about inclusive organizations that value differences, rather than simply tolerating them.

Companies that recruit for, and manage, diversity can tap into innovative business and marketing opportunities that come with diverse perspectives, and can better understand the needs and requirements of their changing customer base. Including people from all communities regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or belief can be a source of competitive advantage. Think of it this way:  diverse staff are the point of contact between the business and the customer; they contribute to product and service design decisions; and they participate in business strategy where market and entry strategy decisions are made. Employees from different backgrounds and groups can help you better understand and serve your customers.

There are two stages to developing a diverse workforce:  the first step involves adapting your hiring practices to achieve greater diversity; the second is to manage the diversity to leverage the benefits to your employees and your firm. If poorly managed, diversity can be a source of frustration, anger and even fear for employees, fostering an unhealthy workplace and limiting the benefits and opportunities that are possible.

Effective diversity management requires a commitment from company leaders, along with policies, training, supports, and an action plan, much as any other area of business strategy. Complaints need to be investigated quickly and confidentially and all employees need to be held accountable for their behaviour. This can help to promote a respectful workplace that values differences.

Businesses that hold managers accountable and measure results achieve the most from their diversity commitments. Bringing people of diverse backgrounds and interests together in ways that maximize fair and equal treatment and opportunity can bring out everyone's best for the full benefit of the firm and staff, and ultimately your customers.


Ongoing and on-the-job training can help employees succeed in their current job and position them for future responsibilities within the firm. Investments in employee training and development can help to build the firm's overall capacity enabling it to achieve its business goals. A higher skilled organization can result in greater employee satisfaction, fostering employee loyalty, and generating business benefits for the firm.

Training can be used to orient new hires, help employees adapt to new technologies or work processes, address performance challenges, or to support employees in adjusting to new responsibilities within the business.

Training options include apprenticeships and vocational training, paid educational leave, tuition reimbursement, and broad-based lifelong learning programs. There are many ways to deliver training, including classroom training, e-training via webinars, mentoring, coaching, and support for professional certifications and licensing.

Living Wage

Paying decent wages is a prime social responsibility of any business. In Canada there is a growing awareness that minimum wages (the legal minimum employers must pay) are often unable to keep families, especially single parent families, out of poverty. Many low-waged employees rely on government subsidies and food banks to ensure their children are properly fed and clothed and able to fully participate in school activities.

With one of the most acute labour shortages in the industrialized world, Canada's employers are facing recruitment challenges. Labour shortages are a big barrier to workplace productivity, ahead of tax and regulatory burden and rising costs, according to one studyFootnote 18. Thus, wage levels are predicted to have increasingly important productivity implications for small businesses. By offering wages above the minimum, an organization can better attract employees, reduce turnover and absenteeism, and build the firm's community reputation.    KPMG in London found that turnover rates were cut in half after it implemented a living wage policy for all direct and contract staff in 2006Footnote 19.

Employers can demonstrate their social responsibility, while also improving employee relations, by paying a wage that matches the cost of living, in other words, a "living wage". A living wage is the wage employees with families need to earn based on the actual costs of living in their communityFootnote 20. It is the hourly rate of pay that enables the wage earners living in a household to feed, clothe and provide shelter for their family, promote healthy child development, participate in activities that are an ordinary element of life in a community and avoid the chronic stress of living in povertyFootnote 21. In Metro Vancouver in 2008 this amounted to $16.74 per hour, based on a two-parent family with young childrenFootnote 22.

Businesses able to pay a living wage are helping to reduce child poverty and poor educational attainment and reduce the likelihood of future job insecurity, under-employment and poor health. In addition to supporting healthy child development, living wages can promote gender equality and reduce severe financial stress faced by families.


Workplace Practices

Consider surveying your employees (anonymously) to assess their job satisfaction and identify areas of concern. Then develop an action plan to close the gaps. Consult with employees on ways to improve their working conditions, for example, include this as a regular agenda item in your weekly or monthly business meetings with employees. Create a safe environment for staff to raise their concerns. Formal employee suggestion programs (e.g., suggestion box) can be used to learn of the challenges your employees face and what to do about them. Leverage all your communication channels, such as staff meetings, emails from the CEO, newsletters, and memos to make sure your employees know how the company is doing and their role in achieving your business goals.

Work-life Balance

To start a work-life balance program, assess employee needs and start modestly. What are the priorities? Compressed work weeks, flexible working hours, part-time work or job-sharing? Pilot the changes and after a trial period, survey opinions of the employee, co-workers, customers, suppliers and others who were impacted by the initiative. Identify any problems and adjust the program accordingly. Write up and post your commitment to work-life balance, letting staff know of your support. Do what you can to personally role model a healthy balance between work and other life pursuits to build the ethic into the work culture.

Safety, Health and Wellness

The first step to a healthy and safe workplace is communicating the commitment of the company's leadership to employees. This can be done by creating and distributing a policy to staff. Involve employees in the development of the policy and in brainstorming initiatives to implement the policy. A staff committee can help engage employees and identify further ways to make improvements. To get ideas, survey employee needs through a questionnaire, online "quick polls" or a focus group meeting.

Other measures include regular checks that your business is in compliance with health and safety regulations; making safety, health and wellness a regular agenda item at management and staff meetings; and ongoing health, safety and wellness communications via staff newsletters. While the long-term goal may be to have a comprehensive workplace wellness and safety program, you can begin with a simple, basic educational program such as "lunch and learns". Whatever you do, make sure that senior management demonstrates its commitment to employee health.


As with most employee relations practices, the first step to promoting, implementing and managing diversity is to establish and communicate your approach. In order to increase employee diversity, you will need to revisit your hiring and workplace practices to see what measures would encourage greater diversity.   For example, you could make changes to how you advertise vacancies to reach other groups. Advertising in ethnic media, establishing relationships with ethno-cultural or disability organizations, and ensuring that recruitment materials reflect your diversity values in illustrations and language are some possible steps.   Ask your current staff, they may have ideas about how to approach this.

You could consider how to reorganize or adapt tasks or physical arrangements in order to hire employees with disabilities.   If you suspect that diversity barriers arise from attitudes at the worksite, you might want to investigate training or other resources to help overcome attitudinal issues. If employing people of a different sex, ethnicity, physical ability or other diversity characteristic, sensitivity training may be necessary to ensure employees understand the behaviours and communication style expected of them.

Having a respectful workplace policy may be important to communicate the company values on this issue. Ensure you follow-up all complaints of disrespect or harassment and that management and employees are held responsible for their behaviour.

To foster retention of diverse employees a business may wish to adopt flexible scheduling to accommodate health appointments, religious practices and child care, for example. Fostering support groups may be key to encouraging diverse employees, including support networks and websites for sharing knowledge on resources and workplace rights, discussion, and information sharing.


Good, cost-effective training programs usually start with a survey or workforce assessment to identify key training priorities, and research into available local or online training resources. Many firms collaborate with local colleges and technical schools to create programs tailored to their business priorities. Train-the-trainer can be an economical solution, in which you send a small group of employees for training and they in turn train the rest of your staff.

It is ideal if employees can have access to time-off for training, or even better, paid time off to attend training. Tuition reimbursement programs are a benefit much appreciated by employees and can be the means by which you build staff loyalty and retention.

Business Benefits

There are many business benefits of healthy employee relations. They include:

  • Increased employee satisfaction, resulting in lower turnover, improved ability to cope with change, increased productivity, significant savings and knowledge retention
  • Better name recognition, improved reputation and larger talent pool, resulting in reduced recruitment costs and more unsolicited applications
  • Reduced absenteeism, injuries, accidents, disability and compensation costs, healthcare and life insurance costs, temporary employee training costs, property damage costs, fines and insurance premiums
  • Increased staff skills and competencies.

Employers who treat their employees well can outperform their peers in customer satisfaction, revenue growth and overall profitability.


Workplace Practices

What Makes a Best Employer? Insights and Findings from Hewitt's Global Best Employers Study. (PDF - 1.20 MB - 28 pages)

Canada’ Healthy Workplace Month  provides best practices and resources to support healthy workplaces

Trade unions can offer information and guidance on healthy workplaces. The umbrella organization for Canada's national unions is the Canadian Labour Congress.

Many chambers of commerce and boards of trade offer programs and advice for small businesses. Contact your local organization.

Safety, Health and Wellness

"Health and Safety" is a Government of Canada website resource for employers and employees to help prevent work-related accidents and diseases

A Government of Canada website resource on "Active Living at Work"

A list of workplace health promotion resources


A Canadian online diversity publication

What About Disability?  A 'Need to Know' Guide for Small Business


Contact your local community college or technical institute.

Living Wage

A research paper that provides an overview of "A Living Wage for Families" (PDF - 2.85 MB - 52 pages)

A "living wage for families" resource website.

Community Relations


A key priority for a socially responsible business is to develop and maintain strong and mutually beneficial relationships with its community. Businesses that take an active interest in community well-being can generate community support, loyalty and good will. This is often referred to as building your "social license to operate", an important business objective for any business.

Businesses engaging in community relations or community involvement typically conduct outreach to the community aiming to prevent or solve problems, foster social partnerships, and generally contribute to the community quality of life. They also participate in community relations to help improve their business by getting valuable community and other stakeholder input.

Businesses have relationships in their local communities, sharing common interests. As such, it is valuable to spend some time considering how to leverage your relationships on mutually beneficial initiatives. It is possible to enhance business performance, profitability and your reputation through your community involvement efforts.

Your community relations priorities will depend on the local circumstances and your business strategy, competencies and assets. You will want to consult others, including your employees and representative community groups, to help you determine where to invest time and resources in your community relations program.

A few key areas which any business might wish to consider include the following activities:

  • Accessibility
  • Social Hiring
  • Stakeholder Engagement

A fourth area, community giving, volunteering and partnering is considered in a separate section.


An important community involvement objective is to ensure your premises, products and services, and communications are free of barriers, enabling all people to use them independently, regardless of one's ability, gender, age, ethnic background, etc. Businesses can show their commitment to inclusion by welcoming everyone so that all community members feel included and a sense of belonging. It means that everyone can actively participate in community life and can be recognized as having something to contribute. This is an important consideration, especially, for people with disabilities, the focus of this section.

People are deemed to have a disability if they have "difficulties with daily living activities, or [if] a physical or mental condition or health problem reduces the kind or amount of activities they can do"Footnote 23. It can include being deaf or hard of hearing, blind or low vision, having speech impairments, mobility impairments such as difficulties walking long distances or standing for long periods, agility (reaching or bending) difficulties, psychiatric disabilities, and intellectual and learning disabilitiesFootnote 24.

With an aging population, disabilities are expected to increase amongst employees and customers. Businesses should ensure that all those they employ or serve are treated equally. With one in seven Canadians having a disability (14.3% of the general population and 43.2% among adults over 65Footnote 25) this makes good business sense.

(The topic of workplace diversity is covered in detail under Employee Relations and Social Hiring. This section focuses on customers and community members, though most measures to promote accessibility and inclusion for consumers and community members will benefit employees with disabilities as well.)

You will want to ensure your business is physically accessible, which will benefit others including parents with children's strollers. Barrier-free access involves going beyond minimum building code requirements to minimize barriers and ensure meaningful access. Features such as low counters, accessible washroom facilities, slip resistant floors, visual fire alarms, high contrast signage and Braille, large print and tactile lettering are some of the routes to making your premises accessible.

Accessibility implies also looking at the usability of your products and services. "Universal design principles" refers to a design approach to products and environments to make them usable and effective for everyone (universal). Products which follow universal design principles are equitable and flexible in use, simple and intuitive, and require low physical effortFootnote 26. A number of product and service "accessibility" innovations that we take for granted these days include low floor buses equipped with ramps, wide interior doors and hallways, closed captioning television, etc. Try to incorporate this notion of universality into your day to day operations to create a safe and more inclusive environment and product or service array. Anticipate the needs of your disabled customers and make adjustments to make it possible for them to use your products and services.

The way you communicate with your customers can also improve the customer experience for those with disabilities and others. Respectful communications include speaking directly to the person and not their attendant; use of language which puts the person before the disability (e.g., not a "wheelchair user", but a "person who uses a wheelchair"), and asking before helping. Web communications should follow Web Accessibility Initiative Guidelines, the international standard for web accessibility.

Some businesses seek to become "disability confident", by advancing social inclusion for people with disabilities. The UK Employers' Forum on Disability promotes this concept to leading businesses as a company which:

  • Understands how disability affects all aspects of their business—people, markets, competitors, suppliers, communities and key stakeholders
  • Creates a culture of inclusion and removes barriers for groups of people
  • Makes adjustments which enable specific individuals to contribute as employees, customers and partners.Footnote 27

Given technology advances and population demographics, people with disabilities are living longer and becoming a greater presence in the marketplace. Companies which can capitalize on this trend by making their premises, products and communications more accessible will be able to secure future market opportunities and grow their business.

Social Hiring

Companies seeking to make a direct and meaningful contribution to poverty reduction and economic and social inclusion may be interested in opportunities to hire people who face labour market barriers because of a physical, mental or developmental disability, mis-matched skills, lack of work experience or skills, long-term unemployment, lack of credential recognition, age, culture or language, etc. People with such employment barriers—something that prevents or creates a problem with getting employment—have often been out of the workforce for a number of years and / or struggle with various issues preventing labour market attachment.

"Social hiring" is a commitment on the part of an employer to proactively recruit employees with employment needs. There are many routes to finding quality candidates for consideration. You might prefer to go through a government-funded employment service agency, directories of which are listed in the Resource Section below. These programs, which are found across Canada, can assist employers with recruitment, pre-screening and sometimes follow-up services, often helping to reduce recruitment costs. Alternatively, a small business could target specific disadvantaged groups, such as youth, new immigrants, or people with disabilities, and locate the local or provincial resource agency which can provide the necessary hands-on support. Sometimes the employment organization can help the business access government wage subsidy or other incentive programs, to offset some of the costs and create greater value-added for the firm. In this case, the expectation would be that the subsidy would lead to a permanent position with the employer, once the subsidy ended.

Many Ontario-based Active Green & Ross' locations, a tire and auto repair franchise, hire entry-level employees through non-profit employment agencies which place people who have experienced and overcome employment barriers. For example, about one third of the employees in the two locations in Barrie, Ontario, have been referred through a "Job Connect" non-profit employment program. The small business owner has found this approach to be more effective since employees are pre-screened before they are referred, are often provided with training and skill development before they are placed, and can access supports to help them retain their jobs. Taken together, these elements have led to more successful placements and improved retention for the business.

BC-based Key Food Equipment Services, a repairer of commercial food equipment in western Canada, needed someone in their head office to complete important tasks that "fell between the cracks".  They recruited a person with a developmental disability from a non-profit employment service initially as part of a paid work experience program.  He started filing customer invoices in the office and bagging and tagging parts in the warehouse.  He proved to be a very capable worker and was subsequently hired on as a permanent employee with increased hours and duties.  He now performs a daily cyclical parts inventory count and stocks and picks parts.

Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement is the process of listening and talking to your stakeholders—typically employees, customers and community members—about their issues, concerns and needs, and also the business' important directions and significant decisions. This will help to better meet their needs and help you to develop more robust and lasting business outcomes. More and more businesses are realizing it is important to listen to their key audiences to determine market opportunities, manage risks and help innovate their products and services. In addition to the every-day stakeholders of employees, customers, and community, stakeholders can include other groups you deal with as a business such as suppliers, governments, regulators, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), investors, industry associations, media, indigenous people, and others. Basically, stakeholders are those who have a direct or indirect stake in your organization and its decisions and activities.

Stakeholder engagement can help you improve communication, facilitate buy-in on projects, generate community support, and tap into additional information, data and ideas. Listening to your stakeholders' concerns and desires can help you to take into account their different priorities and perspectives. It can secure your "social license to operate".

Stakeholder engagement works when the business genuinely seeks input; it does not work if the process is used to issue-manage or influence groups.

As an example of community engagement and consultation, when developing its corporate social responsibility strategy in 2008, Assiniboine Credit Union in Winnipeg, Manitoba, asked seven well-networked community and business leaders to each prepare a short written briefing on the top three issues facing the community and the leadership role the credit union could play in their resolution. Based on an analysis of these reports, poverty, climate change and skills / labour shortages were identified as the top social, environmental and economic issues to be addressed and a number of leadership opportunities were identified for the credit union. This informed the focus of Assiniboine's CSR strategy. To recognize their contribution, the credit union donated $1,000 to each organization or another non-profit of their choice.



The first step to advancing accessibility and social inclusion is to adopt a mindset that everyone, regardless of whether or not they have a disability, should be treated equally and according to their needs. With this perspective, involve people with disabilities, their families and friends, in determining your approach whenever you can. Ask your customers for their view. Contact local disability and access groups for their advice. Technical institutes or university departments may be able to help you with the market research and product development required to adapt your current suite of products to those with physical disabilities.

As you make your products, services, premises and communications more accessible to people with disabilities it will be important to accompany these measures with disability awareness training for your staff to engender comfortable interactions. Remember to ask if and how to help and tailor your actions to the response.

People with disabilities and their support communities have high expectations of how they seek to be included in community life. It is important for a socially responsible business to view people with disabilities as potential customers and employees; not as charitable causes.

Social Hiring

Social hiring is a means by which a firm can leverage a traditional business function (employment) to achieve social goals. Small or large firms have the opportunity of hiring people who have employment needs. The first step is to identify a suitable position, which might require some task or workplace accommodation, then to research the appropriate community or provincial organization to help you with a job-match. If your priority is to hire youth with employment barriers, you may wish to contact youth agencies; if your priority is people with disabilities or new immigrants you may wish to contact those organizations. The Resources section below lists the provincial government-funded non-profit employment services which can also help you in your recruitment efforts.

Stakeholder Engagement

When beginning to consult and engage your key stakeholders on a new business initiative, or simply to get their feedback, concerns and ideas, you may first wish to "map" out the stakeholders that are directly and indirectly positively or negatively impacted by your business or your business decision. Brainstorm all those you think my have an interest in your decisions and activities. Think also of stakeholders that might represent environmental concerns or the views of "future generations".

Clearly define the "scope" of the consultation and engagement to help frame the discussion. You may wish to hold meetings or focus groups, conduct interviews, establish advisory committees, or set up an interactive website or feedback email to engage your stakeholders in dialogue on your sustainability performance, or decisions you need to make.

After the engagement process, provide a summary of the consultation to participants, and to the public if possible, listing the feedback received and reporting on how the results of the engagement are being actioned. This accountability will demonstrate to your stakeholders that you valued their time and input and show how their participation influenced your decisions.

Business Benefits

Builds Social License to Operate

Your community relations can help improve your business reputation and public image with the community and other stakeholders. This can be key for your continued operation, an expansion, increased sales, securing regulatory support, etc. Also, it can help build profile and trust with your stakeholders, fostering loyalty and support in both the good and bad times.

Employee Recruitment, Retention and Morale

Businesses that have strong community goodwill are better able to attract and retain employees. Employees prefer to work for businesses that make a difference in the community and happier employees are usually more motivated, engaged and productive.

Companies that hire people facing employment barriers can realize business benefits from their decisions. For example, studies have shown that people with disabilities can be as productive and reliable as any employee, while having better attendance records and fewer accidents than their colleaguesFootnote 28. Other research reveals that when a business is seen to be a good employer of people with disabilities and one which welcomes customers, enhanced staff morale, team development and reputation can resultFootnote 29.

Innovation and New Markets

Businesses which are in touch with their community and other stakeholders are able to capitalize on new market trends and innovation opportunities. Through networking and other community contacts, businesses are likely to generate new business ideas, sales leads, and partnering opportunities.

One estimate of the purchasing power of people with disabilities and their families comes in at $25 billion annuallyFootnote 30. People with disabilities and their immediate families, including mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and husbands, represent about 53% of the Canadian populationFootnote 31. Businesses that become "disability confident" in hiring and serving people with disabilities can speed their innovation and broaden their customer base.

Businesses that hire people from immigrant communities can tap into their international networks, skills, communities and languages, giving the firm a local and global competitive advantage.



"The Disability Communication Guide", by the Employers' Forum on Disability

Stakeholder Engagement

"What About Disability" is a guidebook by the Employers' Forum on Disability.

Employment Service Agency Directories:

Stakeholder Engagement

Industry Canada's CSR website provides information on developing a stakeholder engagement program.

Customer Relations


Customers are the lifeblood of every business, including both retail and business-to-business customers. Whether or not you think of customer satisfaction as a social responsibility issue, every business owner will think of it as a profitability issue! Time and resources put into understanding the customer perspective is always a good investment. Strong and effective customer relations can be the direct route to long term success.

Customer Engagement

Listening to, and engaging, your customers are the first steps to building good customer relations. As a starting point, many businesses measure their customers' satisfaction to determine their expectations and assess their experience, including such factors as service, price, quality, value, product or service experience, and broader social responsibility matters in order to improve their customer relations, foster goodwill and inform continuous improvement of the customer experience. Another good practice is to provide mechanisms for customer feedback via comment cards or a dedicated email address ( By effectively listening to your customers and acting upon their feedback you will get insight into customer needs and build customer loyalty. Engaged and satisfied customers are more likely to give you repeat business and recommend you to others.

Customer Trust

Customer trust is a critical success factor for any business. Research conducted by Edelman, a global public relations firm, shows that "trust and transparency are as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services"Footnote 32. Building customer trust in your company and your products and services is the key route to building a successful business. Much of this trust centers on interactions with employees. Strong customer-employee relationships can build customer confidence. Companies can further nurture trust by seeking and acting on customer feedback to improve the company's value proposition.

It bears considering general guidelines and standards which have been established for good consumer relations. For the retail customer, the UN has adopted a set of "Guidelines for Consumer Protection", including:

  • Protect consumers from hazards to their health and safety
  • Promote and protect the economic interests of consumers
  • Access to information to enable informed choices
  • Provide consumer education, including education on the environmental, social and economic impacts of consumer choice
  • Make available effective consumer redress and
  • Promote sustainable consumption.Footnote 33

These guidelines are one means by which a company can build customer loyalty and trust. The Canadian Better Business Bureau promotes the following "Standard for Trust"Footnote 34 to the Canadian business community:

  • Build Trust: Establish and maintain a positive track record in the marketplace.
  • Advertise Honestly: Adhere to established standards of advertising and selling.
  • Tell the Truth: Honestly represent products and services, including clear and adequate disclosures of all material terms.
  • Be Transparent: Openly identify the nature, location, and ownership of the business, and clearly disclose all policies, guarantees and procedures that bear on a customer's decision to buy.
  • Honor Promises: Abide by all written agreements and verbal representations.
  • Be Responsive: Address marketplace disputes quickly, professionally, and in good faith.
  • Safeguard Privacy: Protect any data collected against mishandling and fraud, collect personal information only as needed, and respect the preferences of consumers regarding the use of their information.
  • Embody Integrity: Approach all business dealings, marketplace transactions and commitments with integrity.

Adhering to these standards of behaviour can help position a small business to build customer trust and loyalty, thereby cultivating repeat business and word of mouth referrals. Some important additional social customer relations priorities for small business include:

  • Health and Safety of Products
  • Vulnerable and Low Income Customers
  • Sustainable Product Design

Sustainable Product Design is also addressed in the Product Development section.

Health and Safety of Products

A key consumer issue is the quality and safety of products. Customers need clear instructions for safe product use, including assembly and maintenance. To avoid customer harm and danger, anticipate potential risks of your product and services in the design stage and throughout the product life cycle, from R&D, to manufacturing, storage and distribution, use and disposal, reuse and recycling. Whether or not legal safety regulations exist, products should be safe for their intended use and if misused in a way that can be foreseenFootnote 35.

Vulnerable and Low Income Customers

An important social responsibility factor for business is the affordability of their products and services to low and fixed income customers. Leading companies address this issue, some for strategic business purposes, considering low income consumers as "emerging markets". Others take a social justice approach to ensuring their products and services are affordable from a philosophy of "social inclusion". Different approaches to affordability include tailoring or discounting products for those with unique needs and branching into excluded communities, such as inner city or remote communities.

Further, vulnerable consumers may have special needs because they may not know their rights and may be unaware of, or unable to assess, potential risks associated with the products and services. They may not be able to make balanced judgments when subjected to marketing or direct sales callsFootnote 36.

To better understand their low income customers, BC Hydro established a Low Income Advisory Group of representatives from 14 social service agencies that provide services to BC's most vulnerable low-income groups including the working poor, refugees, new immigrants, seniors, people with disabilities, and Aboriginal people. The group's mandate is to advise on programs and partnerships that will help low-income households with their specific energy needs and conservation goals. Recognizing that people on low incomes live with little or no financial safety net and thus are more vulnerable to the impacts of changes in the economy and to service and rate changes, BC Hydro considers the barriers of access, mobility, culture and language when implementing changes and new programs.Footnote 37

Sustainable Product Design

In the product innovation cycle, businesses have the opportunity to consider how to adapt or design their products and services so that their use directly contributes to social sustainability. Affordable and accessible products and services promote social inclusion; contributing donations to a community group for each item sold advances the charitable cause; and selling fair-traded goods supports third world producer incomes and family educations, as three examples of social benefits from product and service use. Customers are very responsive to social cause products; such initiatives can help a business build and sustain market share. Additionally, many of the customers for whom the product is adapted or designed become prospective new "markets" for the small business.

For example, in considering how to adapt its products for people with disabilities, Bell consulted with BC community groups on how to make its technology more accessible. As a result, handsets have been modified to reach a broader market, including people with disabilities, supporting their participation in every day life. As a result of this consultation Bell identified a project with the BC Institute of Technology in which Bell is providing funding over 3 years for an applied research project to create user interfaces that are more appropriate to a disabled market segment. Bell sees this as an opportunity to both build its social responsibility while also building market share.


Customer Satisfaction

Conduct a customer satisfaction survey of your company, your products and services, and their service experience. Ask your customers face-to-face, as they are about to walk out of your store or office ("what is one thing we could have done to improve your experience with us?"); call them on the phone after their visit; mail or email them a questionnaire; include questions in a client newsletter; provide a feedback from at point of sale or post-sale.

You could include questions such as how satisfied are you with the purchase, the service and our company; how likely are you to buy from us in the future; how likely are you to recommend our products or services / company; how could we have served you better. Also ask what they didn't like about the company, the experience and the products / services. It is very valuable and helps build further loyalty, if you compile the results, take action and let your customers know how their feedback directly shaped changes in the business.

You may also wish to develop a "Customer Satisfaction Code of Conduct" to communicate your customer commitment. The International Standards Organization has developed guidelines for the development of such a code, which can help you decrease the likelihood of problems arising and can eliminate the causes of many complaints and disputes. See Resources for details.

Customer Trust

To build customer trust, you may wish to form a "trust team"Footnote 38, a cross-functional team of employees that gets together to brainstorm answers to these questions:

  • Where are our best trust-building opportunities?
  • How can we capitalize on them?
  • What are our biggest threats to losing trust?
  • What safeguards can be implanted to protect against this potential loss?
  • And for lost customers, what specific actions can immediately be taken to start the process of rebuilding trust?

Going through this process for each stage of the customer relationship can help you identify the trust building opportunities in your company you can tap into. Create a plan from the best ideas and put it in action.

Vulnerable and Low Income Customers

Conduct research to find out the barriers low income, low literate and geographically isolated customers face in using your product or service. Contact local social service agencies to determine some of the key issues. Set up an advisory group or round table to consult community groups and people on low incomes on ways and means your products and services can be made more accessible to low income households.

Business Benefits

Brand and Reputation

Customer attraction and retention is key to building market share. Engaged and loyal customers can help position your business for growth and profitability: "it is generally accepted that it costs five to 11 times as much to recruit a new customer as to retain an existing one; a satisfied customer tells three or four people while an angry customer passes the bad news on to ten people"Footnote 39.


Customer-centred businesses are likely to uncover product innovation ideas from customer suggestions and feedback. Taking the needs of low income and vulnerable customers into account can generate product improvements which could benefit other customers as well. Designing for affordability, accessibility and social value creation can result in a product lineup that creates competitive advantage, by tapping into new markets and building positive customer and employee relations.


International Standards Organization (ISO) has published "Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Organizations", providing guidance on developing customer satisfaction codes of conduct (ISO 10001).

ISO has published guidance on the internal handling of product-related complaints ("Guidelines for Complaints Handling in Organizations") which can help preserve customer satisfaction and loyalty by resolving complaints effectively and efficiently (ISO 10002).

ISO has published guidance on dispute resolution ("Guidelines for Dispute Resolution External to Organizations") regarding product-related complaints that could not be satisfactorily resolved internally (ISO 10003).

Business Planning and Budgeting


Businesses that commit to environmental and social responsibility—sometimes referred to as corporate social responsibility or sustainability—begin incorporating environmental and social priorities into their business decisions, including their business plans, purchases and financial investments. This approach is often referred to as the triple-bottom line (rather than a single bottom line that only looks at financial aspects), or the "blended bottom line". In so doing, the business becomes concerned with environmental and social factors, in addition to economic ones when measuring its success and planning for the future.

Firms with business plans who are following the path to become more sustainable often begin to incorporate their environmental and social objectives into their annual and long-range plans. This way they are better equipped to monitor their performance towards their "non-financial" objectives and introduce course corrections as necessary.

Since some environmental initiatives require upfront investments in order to achieve environmental goals and realize cost-savings, their costs must be incorporated into financial plans and budgets. An obvious example of this is retrofitting your premises for energy efficiency. The costs of building upgrades might not be realized for three or four years. These costs need to be budgeted for and factored into the annual budgeting process. Social initiatives, such as offering a health and extended benefits package for your employees or improving the accessibility of your facility must similarly be accounted for through your budgeting process. In many cases, the financial benefits realized through improved employee morale, increased employee retention and growth in market share might only be realized over the longer term, and often in very intangible ways, making it difficult to quantify.

Firms that incorporate social and environmental factors in their business cases and financial analyses, often incorporate extended timelines in payback cycles, consider supply chain implications, look at end of life or lifecycle issues, and consider additional stakeholder interests. By applying this wider lens to decision-making, businesses are able to take into account hidden costs and unrealized opportunities in their business, investment and purchasing plans. For instance, comparing the costs of using a toxic product with a greener alternative is not a simple purchase price comparison, but rather must include other hidden costs like worker health and safety, product handling/storage and regulatory issues.


Incorporate Social and Environmental Objectives into Business Plans and Budgets

An important success factor in environmental management is to ensure that environmental programs and initiatives are integrated into regular planning and budgeting cycles and business cases, rather than considered as side projects. When sustainability aspects of the business are managed in this way they become a second bottom line to report on, plan and resource.

Once you have identified your top environmental and social initiatives, you need to identify the resources you will require in time and money to carry them out. Some organizations find the cost-savings they generate from simple environmental measures (such as reductions in paper consumption, energy savings from energy efficiency measures or facility improvements that reduce workplace accidents) can be used as a set-aside to fund other environmental initiatives. The University of BC, for example, has saved approximately $23M since 2000 as a result of avoided energy costs and they use these savings to fund their Sustainability Office which designs and implements campus-wide sustainability initiatives, many of which identify additional annual cost-savings for the university.

A further step would be to mandate your purchasing and financial staff to consider longer-term social and environmental aspects in business investments, such as capital projects. BC Hydro has done this in a process they call "Structured Decision-Making" in which they incorporate their social and environmental objectives in their business case requirements.

Use Lifecycle Costing

Lifecycle assessment or lifecycle costing is a business case process that incorporates many of the costs that are not included in traditional financial accounting. The lifecycle cost is the sum of all recurring and one-time (non-recurring) costs over the full life span or a specified period of a good, service, structure, or system. It includes purchase price, installation cost, operating costs, maintenance and upgrade costs, and remaining (residual or salvage) value at the end of ownership or its useful life.

In traditional models, lifecycle costs such as health and safety, environmental impacts and other costs are often seen as external to the decision at hand and not incorporated into financial and business case analysis. For instance, a business may choose a toxic product for a cleaning application because the toxic product is cheaper than the greener option. However, if it takes the lifecycle costs into account, the business also includes the value of other related costs in the product's lifecycle such as the use or disposal aspects. In the case of the toxic cleaning product, the business might consider other hard costs such as the need for hand and eye protection to use the toxic product, employee work downtime when accidents happen, and indirect costs like the environmental harm associated with the product.

The resources below provide guidance on how you can start to implement lifecycle costing in your financial assessments.


Product Development


There is an opportunity to integrate sustainability into all aspects of the product development cycle—from concept and design to the manufacture, packaging, delivery and possible return of the product. Critical to the process of greening product development is the concept of examining a product's lifecycle. A lifecycle assessment (LCA) examines the "cradle to grave" aspects of a product—from the extraction of raw materials, through manufacturing, distribution, retailing and use to final recycling or disposal. This critical thinking at the product design and development stages offers an opportunity to reduce a product's negative impact on society and the environment in the many aspects of its life—something that would be of great value to your stakeholders, particularly your customers.

You might even wish to take the product development cycle further by thinking through how your product is best disposed of at the end of its life. Is it possible, for example, to have a product-take-back program where you set up the facilities to recycle and possibly reuse the materials from the original product sold to your customer base?  Is there another company with whom you can joint venture who can use the returned materials for another product? Teck Cominco, for example, has an e-waste process where they shred and smelt electronic waste such as TVs, monitors, computers and printers, and recover germanium, zinc, indium and lead as powder for use in their metal products. Other e-waste materials (silica and iron) are incorporated into a product which is then sold for use in Portland cement manufacturing.

As distinct from cradle to grave, “cradle to cradle” product design and development eliminates the disposal phase of a product's lifecycle by incorporating plans for reuse or recycling into product development. It eliminates product’s “end of life” by ensuring that materials formerly considered waste will either have the potential to biodegrade naturally and restore the soil, or to be fully recycled into high-quality materials to create other products.Footnote 40

Sustainable Product Design

Product design offers the opportunity to incorporate green and socially responsible attributes into a product. Referred to as Design for Sustainability (D4S), it is a process that addresses environmental and social considerations in the earliest stages of the product development process to minimize negative environmental and social impacts throughout the product's life cycle and to comply with the principles of economic, social and ecological sustainability.

Sustainable product design can encompass the selection of materials, use of resources, production requirements and planning for the final disposition (recycling, reuse, remanufacturing, or disposal) of a product. It takes into account the socio-economic circumstances of the company and the opportunity for the firm to address social problems associated with poverty, safety, inequity, health and the working environment. It is not a stand-alone methodology but one that must be integrated with a company's existing product design so that environmental and social parameters can be integrated with traditional product attributes such as quality, cost, and functionality.

When large corporations make commitments to sustainability (e.g. Walmart or GE), delivery on these commitments plays out in their supply chain, and small- and medium-sized companies must respond to their customer’s needs. Since 50-75% of costs are locked-in at the design stage, smaller companies who are at the front end of other company's product cycles need to consider sustainable product redesign. For more information, see Going for the Green in the Resources section.

Green Production

Leaner, Cleaner Production

Leaner—or "green"—production aims to address wasted resources in production to increase productivity and drive down costs. It is one aspect of the green design process. It is focused on continuous improvement, recognizing that reducing environmental impact is a circular process that begins and ends and begins again with the inquiry into how to make products of better quality, using fewer resources, and creating less or no waste in the process. According to international consulting firm Deloitte, there are six sources of waste a business should address:

  1. Over-production: Producing more products than you can sell leads to waste from the raw materials, energy and water used to make the products, and recycling or landfill waste when those products spoil or become obsolete before they can be sold.
  2. Inventory: Look for the excess packaging used for stored products, the potential for damage when products are being stored, the replacement of products in process, and the wasted energy required to heat/cool inventory space.
  3. Transportation and motion: Look for opportunities to reduce energy, emissions, and spills during product transport.
  4. Defects: Look to reduce defects as they are a waste of raw materials, energy and water used in their manufacture. Defects also require the extra effort of recycling or landfilling to dispose of them, and additional energy, water and labour to rework materials into new products.
  5. Over-processing: Look to reduce over-processing of products, where more raw materials, energy, water, and waste are used and emissions created per product than necessary.
  6. Waiting: Look for spoilage or component damage when products are waiting to be finished, and the energy consumed during downtime.

For more on these six sources of waste, see Green, Lean Six Sigma in the Resources section.

Socially Responsible Production or Service Delivery

Increasingly, the social factors of production are coming under scrutiny. The health and safety of the workplace, the protection of basic human rights of employees, including the absence of discrimination, shared benefits of economic growth, community development and stakeholder engagement are some of the key social issues over which businesses are stepping up their responsibilities. In any product development process, there are a number of social considerations to take into account, including the opportunity of using the production process to generate a positive social impact. Involving local suppliers, incorporating a cultural indigenous feature, integrating health-supporting or other social value aspects can all be means to creating a product that is sustainable across all bottom lines: social, environmental and economic.


With these concepts in mind, the opportunity for SMEs is to redesign products in ways that improve upon existing products; create a new product line altogether; or consider moving into the "services" sector, where you lease or reconfigure your product so you are selling a service or a function  (such as heating ) rather than a product (such as heaters).

Sustainabile design and production allows your business to incorporate environmental and social attributes into your product's design while meeting the growing environmental requirements of your customer base and reducing your costs.

Greening Product Design

Think about your customer's requirements. If you are a supplier to another business, review what their concerns might be, or ask them directly. Ignoring toxics and other problematic materials may keep your product's price low in the short-term, but dealing with these materials proactively creates value for your customers. Assess the following aspects of your product for redesign opportunities:

  • Product lifespan: Increase a product's lifespan by improving its durability or designing it for easy upgrades. This will increase its value and longevity while reducing waste.
  • Material choices: Investigate the availability of green materials to substitute for traditional materials. This may include creating a remanufactured product out of high quality used parts, sourcing materials with higher recycled content, or substituting a greener or non-toxic material. It might also include sourcing from organizations that generate social value through their contributions to the community or through hiring people with employment barriers.
  • Recyclability: Taking the end of a product's life into account makes products easier and safer to disassemble and recycle into component parts. For example, eliminating lead solder and glued joints in consumer electronics and redesigning them to include modular parts and snap-fittings makes disassembly for recycling cheaper, easier and safer.
Sustainability Oriented Product Line

Some firms redesign and reconfigure one product at a time, launching each as they are market-ready. Other firms might launch a suite of sustainability oriented products on the market, constituting their “green product line”. You might consider if you prefer to remodel your entire product line or have both legacy products and socially / environmentally preferred products available to your diverse customer base. The Marketing section reviews the pros and cons of green branding for those at this stage of their business.

You might want to consider having your product or service third-party certified for its environmental and social qualities. Ecologo is the Canadian environmental product certifier, and you can find other product certification programs at Ecolabel Index and general information from the Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) Guide to Understanding Green Claims and Labels in Canada. See Services for more information on ecolabels for service providers.

A BC courier company, Novex Couriers, has been building its "environmental offering" by purchasing hybrids for its fleet of courier vehicles. They added to their green product line by launching a second green product: a "digital" courier service that reduces the negative environmental impacts of vehicle emissions and saves clients and themselves costs by providing clients the option of sending legal documents with legal signatures via the internet.

Servicizing: From Product to Value-Added Services:

Green design offers businesses the opportunity to rethink their focus on products and examine the potential for providing customers with high value services instead of, or in addition to, their products. Rather than selling customers products to receive the services they want from the product, provide the service directly. Typically customers want what a product does, not what it is. This is referred to as “servicizing” your products. This works best when companies leverage their existing strengths, building on the existing knowledge of on-site customer service staff and strong, direct customer service of existing products to create a new value-added service. Footnote 41

Not every product lends itself well to the service model. Electronics, office equipment, chemicals, cleaning supplies, and equipment are all good candidates due to limited lifespans and upfront costs which make them more expensive to purchase outright.

For example, Xerox has shifted to providing value-added services to manage equipment configuration, and energy and paper use, in addition to its traditional suite of office products (copiers, printers and multifunction devices). Footnote 42 The University of British Columbia is working with Xerox to reduce the number of copiers and printers in each department, and monitor and reduce paper usage. The services help customers reduce the number of machines in use, reduce unnecessary printing, and reduce paper use.Footnote 43 For other examples of “servicizing”, see Sustainability Through Servicizing in the Resources section. For more information on substituting services for products, see Services That Substitute for Products in the Services section.


The many benefits of sustainability management are found in the Business Case. Implementing sustainable product design can provide numerous specific benefits to a company. Focusing on resource efficiencies can reduce costs and often shorten production time. Because designing sustainable products sometimes requires bringing diverse functional groups to the design table for the first time, sustainable product design efforts can also drive other product and process innovations.

Meeting Customer Expectations for Greener Products

Whether you are in someone's supply chain or providing products directly to retail customers, the market is shifting to demand greener and socially beneficial products. Sustainable product development ensures that you retain your market share and remain competitive.

Innovation in Product Line

Product innovation creates a diversified product line, opening up new lines of business and expanding your customer base. This creates competitive advantage for your business. Your business may even move into a service line of business, further diversifying your revenue sources. All of these changes make your firm more resilient and able to adapt and respond to the changing market and growing costs of material inputs.




If you are a service provider, sustainability doesn't apply to how you manufacture a product, but how you provide the services you do, and how you run your business. The environmental or social impact of your services may be related to the way you produce those services—for instance, a photofinishing or dry cleaning process—or may be related to the products you use, your business transportation, and the building space you occupy.

Service providers can even improve sustainability by reducing the need for a product entirely. For instance, car-sharing organizations offer businesses and individuals "car use" services that substitute for fleet vehicle or car ownership. When several organizations share the same vehicles, fewer vehicles need to be produced than if all the organizations owned their own. This significantly reduces the need for materials, and reduces the energy and water used, and pollutants emitted during production. Service providers can look for ways to bring greater value to sustainability-conscious customers by reducing the impact of your service and by finding more ways to turn products into service opportunities.


Green Your Process

Even though not extracting, harvesting or manufacturing products, service providers still have processes that generate environmental and social impacts. To green your process, you will want to assess where your impacts are and take steps to reduce them. Auto repair and photo finishing services, for example, have opportunities to substitute environmentally-friendly products:  high-volume low-pressure (HVLP) spray guns reduce the need for toxic cleaning solvents in auto body shops,Footnote 44 and photo finishing operations can install silver recovery technology to reduce the toxicity of their wastewater.Footnote 45 Waste hauling businesses, as another example, can recycle the materials they collect.

Vancouver-based 1-800-Got-Junk, a residential and commercial junk hauling company, did just that. It recycles up to 70% of the "junk" it hauls from customers, as compared to competitors who don't guarantee any recycling, and a regional average per capita recycling rate of 55%.Footnote 46

Reduce Purchasing, Transportation, and Building Impacts

If your business uses products to provide the service, assess the opportunities to provide a more sustainable service by engaging in green purchasing. For example, a cleaning business might offer green cleaning services by using ecolabel certified products. Find more information in the section on Green Purchasing.

If transportation is an important part of providing your service, look at reducing your transportation impacts. For instance, a green cleaning service might purchase alternatively fuelled vehicles or fuels, or implement driver training to reduce fuel use. Find more information in the section on Transportation.

If your business rents office or other commercial space, look at the opportunities to reduce your building impacts. For instance, a graphic design firm could reduce its energy use by installing efficient lighting and shutting down computer equipment when not in use. Find more information in the section on Buildings.

Offer Services That Substitute For Products

Service substitution is a means of "…shifting the mode of consumption from personal ownership of products to provision of services which provide similar functions….[promoting] minimal resource use per unit of consumption."Footnote 47 For examples of service substitution, see Servicizing in Product Development.

Moving from a product to a service-based offering refers to a shift from selling hard goods to selling the function of a product or the service it provides, with the idea that fewer goods will be necessary to meet the same needs. Producing fewer goods leads to fewer environmental impacts in the manufacturing process, and less waste when products outlive their usefulness. For manufacturers and suppliers there is the potential to create more stable profits and improve revenue by selling services, and cutting material and energy costs while maintaining and growing the customer base.

Some products are better candidates for turning into services than others. Electronic equipment and vehicles, for instance, lend themselves well to a service model (leasing) due to limited life spans and upfront costs that make them more expensive to purchase outright. Consumable products like paper and food, on the other hand, wouldn't fit a service model.

A number of years ago Mountain Equipment Co-op, a Canadian outdoor gear retailer, moved into the service business when it began renting—rather than selling—outdoor equipment from its stores. This makes outdoor activities affordable to a greater number of people—for those that can't afford to buy, or those who would like to test out a new sport without significant financial investment. It also reduces the need for more  production by the manufacturer of new outdoor equipment, with the environmental benefit of reduced material use, reduced energy use and reduced transportation emissions, since more people are sharing a smaller number of rented goods than if they all owned the goods themselves.

Another example is US-based Gage Products Co., a specialty chemical supplier for auto paint shops. Gage moved from solely selling chemical blends for auto painting to providing additional value-added services, helping auto body staff apply the mixtures properly, get through colour changes and reduce the need for solvents. This value-added service eventually attracted larger customers, such as Chrysler, which it helped to meet new environmental regulatory requirements, reducing pollution through reduced use of chemicals. For this and other examples of "servicizing", see Sustainability Through Servicizing in the Resources section.

Communicate Your Sustainability Achievement to Customers

Service-based businesses have a greater challenge communicating their sustainability achievements to their customers. While a product-based business has both the attributes of their products (e.g., 100% recycled, biodegradable) and their sustainable operating practices to convey, a service-based business has only its sustainable operating practices. In order to effectively communicate your sustainable operating practices to your customers, it is important to measure and quantify your sustainability achievements. There are several ways to approach this. One is to measure, track and report on your company's practices (see Measurement, Tracking & Reporting for more information). Another is to measure your operating practices against a recognized standard. Several ecolabel standards now exist for services. By achieving the social and environmental standards of the third-party ecolabel program, you are able to incorporate the ecologo into your marketing efforts, communicating the authenticity of your claims to your customers.

Although ecolabels have long existed for products like paper and cleaning chemicals, they are becoming more prevalent for different services such as accommodation, carwashes, printing, restaurants, catering and other services (see the Resources section for details). If an ecolabel exists for your business type, consider that getting your business certified provides your customers with the assurance that your business is meeting a recognizable standard that they can count on. Ecologo and Green Seal are two credible ecologo programs that follow rigorous and verification assurance procedures in the North American market.

Business Benefits

The many benefits of sustainability management are found in the Business Case. Focusing on sustainability in a service-based business can provide a number of specific benefits. If you green your process, you can reduce the costs associated with handling and disposing of hazardous materials. Providing services that replace products can build your market share and help diversify your business. Reducing the impacts associated with the products you purchase, your transportation or building use can save money and create better working environments for employees.


Service Substitution

MIT Sloan Management Review "Sustainability Through Servicizing" article reviews how companies can replace products with services as an integral part of their environmental strategy. ( PDF - 392.46 KB - 10 pages)

Ecolabels for Services

Green Seal certification for Hotels and Lodging, and Restaurant and Food Services

Ecologo certification for Accommodation Facilities, Commercial Carwash Services, Digital Printing Services, Office Facilities, Organic Turf Management Services, Packaging Management System-Beverage Containers, Refrigerant Collection and Disposal Programs.

Sustainability Through Product Service Systems & Servicizing (PDF - 229.31kb - 15 pages)

Industry Ecolabel Programs

Hotels: Hotels: Green Key Eco-Rating Program

Restaurants: The Green Table Network

More information on Ecolabels in Canada



Les achats est un domaine où votre entreprise peut appliquer ses valeurs. L'achat de papier plus écologique, d'éclairage et d'équipement plus éconergétiques, de même que l'utilisation de nettoyants non toxiques, démontrent à vos employés et à vos clients que vous joignez le geste à la parole. Les achats écologiques impliquent que vous établissez vos priorités environnementales et exigez que vos fournisseurs et les produits et services que vous achetez les concrétisent. Ils englobent deux aspects fondamentaux : les caractéristiques environnementales du produit et son mode de fabrication, notamment les pratiques environnementales de l'entreprise qui fabrique, distribue ou vend le produit ou le service. (Consultez la section Achat éthique et social pour une discussion sur la dimension sociale de l’approvisionnement.)

Questions à poser avant d’acheter un produit

  • Pouvons-nous nous en passer?
  • Pouvons-nous l’emprunter, le louer, ou un modèle légèrement usagé?
  • Existe-t-il un modèle plus petit, plus léger, ou fabriqué à l’aide d’une quantité moindre de matériaux?
  • Est-il éconergétique?
  • Réduira-t-il la quantité de déchets destinés aux sites d’enfouissement?
  • Est-il fabriqué localement?
  • Est-il fabriqué à l’aide de matériaux de postconsommation recyclés ou récupérés?
  • Est-il recyclable?
  • A-t-il été conçu pour la durabilité? Est-il multifonctionnel?
  • Est-il fabriqué selon une méthode moins énergivore?
  • Existe-t-il en version moins toxique?
  • Est-il possible de réduire l’emballage servant au transport du produit?
  • Le produit ou son emballage sont-ils réutilisables, recyclables ou réparables?
  • Utilise-t-il des ressources renouvelables?
  • Sa réutilisation est-elle pratique? Est-elle encouragée?
  • Le fournisseur reprendra-t-il le produit à la fin de sa vie utile?
  • Dans quelles conditions de santé, de sécurité et environnementales a-t-il été fabriqué?
  • Quelles sont les pratiques sociales et environnementales de la société qui l’a fabriqué?

Réduire les matières premières

Les achats écologiques réduisent les intrants de matières premières nécessaires aux produits consommés par les entreprises. Par exemple, en achetant du papier contenant de 30 à 100 % de fibres recyclées, on réduit l'exploitation forestière nécessaire à la production de fibres à papier vierges. En outre, la fabrication de ce type de papier est moins énergivore. Consultez la section Acheter du papier plus écologique pour de plus amples informations.

Réduire les produits toxiques

Les achats écologiques réduisent la quantité de produits toxiques consommés par votre entreprise. Par exemple, dans la formule chimique standard des détergents et des dégraissants écologiques, bon nombre d'ingrédients toxiques, comme les matières corrosives et les métaux lourds, sont remplacés par des produits plus écologiques. Un restaurant de Vancouver, en Colombie-Britannique, est parvenu à éliminer un processus de nettoyage complet en évaluant ses options d'approvisionnement écologique : en substituant un processus de nettoyage à la vapeur aux dégraissants chimiques lourds, le nettoyage de la hotte du four s'effectue en 6 minutes au lieu de 3 heures.

Réduire le transport

Les achats écologiques peuvent entraîner une réduction du transport associé à un produit. Par exemple, en achetant des produits locaux, les entreprises réduisent souvent les émissions issues du transport de leurs produits. Vous pourriez étudier la possibilité de recourir à un fournisseur de services de fret et de logistique « SmartWay Transport Partner », qui affiche sa cote d'écoefficacité et de rendement environnemental à l'adresse Smartway Transport. Une deuxième option serait d'obtenir ces services auprès de fournisseurs conformes à Écoflotte, un programme de Ressources naturelles Canada qui aide les entreprises à réduire les émissions de gaz à effet de serre et la consommation d'énergie et de carburant de leurs parcs de véhicules : fleetsmart.

Écologiser la chaîne d'approvisionnement

Outre l'examen des caractéristiques environnementales des produits que vous achetez, vous pourriez également évaluer les pratiques environnementales des entreprises qui vous fournissent ces produits et services. Ont-elles pris un engagement en matière environnementale, par exemple? Comment gèrent-elles leur impact sur l'environnement? Un salon de coiffure de Colombie-Britannique s'affichant comme un salon écologique ne fait pas qu'utiliser des produits biologiques pour les cheveux, mais, lorsqu'il ne peut obtenir ces produits, il s'approvisionne auprès d'entreprises qui se sont dotées de programmes environnementaux solides.


La quantité considérable de possibilités d'approvisionnement écologique et tous les renseignements mis à votre disposition peuvent être déconcertants de prime abord. Commencez par des gains faciles, qui favoriseront la réussite et l'adhésion de vos employés. Les achats écologiques comportent dix étapes, pour commencer et pour poursuivre vos efforts. Vous pouvez commencer par celle qui vous convient le mieux.

  1. Trouvez des alliés au sein de votre organisation : déterminez les champions et des décideurs qui sauront vous appuyer.
  2. Tirez parti des ressources clés : cernez les sources d'information externes pour faciliter la prise de décision (par exemple, consultez la section Réseau d'approvisionnement durable, ci-dessous).
  3. Élaborez un énoncé de principes et dressez un plan : créez un cadre pour votre activité.
  4. Amorcez une conversation sur la durabilité avec les fournisseurs actuels : communiquez vos objectifs, demandez à connaître les activités et les produits écologiques de vos fournisseurs.
  5. Trouvez des façons d'utiliser ce que vous avez déjà, mais en moins grande quantité : repensez les achats, réduisez la quantité de produits, recyclez ou convertissez les anciens produits en de nouvelles utilisations.
  6. Choisissez de nouveaux fournisseurs qui ont la durabilité à cœur : déterminez les fournisseurs qui offrent des gammes de produits ou de services écologiques ou qui exercent leurs activités de manière écologique.
  7. Adoptez une approche tenant compte du « coût total de propriété » à l'égard de ce que vous achetez : évaluez les coûts à long terme de vos achats et tenez compte des coûts relatifs à la santé, à la sécurité et à l'élimination dans vos décisions d'achat. Consultez la section Planification et financement des activités pour de plus amples informations.
  8. Dressez la liste des 10 principaux aspects du magasinage durable : déterminez les 10 produits que vous achetez le plus (voir ci-dessous).
  9. Établissez des objectifs et suivez vos activités : établissez des objectifs pour guider votre travail (p. ex., 2 nouveaux fournisseurs écologiques) et pour mesurer les progrès accomplis.
  10. Faites connaître les réalisations et récompensez-les : créez un élan chez vos employés en les informant des réussites et en récompensant leurs idées.

Pour de plus amples informations sur cette question, consultez le site d'Industrie Canada, à l'RSE adresse.

Évaluer les possibilités figurant dans l'aide-mémoire des 10 points les plus importants

Dans certains secteurs de produits et de services, le marché est bien développé, les surcoûts sont au plus bas, les économies sont avérées et les avantages environnementaux sont les plus importants. L'aide-mémoire suivant vous guidera dans votre recherche d'achats écologiques :

  1. Équipement électronique : ordinateurs, moniteurs, imprimantes et photocopieurs
  2. Fournitures de bureau : papier, cartables, marqueurs et stylos
  3. Ameublement de bureau : chaises, tables et cloisons murales
  4. Papier : papier de photocopie, livres et blocs-notes
  5. Éclairage : bureau, cuisine, salle de bains et atelier
  6. Produits de nettoyage et services d'entretien : entretien général, planchers, surfaces, tapis et solvants
  7. Réunions, congrès et événements : installations, aliments, recyclage et déplacements
  8. Déplacements d'affaires : mode et fréquence des déplacements
  9. Cadeaux et vêtements : uniformes, casquettes, chandails, prix et cadeaux
  10. Café, thé et autres produits : café et services de café, autres aliments et boissons

Pour de plus amples informations sur cet aide-mémoire, consultez le site d'Industrie Canada, à l'RSE adresse.

Adopter une approche systématique

Les entreprises qui souhaitent adopter une approche plus systématique doivent cibler leurs efforts sur les fournitures le plus souvent achetées et sur les fournisseurs de qui elles achètent le plus. En matière d'achats, cette approche est généralement nommée « analyse des dépenses », et vise à ventiler toutes les dépenses de l'entreprise par bien et par fournisseur. Elle exige un système financier plus sophistiqué et peut parfois donner à l'entreprise une vue d'ensemble des endroits où elle peut tirer profit de ses dépenses pour maximiser les gains environnementaux. La plupart des entreprises entament ensuite une conversation (voir l'élément nº 4 ci-dessus) avec leurs cinq principaux fournisseurs, ou travaillent à écologiser leurs dix à vingt principaux achats.


Harmonisation avec les valeurs de l'entreprise 

L'approvisionnement écologique vous permet de mettre en œuvre vos valeurs, de « joindre le geste à la parole. » Il envoie un signal clair à vos employés, à vos fournisseurs et à vos clients sur vos efforts d'écologisation des activités de votre entreprise. Il cible les moyens adoptés par votre entreprise pour harmoniser vos décisions opérationnelles à vos valeurs et à vos objectifs organisationnels. Par exemple, l'engagement de la caisse populaire Vancity envers la carboneutralité d'ici 2010 a été respecté, en partie grâce à sa décision d'acheter du papier de photocopie postconsommation entièrement recyclé pour son usage interne et pour les communications à ses membres (clients).

Acheter du papier plus écologique

Le papier plus écologique est l'endroit idéal pour débuter l'écologisation de votre chaîne d'approvisionnement, étant donné qu'il s'agit d'un matériau utilisé par tous, extrêmement bien développé et mis à l'épreuve dans toutes les applications, sans compter que son prix est raisonnable et qu'il offre de nombreux avantages environnementaux.

Ce que vous pouvez faire :

  • Achetez moins. Réduisez votre consommation de papier en diminuant les marges des documents, en imprimant recto verso et en récupérant le papier imprimé sur une seule face pour en faire des blocs-notes ou pour l'impression de brouillons.
  • Achetez du papier recyclé. Réduisez l'exploitation forestière en achetant du papier avec un fort contenu de matières recyclées. Le papier recyclé réduit l'exploitation forestière et sa fabrication exige beaucoup moins d'électricité que le papier ordinaire, ce qui donne lieu à une baisse des émissions de gaz à effet de serre. Consultez Environemntal Defense Fund Paper Calculator (anglais seulement) pour comparer les avantages environnementaux (consommation de bois, énergie, gaz à effet de serre, eaux usées et déchets liquides) d'un papier par rapport à un autre.
  • Achetez du papier certifié. La certification vous garantit que le papier contient vraiment les matières recyclées annoncées et qu'il ne contient pas de fibres issues de l'exploitation forestière illégale ou provenant de forêts protégées. Consultez Forest Stewardship Council (anglais seulement) pour de plus amples informations ou encore pour trouver du papier certifié (choisissez le mot « papier » sous la rubrique « produit » et « Canada »).
  • Achetez localement. Le papier fabriqué localement voyage moins, ce qui réduit les émissions de gaz à effet de serre. Il peut également générer des emplois et soutenir des entreprises d'importance dans votre économie locale.

Pour de plus amples informations, consultez le guide d'achat du papier du WWF :

Boucler la boucle du recyclage
Les achats écologiques créent un marché pour les produits contenant des matières recyclées, pour que le plastique, le papier et les autres matériaux soient recyclés en produits utiles. Vous bouclez ainsi la boucle : d'une part, vous gérez vos déchets en recyclant le plus possible et, d'autre part, vous achetez des produits contenant des matières recyclées.

Pour un aperçu complet des nombreux avantages de l'approvisionnement durable, consultez le guide de l'analyse de rentabilité et des avantages de l'approvisionnement durable, parrainé par Industrie Canada, à l'adresse : Guide to the Business Case and Benefits of Sustainability Purchasing (anglais seulement).



With the globalization of the economy and off-shoring of manufacturing and servicing, the purchasing spotlight is focused on "ethical sourcing"—the integration of human rights, health, safety and environmental considerations in a company's supply chains. A concurrent social responsibility purchasing trend is towards local purchasing and purchasing to support a local community's economic development objectives to foster social and economic inclusion, referred to as "social purchasing" in this guide. Rolled up with green purchasing, ethical sourcing and social purchasing become "sustainable purchasing":  the integration of social, ethical, and environmental considerations in buying decisions. Green Purchasing is addressed in another section; this section focuses on Ethical Sourcing and Social Purchasing.

Ethical Sourcing

Ethical sourcing is the process by which businesses seek to improve the working conditions of the people who make the products they buy. Often these workers are employed in factories around the world, many of them in developing countries where laws designed to protect workers' rights are inadequate or un-enforcedFootnote 48. Typically, a business committed to ethical sourcing will adopt a "Supplier Code of Conduct" which sets out their minimum expectations of suppliers regarding wages, hours of work, health and safety and environmental conditions. Supplier adherence to the codes is regularly monitored and gaps in performance signals the need to engage suppliers in programs that can improve their performance. Such efforts support healthy workplaces and communities in developing countries, while helping the business to manage its reputation risks and improve employee morale.

Social Purchasing

Businesses seeking to integrate social responsibility into their purchasing program have a number of approaches to consider, in addition to ethical sourcing, such as:

  • social enterprise purchasing
  • Aboriginal purchasing
  • local purchasing
  • fair trade purchasing

Unlike charitable donations which are a cost to the organization, social purchasing can be a way to contribute to your social goals without generating additional expenses. It basically involves using a common business practice—purchasing—to channel some spending towards businesses that generate social benefits.

Social Enterprise Purchasing

Some non-profit organizations, in an effort to increase their funding base or to create employment opportunities for people with employment barriers, launch "social enterprises"—non-profit businesses whose purpose is to advance a social cause. Small businesses—and large—can consider opportunities to source goods and services from social enterprises in order to directly enhance local social conditions. Printing services, janitorial cleaning services, packaging, florists, customized wood products, property maintenance, and construction and renovations are just some of the social enterprise sourcing opportunities available in Canada. More can be found at the Social Enterprise Marketplace, a directory of social enterprises from across Canada.

Toronto-based Tinto Coffee House sources its bread from local social enterprise St. John's Bakery. The organic artisan bakery provides employment for people with employment barriers seeking some work experience. Bakery workers have included refugees, people struggling with addictions, people with emotional troubles or mental illness, single parents struggling with poverty and people with developmental disabilities. Revenue from the social enterprise supports the St. John the Compassionate Mission, which provides meals, support and programs to homeless and vulnerable individuals and families.

Aboriginal Purchasing

Businesses located in regions where there is an Aboriginal (First Nations, Inuit, Métis) population may wish to find ways to support Aboriginal economic development and job creation by sourcing directly from Aboriginal-owned firms. Industry Canada provides a list of directories of Aboriginal firms in Canada.

Lyall's Drafting & Design Ltd. is an Inuit-owned professional design consulting firm, offering computer aided drafting & design support services to the engineering industry. Located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland, they work to support aboriginal businesses through their sourcing practices. They purchase everything they can from other local aboriginal businesses, including:

  • Computer and technical equipment from Labrador Specialty Services Inc.
  • Office supplies from Mokteck 2000
  • Courier services from Innu Mikun Airline
  • Promotional products from Doris's Designs & Engraving

Local Purchasing

"Buy-local" is the means by which a business gives preference to local suppliers. In so doing, a business can help to "increase local tax revenues and civic infrastructure, local jobs, local economic diversification and enhanced community resilience while reducing the environmental burden of shipping goods long distance"Footnote 49.

To support farmers and the local economy, Vancouver's Small Potatoes Urban Delivery (SPUD), an organic grocery home delivery service, sources over 50% of its products locally, compared to 15-20% local products found in the average grocery or natural foods store.Footnote 50 The company publishes "food miles" indicating the distance that products travel, and profiles local suppliers on their website, so that customers can buy as close to home as possible, and get to know the farmers that produce their food.

Fair Trade Purchasing

Fair trade products are those which have been third party certified as paying producers in developing countries a "fair wage" to support their families and contribute to the economic development of their local communities. Fair trade also often supports access to loans and technical assistance, health care and education, training, and environmental farming practices. Typical fair trade products include coffee, tea, sugar, cotton, fruit, flowers, chocolate and cocoa. In 2008 the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International estimated that "over 7.5 million producers and their families were benefiting from fair trade funded infrastructure, technical assistance and community development projects worldwide"Footnote 51. By buying fair trade coffee and tea for your lunchroom, for example, your business can directly support sustainable livelihoods in the third world.

There are other ways to support your social goals through your purchasing program, depending on your priorities. For example, you could also source from minority-owned firms, firms owned and operated by people with a disability, women-owned businesses, etc.


See Green Purchasing for general ideas on establishing a sustainable purchasing program.

Specific to ethical and social purchasing, you could start by identifying some low-hanging fruit areas to focus your initial efforts, such as buying fair-trade coffee or switching to a local supplier.

Beyond these quick wins, you will want to think through a broader approach, which will depend on the nature of your particular supply chain, what your major purchases are, where you are likely to have the greatest influence, where you have the greatest risks, etc. Your broader approach should be informed by any important social goals you have already prioritized for your company. If you already focus on strong employee relations in your firm you may wish to ensure your purchasing doesn't support sweatshop labour in your supply chain. If you have prioritized Aboriginal economic development as a key opportunity area for your firm, you may wish to focus your buying efforts on identifying and sourcing from Aboriginal businesses. If you have strong connections to the local community, you may wish to focus your efforts on creating a local supply network and supporting locally owned businesses. It's important to first draw out what your company's existing social goals are, and then refine your approach based on matching your goals to the opportunities that various suppliers can provide.

See the Resources section for more information on how to get started on social purchasing.


Ethical and social purchasing can enhance your brand with your employees, consumers and local communities. They allow you to align your values with your purchasing decisions and help you to avoid the reputational risk that your sourcing is contributing to worker exploitation in developing countries.

Companies that invest in building their social goals into their procurement program can engender strong supplier relationships and enhance their social responsibility overall.



Buy Smart Network is a national resource for buyers interested in integrating ethical, social and environmental considerations in purchasing. Resources, tools and learning opportunities are available.

Industry Canada provides resources on sustainable purchasing, including "10 Ways to Start or Enhance Your Sustainability Purchasing Strategy".

Ethical Sourcing

Maquila Solidarity Network is a Canadian non-governmental organization focused on ethical sourcing. Their website provides an overview of the issues, resources and links:

Ethical Trading Initiative is an international membership-based program promoting ethical sourcing. Their website provides online resources and tools:

Social Purchasing

Enterprising Non-profits (ENP) provides an online social purchasing toolkit:

The Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council (CAMSC) is an association of companies committed to Aboriginal and visible minority procurement:

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) is a North American association of businesses committed to "local living economies" and buying local:

Canadian fair trade organization, Fairtrade, provides information and resources on buying fair trade:

Resource use

Paper and Printing


Reducing Use of Paper

Paper is a prolific material in business, and paper wastage is commonplace—from printing emails to single-sided copiers, the dream of the paperless office is far from a reality. Although it's important to buy greener paper (see Buying Greener Paper), reducing paper consumption prevents the outright purchase of paper, with the associated environmental effects of reduced tree harvesting, reduced water and energy consumption required to process paper, and reductions in water and air pollution associated with its production and transport. Not to mention a significant reduction in costs to purchase the paper. Reducing paper consumption is one key opportunity for businesses who want to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. See more in the Leadership section (Climate Leadership).

Printing Green

Office printers use ink and energy and have a negative impact on indoor air quality. Reducing printing saves paper, ink, and energy and prevents air pollution. When you are in the market to upgrade your printer, first consider the opportunity of purchasing a multi-function device that incorporates your printer, scanner, copier and fax. Ensure the equipment is Energy Star compliant, allows for double-sided printing and print reduction (two-to-a-page) capacity, has a tray for reused paper and the warranty allows for paper with high recycled content.

When you purchase printing services, ensure that you discuss the type of paper or cardstock with potential printers. It's important to specify high recycled content and certified paper as outlined in Buying Greener Paper. Ask your printer about other environmental aspects of the printer's operation, like ink toxicity, the use of solvents, and whether or not fountain solution is recycled.


Print Double-Sided

Double-sided printing is the simplest measure for reducing your paper use. If your printers have the capacity to double-side, implement a policy to default printers to the double sided option. If printers don't have the capacity, ensure that you select printers with this option during your next upgrade.

Reuse One-Sided Paper

Collect paper that's only been used on one side and reuse it when you can, or have it bound to create scratch pads.

Switch to Electronic Communications

Electronic communications can dramatically reduce paper use. From employee payroll and news to marketing and customer statements and invoicing, there are many options to move from paper to electronic. Increasingly your customers will expect this option to be available to them. Businesses that don't switch to on-line customer relationships will lose market share to those offering electronic services.

Business Benefits

The benefits of reduced paper use and green printing are found in cost savings related to paper use and ink. These and other benefits of environmental initiatives are outlined in the Business Case.




Water is a vital natural resource and important input for businesses. As the effects of climate change are felt around the globe, with the growing population pressures in urban areas, and as the scarcity of water becomes clear, regulators will place more focus on protecting water sources from pollution and on reducing worldwide consumption of fresh water. Although water use has historically been under-priced, the effects of climate change are likely to force prices up sharply in the near future.


Gather Water Bills

Monitoring water bills is an important first step to managing water use. A review of water bills allows you to identify leaks, see daily and weekly cycles in water use, and to identify areas of opportunity for water conservation.

Assess Biggest Contributors

Use water bills to assess your business' opportunities for reducing water use by matching billed usage with process water use, and other uses like taps, toilets and kitchens. Assess seasonal and other factors that affect usage, and make an action plan for how to make reductions. There may be ways to reduce process use, to change cleaning procedures, to install flow restrictors in washrooms, or to educate employees about conservation. If you want to be more rigorous, you may want to complete a water audit. See the Resources below and Measurement, Tracking & Reporting for more information on conducting audits.

Investigate Incentives and Rebates If process or other changes can significantly reduce water use, your business may be able to offset the cost with incentives and rebates. Some applicable rebates may be related to energy savings, since reductions in hot water use in kitchens and bathrooms save energy required to heat the water. Incentives for business can be found at Grants and Incentives. Municipalities across Canada offer rebates for water savings. Check your City's website for information.

Prepare a Business Case for Water Saving Devices and Process Changes
Use a lifecycle analysis (see Business Planning & Finance) to produce a business case of water saving opportunities. This business case will include all the tangible financial details—costs, savings and payback, but should also address intangible benefits like improved brand. Creating a business case will allow your business to compare and choose between other environmental opportunities.

Business Benefits

The benefits of water savings are found in reduced water and sewer bills, and an associated drop in energy bills for hot water. These and other benefits of environmental initiatives are outlined in the Business Case.




Your energy use refers to your electricity and natural gas use, as well as any fuel you use for generators. SMEs have a big role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use, and reducing the effects of climate change. Because of the large numbers and smaller relative impacts of SMEs, each and every business must play a part in reducing energy use. For more on greenhouse gas reductions see "Climate Change Leadership" in the Leadership section.


Gather Energy Bills

Monitoring energy bills is an important first step to managing and reducing your energy use. A review of energy bills allows you to identify peak daily energy use, and identify areas of opportunity for conserving energy. If you lease your premises, engage in a conversation with the property owner about energy savings, and how you can work together to meet your energy reduction goals.

Assess Biggest Contributors

To address energy use, put a team together to create a process map identifying energy inputs at various stages. Be sure to get as much staff input from the shop floor as possible. If you want a more rigorous approach, you may want to complete an energy audit. Many provincial energy suppliers will conduct energy audits or assist you in sourcing a reliable consultant.

Building energy use can be assessed by considering major energy contributors such as lighting, heating and cooling. Lighting upgrades have the potential to reduce 40% of energy use. Minimizing heat loss and gain has the potential to reduce energy use more than 5%, often for very little cost. Proper maintenance of existing equipment can cut energy use considerably. Simple steps such as identifying duct leaks, checking airflow and refrigerant charge, cleaning coils and changing HVAC filters can dramatically reduce energy use. Finally, use employee engagement to reduce "phantom" power draws by encouraging staff to turn off office equipment, lights and computers when not in use.

Investigate Incentives and Rebates

If there are opportunities to reduce energy use, your business may be able to offset the cost with incentives and rebates. Many provincial energy suppliers provide incentives and rebates for small business energy audits and retrofits like lighting and appliances. Check your province's energy supplier website for information or see Natural Resources Canada for a list of incentives and rebates.

Prepare a Business Case for Energy Saving Devices and Equipment

Use a lifecycle analysis (see Business Planning and Budgeting) to produce a business case of energy saving opportunities. This business case will include all the tangible financial details – costs, savings and payback, but should also address intangible benefits like improved employee productivity related to better lighting, and improved brand from your greenhouse gas reductions. Creating a business case will allow your business to evaluate various green purchasing options to improve the energy efficiency of equipment, and to compare and choose between other environmental opportunities.

In 2009 Sunrise Soya Foods, a soy food processing company in Vancouver, BC, installed a boiler economizer to reduce energy and greenhouse gases associated with heating their tofu manufacturing plant in Vancouver. After assessing the business case, it spent $20,000 to install the economizer, which pre-heats water before it enters the boiler. The investment is expected to pay for itself in under a year, saving the company $22,400 in reduced energy costs annually.

Business Benefits

The benefits of energy savings are found in reduced energy bills and associated greenhouse gas reductions. These and other benefits of environmental initiatives are outlined in the Business Case.




Using materials efficiently means creating more products with fewer materials, producing fewer defects, and producing less byproduct. Reducing material use creates cost savings and prevents the need for further resource extraction. Preventing material use reduces harvesting, mining and other significant environmental effects of resource extraction. Using fewer materials also creates less waste from the process, providing further saving in avoided waste disposal and recycling fees.


Create a Material/Product Ratio

A material/product ratio allows you to understand your material use in relation to production, set efficiency goals and assess your performance. This ratio represents the "material efficiency" of your production. For example, a cheese maker might assess that for every 1 litre of milk, she makes 200 grams of product. Some of the milk makes product and some creates waste, and the amount that creates product creates the material/product ratio of 1L : 200 g. She can set a goal to create more cheese with the milk, looking for opportunities and ideas from her staff to get the ratio closer to 1L : 250 g.

Assess Your Waste Stream

Look for material efficiencies in byproduct and product defects. Using a mass balance approach (see text box), you will see that materials either produce products or byproducts—waste, in the form of air, liquid or solid wastes. Assessing your waste stream will help you identify ways in which materials are being used inefficiently to produce your product. The goal is to use more of the materials you buy to create products, and less to produce byproduct. Another area of wasted material use to address is product defects. Creating a defect rate and setting goals to reduce the number of product defects will allow you to use materials and all other resources more efficiently.

Redesign Your Product or Process

Using this information on material efficiency and waste, redesign your process or your product to improve material efficiency and reduce waste. See Product Development for more information.

Business Benefit

The benefits of reduced material inputs are found in reduced material bills. These and other benefits of environmental initiatives are outlined in the Business Case.


  • How to Reduce Material Waste - an article that puts material waste into context and provides resources and links to waste reduction measures:

What's an Audit?

An environmental audit is an assessment of the uses of a resource by various processes or the sources and types of waste created in a business. For example:

  • An energy audit provides a breakdown of a business' energy consumption by use—for example by lighting, heating/air conditioning, refrigeration, dishwashing, etc.;
  • A water audit provides a breakdown of a business' water consumption by use—for example by cooling, production, dishwashing, laundry, and domestic (taps and toilets) uses.
  • A waste audit provides a breakdown of a business' wastes in various categories that are recyclable and not recyclable—for example by paper, cardboard, plastic, metal, hazardous waste, e-waste, etc.;
  • A material audit (or mass balance, based on a physical law that whatever material enters a system leaves or accumulate in the system) provides a breakdown of a business' uses of materials, accounting for the inputs that enter and either create products or leave as emissions, waste or recycling.

Waste Management

Solid Waste


Many business materials are disposed of in landfills, including electronic waste such as old computers and other toxic materials that lead to pollution of land and water. Reducing your waste and recycling all you can is important to reduce pollution and stretch the capacity of our landfills. However, it's much more than a space and toxicity issue—materials in landfills produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The more businesses can do to reduce their contribution to methane gas buildup, the better able society is to slow climate change.


Gather Expertise

If you want help to manage your solid waste, there are many resources available to you. Contact your local municipal recycling division to find out what programs and services they have to help you. Local recycling councils or non-profit organizations have extensive knowledge about recycling opportunities, and sometimes offer waste exchange services. Contact the Recycling Council of Ontario, the Recycling Council of British Columbia, the Recycling Council of Alberta or an Environment Canada office in your region for help.

Gather Waste Bills

If you pay your own waste bills, collect your bills for a year in order to create a total of your annual costs and the amount of waste you produce.  Once you know the size of your bin and the number of weekly pick-ups, you can calculate your waste production (see text box). If your landlord deals with waste management, contact him/her to discuss your waste reduction goals.

Assess Waste Stream and Brainstorm Solutions

A waste audit is the best way to determine the areas of opportunity for waste reduction and improved recycling. The purpose of the waste audit is to identify the "streams" or categories of waste that you are sending to the landfill. You will want to know the most significant sources of your waste in order to develop alternative solutions to land filling. Your waste or recycling contractor will sometimes perform an audit for you. However, a simple "walk-through" to assess your facility's waste bins and receptacles, including waste and recycling containers in the front office and back alley, will inform your waste reduction efforts. Have a meeting to ask staff for input on opportunities for reducing waste and increasing recycling. A waste audit can be a means by which to engage and motivate staff if they are given the opportunity of doing the analysis and brainstorming and implementing solutions. For other opportunities to reduce waste, see six sources of waste under Product Development (Greener Production).

Investigate Reuse and Recycling Options

There are many programs that will reuse products that you are ready to dispose of or recycle. For example, Cell Phones for Food and Computers for Schools collect useful e-waste and repurpose it. Paper, office furniture and office supplies can sometimes be donated to schools, daycares and community organizations, and artists are sometimes interested in scrap materials like wood and metal. Contact your local recycling council for more ideas and contacts.

Consolidate Contracts

Chances are your business holds several waste management contracts—one or more for recycling and one for waste. There is an opportunity to consolidate contracts with one company. This requires less time for you to manage, and contractors often offer a discount for consolidating contracts. Work with a contractor that offers valuable help to reduce your waste stream. Waste management contractors are now offering services like walk-throughs and audits. If your current contractor does not offer them, as part of consolidating your contracts, investigate the offerings of other contractors who might.

Rather than sending food waste to the landfill, Terra Breads Bakery and Café diverts all of the food waste from the kitchen of its retail location in Vancouver to a composting operation. This move helps to extend the life of regional landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions emitted from decomposing landfill waste. The compost facility then turns the valuable nutrients from the food waste into a soil conditioner product, which is sold to improve plant growth and the health of lawns and gardens.

Work with Neighbouring Firms

Consider the opportunity of working with neighbouring companies to reduce waste and increase recycling. A neighbour might be able to reuse a waste material that you can’t, or partner with you on a new recycling or organics composting collection contract. For instance, the Chicago Waste to Profit Network works to identify material exchange opportunities for Chicago companies, institutions and City of Chicago departments to reduce waste and emissions, and deliver economic impact. Through the Network, waste exchanges—interactions where the “waste” from one participant provides a useful input to another—lower waste and material costs for businesses. Since 2006, the Network has created much more value and savings than these businesses could create on their own, diverting 165,000 tons of solid waste from landfill, reducing 102,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and providing almost $16 million dollars in economic impact to local companies.Footnote 52

Business Benefits

The financial benefits of reducing your solid waste and improving recycling are in cost savings on waste hauling and consolidated contracts. These and other benefits of environmental initiatives are outlined in the Business Case.


Liquid Waste


Liquid waste from businesses puts a strain on sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants that are designed to carry and treat only wastes from taps and toilets. Chemicals, metals, oil and grease, food and other wastes from businesses clog the system and pollute receiving waters with contaminants that treatment plants can't remove. Businesses can stretch the capacity of the sewer system and protect receiving environments by reducing the amount of contaminants they discharge and by preventing contaminants from entering sewers. Additionally, there may be storm sewers near your business that drain rainwater to areas where fish may be affected if liquid waste is permitted to enter the sewer. On public streets in some jurisdictions these drains are marked with a yellow fish to signal the risk to fish habitats from liquid waste and other materials.


Gather Expertise

If you want help to manage your liquid waste, there are many resources available to you. Contact your local municipal pollution prevention division to find out what programs and services they have for small businesses. Review relevant resources for your sector—there are many guides available for specific sectors. Contact Environment Canada, the Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention,  your industry association, or an environmental consultant for more help.

Divert Liquid Waste from Storm Drains

To prevent pollution from entering sensitive natural environments, investigate which of the drains outside your facility are storm drains. Most outside drains are storm drains, which are intended to carry only rainwater, and they drain to nearby streams, rivers and oceans. Any substances that enter these drains may harm fish and other species in receiving environments. If you have storm drains on your grounds, first label them. The label will serve as a visual reminder to staff of the potential harm of wastes entering storm sewers.

Next, identify key activities that take place near the storm drains. For example, you may notice that vehicle, equipment or dumpster washing is taking place near an outside storm drain. To reduce liquid waste run-off you have a few options available to you: consider altering procedures to wash equipment indoors, capturing and diverting the liquid waste from storm drains to inside sanitary drains that are better equipped to deal with soaps for instance. You might alter dumpster-area cleaning procedures to include sweeping and using green soaps that don't need water. Consider the potential for substituting a green alternative for your wash chemicals under Assess Substitutes below. A final alternative for diverting liquid wastes from the storm sewer is to provide a rudimentary form of treatment—for instance, installing a simple sump separates oils from water before water enters storm drains.

Ensure you communicate your goals to reduce liquid waste impacts to your staff, modify procedures if necessary, and train your staff on the new procedures.

Pollutant Inventory

Develop a list of your liquid waste streams such as chemicals, cleaners and solvents, paints, liquid absorbents, oils and lubricants, etc. Review your procedures for the proper use and disposal of these materials and ensure you are compliant with your policies and with government regulations in this area. If you aren't sure what the appropriate method of disposal is for a liquid waste, or you need ideas about how to recycle liquid wastes, contact your local municipality, or Environment Canada.

Assess Substitutes

Use your pollutant inventory to assess the toxicity of various chemicals that end up in your drains. With a bit of research, or a few calls to chemical suppliers, you will be able to determine opportunities to substitute greener products. Consider adopting a policy of no toxic liquids to drains. Brainstorm solutions to address the liquid waste from your business with your staff. Use your pollutant inventory and assessment of substitutes to make a plan to substitute greener products. When you do, use a lifecycle approach (see Business Planning and Budgeting) by accounting for all the costs for disposal, protective equipment for employees, and health and safety incidents associated with toxic materials.

Toronto-based Colour Innovations, a pre-press and printing services company, is significantly reducing chemical effluents and wastewater in their printing process. They moved to a complete CTP (computer-to-plate) operation to eliminate all film chemicals from the pre-press process wastewater stream. All pressroom wastewater, including fountain solutions, is either collected for safe disposal or treated on-site. Since the CTP developer is corrosive the company installed a pH neutralizer to bring the pH levels into line with the local sewer bylaw and are testing developer recirculation units to neutralize and reduce discharge of wastewater to City sewer by 50%.Footnote 53

Business Benefits

The benefits of preventing pollution from the liquid waste your business produces are in health and safety improvements from substituting greener alternatives to toxics. Some businesses may also benefit from reduced sewer fees. These and other benefits of environmental initiatives are outlined in the Business Case.


Calculate Your Waste Production
Step 1: Measure your bin, or ask your contractor what size it is. Compare the measurement in yards to the appropriate volume in the chart below.
Bin Type LxWxH Volume (m3)
2 Cubic Yards 6'x3'x3'2" 1.529109716
3 Cubic Yards 6'x3'6"x4' 2.293664574
4 Cubic Yards 6'x4'8"x4' 3.058219432
5 Cubic Yards 6'x4'8"x5' 3.82277429
6 Cubic Yards 6'x5'6"x5' 4.587329148
8 Cubic Yards 6'x5'6"x6'8" 6.116438864
12 Gallon Bin 19" x 16" x 13" 0.045424942
35 Gallon Tote 23.75"x19"x37.5" 0.132489413
64 Gallon Tote 29.5"x23.25"x40.25" 0.242266355
95 Gallon Tote 37"x26.5"x46" 0.359614121

Step 2: Multiply the volume of your bin by the number of pick-ups per week.
Step 3: Multiply the result by the number of weeks of pick-up per year (likely 52).
Step 4: Multiply the result by the average density of municipal solid waste (MSW) (150 kg/m3)*.
A 4-yard bin (3.06 m3 from chart above) picked up 3 times per week.
Weekly volume: 3.06 m3 x 3 = 9.18 m3
Annual volume: 9.18 m3/week x 52 weeks/year = 477.36 m3
Annual weight: 477.36 m3 x 150 kg/m3 = 71 604 kg (or 71.6 tonnes)

*Uncompacted MSW density from Henry, J. and Heinke, G. 1996. Environmental Science and Engineering. New Jersey: Simon & Schuster, p. 574.



Buildings have a dramatic impact on their occupants and the environment. Buildings use large amounts of resources during construction and renovation, and continue to do so throughout their operation. Small and mid-sized businesses, whether they own the building they occupy or not, have an opportunity to reduce environmental impacts and costs, and improve indoor environments and company image. As a business, you may be involved in aspects of commercial building management including:

  • Building construction
  • Building renovation
  • Building operation
  • Building maintenance

Residential and commercial buildings in Canada have a big environmental footprint. They use or produce roughly:

  • 50% of the extracted natural resources and 1/3 of the country's energy use
  • 25% of landfill waste
  • 10% of airborne particulates
  • 35% of greenhouse gases

Many of these impacts are caused by the estimated 500,000 commercial and institutional buildings across the country. These impacts occur during construction, deconstruction, renovation and occupancy, and their magnitude is partially due to the fact that Canadians spend about 90% of their time in buildings, at home, at work or at play.

Many building operation and maintenance issues for small business are addressed in the Energy, Waste and Water sections of this roadmap. This section will focus largely on building construction and renovation and the role of small business to reduce its environmental and social impacts through the building process and landlord relationships.

To reduce the environmental impacts of commercial buildings, new construction and renovation projects should incorporate sustainable materials and products that reduce raw material use and minimize harmful environmental impacts in resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation and installation. Choose fixtures and systems (heating, lighting) that are more efficient during the building's operation. Utility systems in existing buildings need to be properly maintained, and occupants engaged in reducing the building's energy, water and waste.

Building ownership largely determines which approach to take in improving the environmental performance of buildings and the health of the occupants. Building owners have more influence over their buildings during new construction and renovations and can affect operations and maintenance to reduce negative impacts and save costs. However, leasees have influence over some aspects of building renovation, operation and maintenance, depending on the terms of the lease. For instance, if a lease specifies that the tenant pay for building operating costs (waste management, energy and water costs), the tenant has more of a direct, financial incentive to make changes to reduce materials and resource use.


New Building Construction

Incorporating sustainability considerations into new construction is essential since building aspects that consume energy and water resources are set during the design of new buildings. Not only are the most cost-effective efficiency improvements related to building envelope and design, decisions during the design phase significantly affect the resource use of a building over its lifetime.

There are several commonly accepted ways to reduce the negative environmental impacts and enhance occupant health of new building construction in the planning stages:

  • Site/Structure: Opportunities to locate the building along a public transit corridor, renovating a building instead of tearing down and building a new one, and orientating a new building appropriately to prevent heat gain from the sun, maximize shade from trees, enable renewable energy generation, and enhance daylight and views.
  • Material Selection: The opportunity to use environmentally preferred building materials, including locally sourced materials, recycled, reused and sustainably harvested materials, and low toxicity materials that improve indoor air quality.
  • Water: Opportunities to capture and use rain water to reduce potable (high quality) water use, design for water-saving fixtures, and building green roofs to prevent water run-off from the roof, filtering pollutants and reducing water flow into storm sewers that can overwhelm the waterways they discharge into and damage critical fish habitat (see below for more on green roofs).
  • Energy: Opportunities to achieve high-efficiency building performance include incorporating alternative energy systems, an energy-efficient building envelope, efficient lighting, and heating/cooling systems to reduce building energy use.
  • Indoor Environment: Opportunities to improve occupant health, well being and productivity by maximizing daylight, reducing noise, ensuring ventilation and moisture control, and avoiding materials that can impact air quality negatively.
  • Operations and Maintenance: Opportunities to plan for reduced operations and maintenance by specifying materials and systems that simplify and reduce maintenance requirements. For instance, the choice of a sustainable flooring material can reduce the need for stripping and waxing that could require toxic chemicals.

Integrated Design

To build a greener and healthier building, it's essential to bring the construction team together at the outset to consider how to maximize your sustainability, including financial, objectives. Since building design professionals typically operate in isolation of each other, bringing together builders, architects, engineers, interior designers, landscapers and other professionals at the design stage can help flag the opportunities to maximize your investments in environmental outcomes. This is referred to as integrated design process (IDP) and should be a key first step of any construction project. As a growing number of architects, developers and contractors have green building experience, it is becoming easier to hire professionals with experience in IDP

If your business involves manufacturing, food processing, printing, or any other process that uses significant energy or water, it is important to ensure the process designers are included in the IDP. If the building and process are engineered separately, there may be missed opportunities; for example, in using waste heat from the process to heat the building.

In planning the construction phase, you may also want to consider social aspects like the hiring practices of contractors and whether or not they hire those with employment barriers. For example, Bridgman Collaborative Architecture, an architect and planning design firm, hired Inner City Renovations (ICR) to complete its office conversion of a former bank in Winnipeg. ICR is a social enterprise whose mandate is to help alleviate poverty in the inner city by providing education, training and quality full-time employment for inner-city low income residents. This roadmap refers to this approach as social purchasing.

Building Renovation

When undertaking a building renovation, environmental factors are a consideration during both deconstruction and renovation.


One very important aspect of building renovation is the deconstruction phase. In the past, preparing for renovation meant demolition, with materials pulled out of the building (wood, metal, drywall, etc.), mixed together and disposed in the landfill. Gradually this cradle to grave approach to deconstruction is being replaced with reuse and reduced waste goals, reflecting a cradle to cradle mentality. Developers have come to realize that so much deconstruction material is high value and can be reused, resold or recycled if carefully separated. Keeping windows, fixtures, carpets, and other materials intact during deconstruction allows them to be sold or donated to charities rather than land-filled. For instance, Habitat for Humanity operates ReStore locations across Canada. Businesses donate new or used building equipment to ReStore for them to resell to raise funds for Habitat's affordable housing building program. Contractors or home owners can then purchase salvaged goods from ReStore or other used building materials suppliers for use in new construction or renovation.

Deconstruction reuses valuable building materials and diverts materials from the landfill saving the builder or developer money from disposal costs where disposal fees are high. For instance, in Metro Vancouver, the deconstruction of the 3300 ft2 Pan-Hellenic building at the University of British Columbia diverted 93% of material from landfill through reuse and recycling, saving the university over $10,000.


Many of the same considerations apply to renovation as to new construction. Look for environmentally preferable materials, and systems and features that reduce energy and water use and protect indoor air quality.

For smaller interior renovations, whether or not you own the building will affect the business case for improvements to energy and water efficiency, such as with more efficient lighting and fixtures. It's important, however, to factor in the downstream economic benefits, since sustainable building improvements may also enhance your employees' productivity and well-being (see Benefits section), and can have a positive effect on your business' environmental reputation from reduced greenhouse gases and other environmental impacts. Even though the leasehold improvements would enhance your landlord's assets, your firm may recoup its investments during the term of your lease, and may enhance its image as a result of reduced environmental impacts.

Building Operation and Maintenance

The operation and maintenance of a building is crucial to reducing its environmental impacts and improving social aspects like employee comfort and well-being, as the Investa Property Group points out:

It's a common misconception that to be "green" a building has to demonstrate state-of-the-art technology and contemporary design. Some of the best performing buildings are older buildings where the building manager has taken measures to optimize performance and supports tenants to do the same. Good building management is critical to achieving positive environmental and social outcomes.

The sections on Water Energy, and Waste (Materials) Management provide further information on how to reduce the negative environmental impacts and enhance the social impacts of building operation and maintenance.

Green Building Certification

This section summarizes LEED and BOMA Green Globes, two methods commonly used to assess the environmental qualities of a building. There are many similarities between the two approaches. LEED, however, is more stringent, requiring documentation to substantiate each point pursued. There are pros and cons of each method, depending on your business objectives, so it is worth investigating the two programs to see which one works best for you.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,is a green building rating program. It is an independently verified (third party certified) system, awarding a certification of certified, silver, gold or platinum based on points achieved in the following aspects:

  • Sustainable Sites: The siting of a building in relation to sustainability. Sustainable Sites covers whether a building is near transit, how it manages soil erosion and stormwater, and its contribution to urban density.
  • Water Efficiency: Measures the reduction in water use that a building achieves. Water Efficiency covers the overall reduction in water use by the building's water systems (taps, toilets, boilers), landscaping that reduces water by using drought-tolerant plants, and wastewater technologies that reduce water.
  • Energy and Atmosphere: Refers to energy source, energy efficiency and eliminating use of chemicals that damage the atmosphere (e.g. may be ozone depleting). Energy and Atmosphere covers building energy performance, use of renewable energy or green power, and ozone protection.
  • Materials and Resources: Refers to the reduction of resource use and sourcing of salvaged, recycled materials from close to home. Materials and Resources includes reuse of parts of an existing building (walls, floors, roof) during a renovation, diverting construction waste from the landfill, and the use of recycled, regional or environmentally certified products.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality: Assesses efforts to provide a healthy indoor environment for building occupants. Indoor Environmental Quality refers to ventilation, the ability of occupants to control the temperature, the amount of available natural daylight, and low levels of air polluting chemicals in building materials, paints, carpets and adhesives.
  • Innovation and Design Process: Addresses exemplary sustainability efforts. Innovation and Design Process awards points for innovative sustainability features and includes whether or not a registered LEED professional was hired for the project. LEED 2009 also includes a credit called Regional Priority which can address an environmental issue that is important in that region.
  • The LEED program initially covered new construction and major renovations. The program now also offers a standard that provides guidance on the operations and maintenance aspects of existing buildings, such as the purchase of environmentally preferred furniture, green cleaning products and services, and sustainable purchasing policies to protect air quality and reduce resource use. (See Green Purchasing for more details.) LEED also offers a rating system called Commercial Interiors which is applicable to building fit up for leases, or interior renovations.

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese is the first LEED Platinum manufacturing facility in Canada. The Picton, Ontario cheese company received the high rating for its building by:

  • Reusing materials left over from constructing its dairy to design and construct its tasting pavilion
  • Installing a 10,000 litre cistern to collect rainwater
  • Building a bio-wetland system to treat whey and wastewater
  • Implementing a green energy strategy that includes solar panels, a wind turbine, a geothermal system for heating and cooling needs, a highly insulated facility, and zoned-based sensors and automatic controls to manage heating, cooling and electricity requirements, and
  • Building cheese aging caves underground to reduce cooling needs

BOMA BESt (Building Environmental Standards) is the Canadian industry standard for green building certification for existing buildings. Six areas of a building's environmental performance and management are critically evaluated: energy, water, waste reduction, emissions and effluents, indoor environment, and environmental management systems. Launched in 2005 by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Canada, the BOMA BESt Program addresses an industry need for realistic standards to assess energy and overall environmental performance of existing buildings. Since the Program's inception, over 2000 buildings representing hundreds of millions of square feet of Canadian commercial real estate have achieved BOMA BESt certification. It is a national program delivered through local BOMA Associations across the country. For a building to achieve Level 1 certification, it must meet BOMA's 14 BESt Practices as verified by an independent third-party. To achieve higher levels of certification (Levels 2 through 4) an applicant must complete the BESt Practices in addition to the full BOMA BESt Assessment Module specific to building type. All information submitted to the Program is verified by an independent third party before certification is awarded. The Program currently offers four online Assessment Modules for existing buildings: office, open air retail, light industrial and enclosed shopping centres. A Module for multi-unit residential buildings will be available online soon.

There is a third building rating system emerging in the North American marketplace that would be of interest to owners who would value an elite sustainable building for environmental, economic, or societal reasons. This is called the Living Building Challenge, which is the most stringent system, requiring net zero energy use and net zero water use. It is realistically only applicable to new buildings.

Green Roofs

A green roof is an engineered roofing system that uses vegetation (plants, a growing medium and a waterproof membrane) to achieve a number of social, economic and environmental benefits. Installing a green roof on your building reduces the need for heating (and air conditioning where relevant), absorbs rainwater, provides habitat for birds and beneficial insects, and extends the life of your roof.

In 2009 BC-based Radha Yoga & Eatery, a yoga centre and restaurant, installed a partial green roof on its 100-year-old building. Since the roof's structural capacity would not support a full green roof, they added an ultra light-weight green roof supplied by Xeroflor Canada.  The product consists of sedum with growing medium rooted into a synthetic mat, with a water retention fleece and drainage mat underneath.  The system weighs in at only 10 pounds per square foot and is laid on top of the existing roof structure. For Radha, this 500 square foot roof is a low-maintenance way to gain some of the benefits of a green roof.

Green Leasing

Leaseholders can work with landlords on terms and conditions that offer tenants (and landlords) incentives to reduce energy, water, waste and greenhouse gases.

If you pay your own utility bills directly, you can make a business case for energy improvements such as lighting, insulation, and water-saving fixtures to reduce your bills, your resource use and your greenhouse gas emissions. Even if you don't pay your own utilities, the fees are rolled into your lease, so it is in the interests of all tenants to reduce waste and energy and water use.

A green lease is essentially an agreement between the landlord and tenant on improvements and how to split the savings. Although this might be possible part way through a lease, the best time to negotiate is before the lease is signed or when it is being renewed. Tenants should address rent structure and operating expenses (and how they are calculated), energy use, as well as any green cleaning and recycling and waste management services provided by the landlord. A model Green Lease, along with a user guide, is available at Real Property Association of Canada.

Business Benefits

Cost Savings
One of the most obvious benefits of sustainable buildings is cost savings as a result of reduced operating costs: energy use, water use, and maintenance account for up to 85% of a building's lifetime costs. Eco-efficient building systems and fixtures can reduce energy and water costs by 30 to 40%. The best new buildings are designed to achieve 70% reduction in energy costs over the building code requirements. Maintenance costs can be reduced since efficient systems like heating are often smaller and easier to maintain, and fixtures like energy efficient lighting require less frequent bulb changing over time. Although there can be increased capital costs of approximately 2% in green builds and renovations, those costs are often quickly recuperated through reduced operating costs.

Increased Productivity
Employees can benefit from an improved environment due to reduced noise, and better lighting, air quality, and temperature control, which can translate into bottom line productivity benefits for businesses. Since payroll costs are so significant for most small and mid-sized businesses, improving employee productivity even slightly can result in considerable financial benefits. Research shows that absenteeism and health issues (asthma, allergies, respiratory diseases) are lower in green buildings and that productivity is 2-10% greater in buildings with increased ventilation, improved lighting (including daylighting), reduced off-gassing, and better temperature control.

Employee attraction and retention
A sustainable workplace may be more attractive to prospective new employees in sectors where there is significant competition for skilled employees and where it may be difficult to retain skilled employees.

Earned Media
Green building projects are relatively new for small and mid-sized businesses. The projects are good news stories, and media interest can build your brand's image. Earned media can provide small businesses with small advertising budgets an opportunity to gain free publicity.

The Listel Hotel in Vancouver, BC, for example, installed a solar hot water system and earned media attention from as far away as Idaho, Nevada, California and Hawaii. See the Marketing section for more information on earned media.


Deconstruction and Renovation
Metro Vancouver green builders' website (Build Smart) provides tools to assist with salvaging and recycling materials during demolition (demolition guide, information on the benefits, a model specification and a waste management guide).

Habitat for Humanity ReStores
Donate used building materials or buy used materials for re-use in renovation or new construction projects.

Green Building Certification Canada Green Building Council LEED Rating System:

Green Globes Green Building Rating System

Operations and Maintenance
Operations and Maintenance Guides for lighting, building shell, power quality and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems:

Green Leasing
Real Property Association of Canada (REALpac) Green Lease Guide for Commercial Office Tenants offers office tenants information on how to approach building sustainability within lease negotiations:

Office Green Lease: Model Green Lease Guide for Office Tenants provides a template for a green lease for office tenants:



Your business' transportation requirements can have significant environmental impacts. From business flights to shipping and employee commuting, the movement of goods and people causes emissions and leaks, including air pollutants, greenhouse gases (GHGs) and water pollution. In Canada, transportation (road transportation, rail, marine transportation and aviation) accounts for 26.7% of total greenhouse gas emissions.Footnote 54

Transportation also causes other environmental issues like reduced air quality (smog, particulates) and water pollution from transportation fluids such as oils and lubricants that leak from vehicles onto roads, ultimately draining into our streams and waterways. The greatest opportunities to reduce environmental impacts from transportation are in the following areas for small firms:

  • Business travel: Moving your staff locally and to outside destinations for business meetings, conferences, or sales calls,
  • Shipping: Moving goods and services, even couriered materials, from place to place,
  • Fleet Management: Operations and maintenance of your fleet, including driver training, and  
  • Employee commuting: Your staff moving from home to work and back again daily.


Business Travel

Reduce the GHG emissions, air pollution and costs associated with your business travel, including both flights and car travel, by using lower impact forms of transportation and reducing the number of trips. Some measures to do this include:

  • Replace car travel with lower impact transportation for sales calls, meetings and other business travel within your community:
    • Provide an incentive for your employees to take public transportation, or active transportation (walking, cycling) instead of driving
    • Green your fleet so the impact of driving is reduced (see Fleet Management below for information on how to green your fleet)
  • Reduce the impact of travel outside your region:
    • Consider rail or carpooling in place of short-haul flights
    • Where air travel is used, encourage employees to take advantage of airport shuttles or public transport to hotels
  • Reduce the need for in-person meetings by encouraging "virtual meetings". Consider the following options:
    • Tele- or video-conferencing: meet virtually with your employees or clients using phone or video technology. Review team presentations virtually using free webinar technology. Tele-conferencing and video-conferencing allows many members of your team to meet more frequently, reducing lost labour time from travel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Low or no-cost online information-transfer and team building solutions such as file sharing, screen sharing and web conferencing. For example:
      • File Sharing: File sharing allows you to transfer and collaborate with team members on large files without having to meet in person. There are many free or affordable file sharing services available, depending on your needs, such as "You Send It", "For My Innovation (FMYI)", and others.
      • Screen Sharing and Webinars: Screen sharing and webinars allow you to have virtual meetings or training where users can share files or watch presentations, hear audio and interact with the presenter and audience. There are many low and no cost options, including "Screen Stream" screen sharing software, and "Netxpression Webinar Builder" software to build webinars and online presentations, and others. 
      • Video-conferencing: There are many no and low cost videoconferencing services, which provide a live video and voice communication for 3 or more people, currently available, such as "Skype", "Google Chat", "Windows Live Messenger",  and others.
      • You can compare video conferencing services at the Master New Media website.

Software to support the above measures to reduce business travel changes rapidly, so make sure to keep up to date on new technology by doing an internet search using the search terms above ("file sharing software", "webinar software"). Calgary-based Tech House Computer Services reduces the impact of its business travel by using a bicycle with a trailer to get around the city. In the winter, when snow makes bike travel more difficult, Tech House staff sometimes travel in vehicles from the Calgary Alternative Transportation Co-operative, a car-sharing network whose members share vehicle ownership. By using alternative transportation, Tech House reduces its costs for vehicles, fuel and insurance, while reducing the environmental impacts of business transportation.

Shipping (Goods Movement)

To reduce GHG emissions, air pollution and costs from business shipping, look for ways to maximize and reduce the number of shipments. Some measures include:

  • Consider shipping companies that are eco-certified or recognized
  • Review your shipping/delivery practices. You may be able to shift the shipment of some goods from one transportation type to another, from road to rail for instance.
  • Schedule deliveries for off-peak hours: avoiding rush hour can improve fuel efficiency and save time.
  • Consolidate shipments: the movement of products off and on your premises may provide opportunities for consolidated shipments. By ordering more at once, increasing your inventory or encouraging customers to order in bulk, you can reduce shipping-related emissions. Even courier services can be consolidated with careful planning. Shipments can also sometimes be consolidated with other neighbouring businesses.

Salt Spring Coffee Company, based on Saltspring Island, BC, reduced its shipping impacts by changing its shipping practices. Rather than shipping  its beans by boat from various ports around the world into Oakland, California and then trucking them up to Vancouver, it now makes fewer, larger orders and ships them straight to Vancouver. This change in shipping practices saves the company 1.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases per load.Footnote 55

In an effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, BC-based Integral Sense Brands (ISB), a distributor of natural personal care products from around the world, encourages its customers to consolidate orders. The company provides incentives on the shipping price to customers that order more product at one time, with both the business and the customer reducing emissions as a result. ISB sells to retailers with a high commitment to environmental sustainability; by explaining its motive to reduce its carbon footprint to its customers it experienced significant take up.Footnote 56

Manage Fleets

Some businesses have fleet vehicles that are used for business travel and/or shipping. Fleets have significant environmental impacts, which proper management can help reduce. The Environmental Defense Fund, a leading US science-based environmental organization, states that the average fleet vehicle emits 15 tons of carbon per year, and businesses can reduce up to 2 tons of that through simple actions gained in maintenance and driver training.Footnote 57 If you own fleet vehicles, there are several ways to reduce the environmental (GHGs, air pollution and leaks) impacts of fleet vehicle use. "Greening your fleet" involves 1) proper maintenance, 2) improved use (driver training), 3) improved vehicle selection, and 4) fuel selection as outlined below.

1. Maintenance

Vehicle maintenance, such as tire pressure checks, oil and filter changes, and wheel alignments, saves fuel and reduces air pollution. Repairing fluid leaks prevents water pollution when oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid and other chemicals drip onto roads and get washed into streams and waterways. Consider the following measures:

  • Tire pressure: It's important to maintain proper tire pressure. Low pressure increases tire wear and fuel use. Check the maximum tire pressure on the wall of the vehicle's tire or on the driver's side door. Cold temperatures in winter reduce the pressure in tires, so be sure to check tire pressure often in winter. When replacing tires, look for low rolling resistance (LRR) tires to improve fuel economy.
  • Oil changes: Change oil and oil filters regularly, since old oil loses its lubricating properties and reduces the vehicle's power and fuel efficiency. When replacing your oil, use synthetic oil which lasts 2-3 times longer than conventional oil, helps increase the engine's life, and generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Air filter: Change the air filter regularly, since restricting the air into the engine's combustion chamber reduces the vehicle's power and fuel efficiency. This practice will also extend the engine's life.
  • Wheel alignment: Aligning wheels reduces tire wear, protects the suspension, and reduces rolling resistance which improves fuel efficiency.
  • Leak detection: Check fluid levels regularly, and inspect the area under vehicles in parking spots for any chronic drips or leaks. Fixing leaks saves money and reduces run-off into streams and waterways.
2. Driver BehaviourFootnote 58

Driver training, or employee education, is a business' least expensive and most immediate action for greater fuel efficiency of its fleetFootnote 59. Fuel efficiency reduces costs, and greenhouse gas and air emissions. Driver training programs are available across Canada, or you can devise your own program based on the many videos, driving and maintenance tips available from different groups (see Resources section for details). Several important aspects of fuel efficient driving are:

  • Gear and  RPMs: Shift up as soon as possible (manual transmissions), driving in the highest gear with the lowest revolutions per minute. For most cars, keep the RPMs below 2500, 1900 for hybrids.
  • Accelerating and braking: Avoid unnecessary accelerating and braking by driving at a steady speed, anticipating the traffic flow by looking ahead for traffic lights and decelerating smoothly when necessary. Use cruise control on relatively flat highways.
  • Speed: Avoid high speeds. Speeds above 90km/h significantly reduce your fuel economy.
  • Idling: Idling wastes fuel, increases costs and emits greenhouse gases. Avoid idling for longer than 60 seconds when not in traffic. Studies show that 60 seconds of idling is the point at which fuel costs to restart the engine go up and the potential for starter and battery wear increases. You might wish to adopt a company policy of no idling for longer than 60 seconds and provide education on the policy for drivers.Footnote 60 Sometimes the need for idling is related to extreme weather - the engine is left idling to run the vehicle's heating or cooling system. If this is the case for your drivers, couple the anti-idling education and policy with other measures to moderate vehicle temperatures, such as installing sun shades to keep interiors cool, or interior heaters that reduce fuel costs for larger vehicles.
  • Route planning: Route planning ensures that delivery vehicles are used to capacity, eliminates unnecessary driving, and can help avoid traffic snags. Businesses can make use of tools, such as GPS and route planning software, for strategic scheduling and to map and plan efficient routes.Footnote 61

BC-based Small Potatoes Urban Delivery (SPUD), an organic home delivery service, completed a greenhouse gas inventory in 2008 and set a goal to become carbon neutral. Since transportation represents 93% of their greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, many of their efforts to reduce their 461 metric tonnes by 10%Footnote 62 needed to focus on transportation. SPUD used driver training as an important measure to improve the fuel usage of its delivery trucks.Footnote 63

The vehicle choices you make for your fleet have significant environmental impacts depending on the size, fuel type and fuel efficiency of the vehicle.

  • Right sizing: One of the simplest and most cost/fuel efficient measures is to ensure that the vehicle size is appropriate for the job.
  • Retrofitting vehicles: Different retrofits and technologies can provide you with fuel savings. Technologies to consider include aerodynamic skirts, alternative power units (to reduce idling) and different tire technologies. 
  • Life cycle costing: When making vehicle selections, evaluate the ticket price in addition to ongoing operations, maintenance and disposal (re-sale) costs.
  • Fuel efficiency: Comparing the fuel efficiency of vehicle options is essential since your choice of vehicle determines operating costs and environmental impact. For reliable information, go beyond information provided by the vehicle manufacturer. Third party sources of performance information are available:  for the tested fuel efficiency of cars and trucks see: Natural Resources Canada, and for hybrids see E3Fleet.
  • Alternative vehicle technologies: When purchasing vehicles, assess the potential for replacing conventional gasoline-powered vehicles with alternative vehicles.
    • Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV) are approximately 30% more fuel efficient than typical gasoline vehiclesFootnote 64, and can reduce air emissions of smog-forming pollutants by up to 90% and cut GHG emissions in halfFootnote 65 depending on vehicle type and driving conditions. They function like a normal vehicle, are readily available and have been on the market for a number of years.  
    • Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) can be 75% more fuel efficient than typical gasoline vehicles, reducing pollutants and GHGs even further than HEVs. They have a full electric system that requires charging, and can be used for approximately120 kms on the electrical system, before switching over to a fuel system.Footnote 66 They are expected to be in limited release in 2011 with a full production roll out in 2012.

Hybrid Trucks can reduce emissions and fuel costs by 30-50 %. They are being used in large commercial fleets (e.g., UPS, Coca-Cola), with many models becoming available in recent years. This option will become viable for small fleet operators as the technology evolves and more manufacturers produce hybrid trucks.Footnote 67

Mills Basics, a Vancouver-based office supply company, purchasing an electric delivery truck as part of its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The emission-free truck is part of Mills' carbon neutral plan that includes a 30% reduction in Mills Basics' current 532 tonne annual carbon output by 2020.Footnote 68

There are also alternative fuel vehicle options, reviewed below.

3.  Alternative Fuels

Alternative fuels can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants associated with standard petroleum-based fuels (i.e., gasoline and diesel). Some alternative fuels (biodiesel, ethanol) are attractive since they can be used in regular diesel and gasoline engines. However, they are not consistently available throughout the country. See the Resources section for information on fuel availability across Canada.

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel that can be used in any modern standard diesel engine. Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils and animal fats, often from recycled organic waste (e.g., cooking oil), that can be blended with regular diesel to reduce greenhouse gas, sulphur, nitrogen and particulate emissions.Footnote 69 In some cases, fleet vehicles can be operated on 100% biodiesel. Lower blends (B5 and B20 have 5% or 20% biodiesel blended with regular diesel respectively) are often more appropriate for colder climates, since the biodiesel portion of the mixture gets thick in cold weather.

Recycling Alternative, a BC-based recycling hauler, powers its entire diesel fleet with 100% recycled biodiesel (known as B100) made from recycled organic waste. This reduces its carbon emissions by up to 92% over regular diesel.Footnote 70

Ethanol is pure grain alcohol, made in Canada from corn or wheat, that is blended with gasoline to produce fuel with lower greenhouse gas emissions. Compared with gasoline, the greenhouse gas emissions produced from corn-based E10 (E10 has 10% ethanol blended with regular gasoline) are 3-4% lower and from wood- or agricultural material-based E10 are 6-8% lower. Ethanol blended fuel can be used in modern (1980's or newer) gasoline-powered vehicles. Typical vehicles can run on a blend of up to 10% ethanol (E10) (available at some services stations across Canada). Some vehicles can operate on higher ethanol blends (up to 85%); ask vehicle manufacturers for details.Footnote 71

Some concerns about plant-based fuels are that the use of wheat or corn for fuel means there is less food available for consumption. Some fuels are made from crops, and some are made from the waste from other agricultural processes. The best plant-based fuels do not use new crops, but existing crop waste. Part of your decision to buy greener fuels should be some research into the availability of fuels made from waste, for example, ethanol made from corn fibre.

Hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen. They can produce very low, or no greenhouse gas emissions, depending on where the hydrogen is sourcedFootnote 72. Hydrogen vehicles are not yet commercially available due to the lack of a refuelling infrastructure. However, some efforts are underway to make hydrogen more readily available. A consortium of Canadian technology providers government partners, and technology users in BC are developing the "Hydrogen Highway", a network of 7 hydrogen refuelling stations between Victoria and Whistler.Footnote 73 Hydroden forklifts are also in the development stage, but will not be readily available for a number of years.

Natural Gas
Natural gas is a pressurized fossil fuel that burns more cleanly than gasoline or diesel. Its produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants. It's also less likely to contribute to water pollution because the sealed containment system required to contain the gas means it can't escape onto roadways and into water through careless handling, spills, leaks or evaporation.Footnote 74 A range of natural gas-powered vehicles are available in the market, or you can convert an existing vehicle to use natural gas for about $6,000.Footnote 75

Propane is a fossil fuel (gas) that is pressurized and stored as a liquid for use in vehicles. It can produce up to 20% reductions in GHGs. It also reduces air pollution, since it produces extremely low amounts of sulphur oxides that contribute to acid rain and smog. Propane's pressurized sealed containment system also makes it less likely to contribute to water pollution since it can't escape onto roadways and into water through careless handling, spills, leaks or evaporation.Footnote 76

Employee Commuting

Although out of a business' direct control, how employees get to and from work can have a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions from single occupant vehicle (SOV) trips. Businesses can influence the commuting patterns of their employees by:

  • Locating near transit
  • Providing incentives, e.g.,:
    • For using commuting alternatives to cars, such as discounts on transit passes or memberships in car-sharing organizations
    • For the purchase of low emission or alternative fuel vehicles
    • Free parking for carpoolers
  • Providing support to staff for ride-matching so they can organize carpools
  • Engaging staff to participate in campaigns that encourage alternative transportation choices. For example, commuter challenges and "bike-to-work" weeks challenge employees to try out new forms of transportation in a fun and engaging way
  • Providing flexibility around work days/hours (shortened work week, avoiding daily rush hour), and location (opportunity to work from home)
  • Providing secure bike storage, showers and change rooms for cyclists and walkers
  • Offering carpoolers, walkers and cyclists a guaranteed ride home (e.g. taxi fare) if they or a family member gets ill or needs help

Vancouver-based Eclipse Awards, a crystal, glass and green awards company, provides its employees a variety of incentives to promote alternative transportation choices:

  • Zero-emissions vehicle incentive: pays $450 towards the purchase of a zero emissions vehicle (e.g.,electric scooter, bicycle, hybrid car)
  • Green exercise incentive: pays employees $0.30 cents for each kilometer walked to work, and $0.20 cents for each kilometer biked to work
  • Public transportation initiative: pays 50% of the cost of a bus pass.Footnote 77

Business Benefits

Cost Savings
Significant cost savings can be achieved through more sustainable transportation. Some cost savings will require capital outlay for new vehicles or vehicle conversions to alternative fuels, but these investments will pay for themselves via fuel efficiency in a short time, and begin to save a company money.

Other cost savings accrue immediately. For instance, replacing business travel with virtual meetings and presentations provides for potentially significant savings on flights. Other simple measures like proper maintenance and driver training can achieve significant fuel cost savings. Driver training programs alone can reduce fuel costs approximately 10%.Footnote 78

Extended Vehicle Life
Many fuel-saving measures are related to good vehicle maintenance, reducing wear and tear and extending the life of your assets. Increased maintenance, in combination with fuel-saving driving techniques, reduce replacement requirements of vehicles and parts (tires, brakes). This also leads to reduced maintenance labour and further cost savings.

Meet Customer Expectations for Action on Climate Change
Transportation is a major contributor of greenhouse gases leading to global warming. Increased environmental awareness means that customers are looking for businesses taking action on climate change. In addition to meeting customer expectations and building a loyal customer base, efforts to reduce the impacts of your transportation can help build a positive brand image and win new customers.


Driver Training

  • Green Driving Canada provides fuel efficient driving tips through their "Eco-Driving and Xtreme Eco-Driving" programs. 


  • Environmental Defense Fund provides a step-by-step fleet management program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, air quality emissions and leaks by setting goals, creating an inventory, improving vehicle selection and use, considering carbon offsets and reporting on progress (Green Fleet Framework).
  • Natural Resources Canada "FleetSmart" program provides driver training resources (manuals, training), workshops on fuel management, fuel saving information, an idling reduction toolkit, and case studies and success stories.
  • Fraser Basin Council "E3 Fleets" is a national program that offers businesses a fleet review to assess their fleet vehicle choices, fuel choices and driving habits against the goal of minimizing vehicle fuel consumption and exhaust emissions and reducing costs. Tools help businesses to track and report on carbon emissions, find alternative fuels (e.g., biodiesel, ethanol blends and hydrogen) and calculate the benefits of purchasing a hybrid vehicle.

Natural Resources Canada provides information on alternative fuels, including a description of each fuel type, environmental, societal and economic benefits, safety and performance, and availability.



Marketing is an important aspect of any business that ensures your customers are aware of your products and services and your brand. Communicating your story effectively is the key to effective marketing. You'll want to talk about your social and environmental initiatives and integrate them into your messaging to enhance your brand’s image and attract customers to your environmentally and socially beneficial products and services. Few businesses do this well. Create an effective green and social responsibility message by communicating what you're doing well and what you’re working towards related to your business’ specific impacts. Communicate the environmental and social benefits of your offerings through honest communication. For both the brand and the products, avoid sweeping statements and grandiose language.

Businesses are sometimes accused of “greenwashing” when they try to make themselves or their products or services look green or socially responsible without the action to back it up. An example of this is when a company spends more resources on advertising its sustainability attributes than resources spent on its sustainability programs. Other examples include vague and meaningless product claims like “environmentally-friendly” that are not explained, or claims that are not backed up such as shampoos and conditioners advertised as not tested on animals which offer no evidence or certification of their claim.


Gather Facts and Figures

In order to communicate effectively about your sustainability program or initiatives, gather any relevant facts or figures about your efforts. The best marketing includes concrete examples about how much water, energy or material you have saved, how much waste you have diverted, or greenhouse gases you have reduced through your environmental programs. On the social side, your marketing might consist of communications on your innovations to make your products more accessible to underserved communities.

To make effective product and service claims, pull together specific details of the environmental and social benefits of your product compared to others in the marketplace, or a new product or formulation compared to an old one. For instance, if a new product reduces packaging, an effective message might communicate “55% less packaging”. If a new product supports farming families in Guatemala your product profile might tell the story of how these families have benefited.

Create "CRED"

Greenbiz outlines a simple green marketing formula:  create Credible, Relevant, Effective messaging that Differentiates your company and your products from your competitors:

Provide credible messages by backing up your statements with appropriate facts and figures. The level of information may depend on the image or social / environmental history of your sector, and the audience you are targeting. Your approach may be to provide different information if your message is for customers versus employees, for instance you may want to create a simple snapshot for the internal website for employees, and a more detailed report for other stakeholders like investors or your board.

A relevant message reports sustainability success that is in line with the company's impacts. For example, if an automotive company focuses on advertising its efforts to green its facilities while not delivering on fuel efficiency improvements of its cars, its green message is not relevant to its key environmental impacts. If a business markets its strong community benefit programs yet has a weak health and safety record, its message will ring hollow.

An effective message translates the sustainability information to make sense of the magnitude of your achievements. For instance, you may have reduced a tonne of waste, but making that relevant to the audience often means translating it into "reducing our dumpster pick-ups from four to three per week" or something else that is easily understood. How the message is communicated also affects its effectiveness. The message should be expressed in a way that is appropriate for your business. For example, rather than a splashy PR campaign or press release, your message might be better spread through word of mouth, or a story in an industry association or local business magazine

To differentiate your company or your products make the message unique and distinct from competing products and services. Small and medium sized businesses have an advantage since there isn't a lot of green or sustainability competition within the SME sector. They can often distinguish themselves as the environmental and socially responsible business of choice for some small unique efforts to green their operations or their product line.

See the Resources section for a link to the Greenbiz article and further background on their "CRED" marketing approach.

Business Benefits

The many benefits of environmental management are found in the Business Case. Here are a few that are specific to green marketing:

Differentiate your Business and your Products

It’s important to distinguish your business based on your green and socially responsible products or services and/or your sustainability achievements. Communicating this to your customers is key, since Globescan’s CSR Monitor reports that 80% of Canadians say they are willing to pay more for products produced in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. If your customers are other businesses or organizations, the greening of supply chains and liability concerns will make your company’s offering stand out from your competitors..

Free Advertising ("Earned Media")

Your social and environmental achievements are an opportunity for media attention referred to as “earned media”. Although not as targeted as paid advertising, earned media can provide free advertising to help build public awareness of your company as a green and socially responsible brand. For instance, Mountain Equipment Co-op’s green building efforts have earned the company considerable media attention, being highlighted as a green brand on prime time TV when similar advertising would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Human Resources


Employees are an important aspect of sustainability program success. People—your employees and the community in which you operate—are an essential aspect of the "People, Planet, Profit" paradigm of sustainability. Managing human resources effectively means going beyond communication to seek out staff ideas, and solicit their time and energy to help implement initiatives. Engaging your employees taps into a wealth of knowledge about your business and ideas to innovate, reduce costs and rework processes and products to reduce environmental and social impacts. And the more engaged employees are, results show (See Business Case), the more motivated, loyal and productive they are as well, driving further overall benefits to your business.


Communicate Goals

Communicating the organization's goals for new sustainability initiatives or programs is essential to build a shared understanding of where the business is headed and how everyone can help. If done well, this provides a clear roadmap for the company's efforts and outlines how employees can play their part. Sharing this information builds employee buy-in as staff come to understand the context and the rationale for change.

Involve and Empower Employees

Getting employees engaged in any kind of workplace innovation or change is essential. Human resource practices can help embed environmental and social responsibility values in a business, ensuring employee buy-in. Employees who are encouraged and empowered to participate in sustainability programs benefit the business' bottom line with their front-line ideas of ways to reduce waste and retool processes to meet the company's goals.

For example, 3M started an employee program to engage employees to reduce its environmental impact. The program has generated more than 3,000 projects, mostly from employee ideas, that reduced emissions by over 1 billion pounds and saved approximately $500 million since 1975. There is no substitute for shop floor knowledge and enthusiasm.

Reward Innovative Ideas and Hard Work

Celebrating success and rewarding achievement are an important factor in managing human resources to implement environmental goals. A pat on the back, award, internal newsletter article or contribution to an employee's favorite social or environmental charity will help spread interest and engagement in your programs. You may also want to consider how your employees are financially compensated because if all your performance targets and financial incentives are focused on your financial goals, you may find it a challenge to motivate your employees to consider other factors in their work. Think, too, abut whether you would like to put sustainability objectives into employee job descriptions or annual performance contracts. This can have a positive effect as well.

Manage Change

Innovation and sustainability require change, and with change comes fear and uncertainty. To manage human resources well, and help support your staff through this process, it's important to create an open climate for discussion. This means creating a culture where it's OK to disagree and share opinions. By providing opportunities for feedback you'll get positive and negative feelings out in the open and understand the source of concern. See Leadership (Culture) for more information.

Incorporate your Sustainability Commitment Into Employee Recruiting Programs

Increasingly employees prefer to work for organizations that are aligned with their social and environmental values. Leading companies are incorporating sustainability messaging into their recruitment programs. Check the job ads sometime for evidence of this—it might give you a few ideas for how to take your recruitment to the next level, increasing your chances of attracting the best and the brightest.


Measurement, Tracking and Reporting


Measurement, tracking and reporting is an important aspect of sustainability programs. Measurement provides a way for you to gauge your progress towards your goals, tracking helps you monitor your progress and continually improve, and reporting allows you to communicate it to staff or other stakeholders. Common examples would be measurement of resources used (energy, water, paper consumption, materials), waste created, greenhouse gases emitted, employee volunteer hours or  donations to social or environmental groups.

A common axiom of sustainability management is that you can't manage what you don't measure. As your business begins to manage and reduce its negative sustainability impacts, consider appropriate measures of success to measure your progress, set specific targets and then begin to monitor your sustainability performance over a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. This will help you track your performance, as with other aspects of your business, pointing you to areas where it might be necessary to step up efforts. Measuring in this way can be a real incentive to staff, too, as it can encourage them and further motivate them to do more. Many businesses start the measuring process by conducting an environmental audit or social responsibility assessment of their operations. You may wish to start here too, there are some examples in Resources to help you with this, or see the Resource Use section.

Over the last decade, reporting on environmental and sustainability performance has grown worldwide, with many large and some medium sized organizations producing an annual sustainability report. Such reporting addresses the positive and negative aspects of the company's environmental and social performance with the goal of increasing transparency and building goodwill with stakeholders such as shareholders/investors, employees, community members and your clients. Reporters also find that the process of issuing a sustainability report helps bring more clarity and focus to the organization's efforts in managing its environmental and social performance, so it can be a good way to improve your performance as well.

In practice, SMEs are less likely to issue sustainability reports. However, reporting on sustainability performance can help them gain credibility with customers, investors and bankers who are increasingly looking to environmental measurement and reporting as a tool to assess the credit worthiness and risk profile of businesses. As noted in the Business Case, employees are also interested in working for companies aligned with their values. Being able to read about concrete efforts and the positive impacts the company has generated in the environment or the community can make the best and the brightest talent more attracted to your company. The goal is to provide a means to communicate information to stakeholders to gain trust and credibility. This may be as simple as posting information on your website, or providing an update to suppliers, customers and staff, all the way to more robust and complex annual sustainability reporting.



Measuring the success of your sustainability programs and initiatives helps you ensure that you track your progress and meet your goals. Measurement allows you to create an accurate description of your current state, so that you can set goals and be sure when you meet them. The measurement of your current state is often referred to as creating a baseline. Ultimately, you need measures that work for your business, that can easily be integrated into workflows, and can be reproduced regularly to monitor and track progress. Get started on your baseline by:

  • Gather your bills for each area of resource consumption. Typically, this would include waste and recycling, energy (electricity and natural gas), water, and materials use. Take a look at what unit of measurement are provided by your utility, contractors and suppliers and assess whether this is sufficient to help you monitor progress over time; or 
  • Conduct an audit to dig deeper into one of your resource use areas. For instance, if you want to reduce energy use from a specific part of your building, or reduce one of the materials in your waste stream, you'll need to have a better breakdown than your bills provide. A simple dumpster dive will provide you with your total waste volume, a breakdown of your waste stream and ideas about where the biggest opportunities for reduction might be. An energy or greenhouse gas audit will provide you with energy use or emissions from different areas of your business, that will allow you to set specific goals.
  • Survey your staff to determine the degree to which they perceive the company to be a socially and environmentally responsible firm. This can be a means of identifying gaps that require attention to maintain employee morale and engagement.

For more information on conducting inventories and reducing your impact in various areas, see Resource Use.


Tracking is the periodic checking of your success towards your goals. At regular intervals, you'll want to use your measurement techniques to assess how well you are doing and make any necessary changes. Tracking may be an annual activity toward a specific goal, for example reducing waste to landfill by one dumpster per week, but it can also be used along with measurement to set new goals and ensure your programs continue and always improve on your previous success. This is the concept of continuous improvement.


  • Consider your audience when reporting on your sustainability efforts. For staff and most customers, a snapshot may be all that's required. You might want to make more detail available for other groups that may be interested in more detail (such as bankers or employees).
  • Consider your impacts and report success that is in proportion to them. Sustainability reporting comes up short when a company doesn't address its most important environmental impacts. For instance, if a business reports on progress towards its paper recycling goals, while making no progress on a highly toxic waste stream, it won't improve its credibility. If you are not sure about which areas of your business generate the most impacts, conduct an audit as noted under "Measure" and in the Resource Use section, or contact your local environmental organization, government department or trade association for advice. You could even consult your staff, suppliers, neighbours and customers for their ideas, since what matters to them will also matter to you.
  • Develop an appropriate and reproducible format that considers your company's goals and the resources that can be allocated to reporting. Develop an appropriate means to report on your progress that can impact management, staff and stakeholders without unduly taxing limited resources.

Saltspring Coffee, an organic coffee company operating in BC, is in their 4th year of measuring and reporting their greenhouse gas emissions. Their GHG emissions were 263.43 tonnes in 2007. They went beyond the industry standard for GHG emissions inventories (direct emissions reporting) by including their indirect emissions. The company reports emissions measurements and reduction strategies on its website:Footnote 79




A business moves into a leadership position when it begins to work to affect change beyond its borders. For instance, it may work to affect change in its industry, within its supply chain, or how its employees behave at home, or work to involve others in protection of the planet’s vital resources and in tackling key social challenges such as poverty. It may even work with government, whether local, provincial or federal, to help advance government policy on the environment or social conditions.

Read further to learn more about what you can do to infuse an environmental ethic into your corporate culture, your community relations and the influence you have through your business relationships. You may also wish to consider a role for your business in climate leadership.

Corporate Culture


What's Your Culture?
Culture reflects the attitudes, beliefs and values of a business. Culture influences how staff interacts with managers, with each other and with other stakeholders outside the organization, like suppliers or customers. Culture is a reflection of staff alignment with organizational values; in responsive and adaptive cultures staff is well aligned with business values and respond quickly to change.

Creating an Adaptive Culture
Sustainability requires changes in behaviour and in mindsets; business is best positioned to lead when it creates a culture that expects and anticipates change. If you involve people at all levels in the change effort, they will become a vital part of the creative process. Creating an adaptive culture is based in a work environment that allows ideas to flow, and makes room for mistakes. Staff begins to do things because they believe it is the right thing to do, and the deep involvement of staff creates a cohesive group that function to meet the goals of the group rather than the motivations of individuals within the group. Creating an adaptive culture can foster sustainability and product innovations. Allowing creative freedom and support for change is a competitive advantage when you can be more flexible, adaptive and responsive to market shifts than your competitors.


Set the Tone from the Top

Leadership from the top is essential for any sustainability initiative to succeed, since it provides direction from the place where decision-making is expected. In this way, a culture of environmental values is communicated through action, reinforced through decision-making and understood by staff who see the organization demonstrating its values and goals, or "walking the talk". Ensuring that the business owner and management set the example for the company is crucial. One way of doing this is to incorporate sustainability performance into the salaries or bonuses of executives and managers to ensure that it is taken seriously and fairly compensated.  As a leader you might also want to consider things like how you get to work, whether you use a lap top to record notes in meetings, or what type of container you use for your morning coffee at the office, etc. It is the little things that communicate "support from the top".

Create "Sustainability Teams"

Creating groups of employees committed to various projects and initiatives is a way to divide the implementation work, create synergy and foster team spirit. Green or sustainability teams typically are groups of employees representing different business areas, such as purchasing, marketing, facilities, sales, etc. They can be self-selecting or hand picked or some combination of the two. One important advantage of this approach is that groups of employees from different parts of the business can come together to solve problems, meet goals and bring their divergent viewpoints and skill sets to the tasks at hand.


Community Giving and Volunteerism


Community giving is an opportunity to demonstrate your environmental and social commitment to the broader community. It's important to donate to worthy causes, and it provides an opportunity to market your business (see more under Marketing). Contributing to community and international causes has a great impact when it is consistent with your goals and values. For instance, a number of years ago Mountain Equipment Co-op aligned its charitable donations with its environmental goals of protecting and providing access to wilderness. This focused their contributions on organizations and events that protect wilderness. They subsequently launched a campaign called "The Big Wild" with other partners working to increase the amount of Canadian protected wilderness to 50%.

Some businesses link sales of their products to social or environmental causes.  Ethical Bean Coffee Company in BC, for example, is owned and run by adoptive parents.  A portion of the proceeds of each bag sold goes directly to the Adoptive Families Association of BC to support their mission of finding a family for every child.Footnote 80

Another way to contribute to community causes and provide a benefit to employees is to encourage employees to volunteer for a local charity or non-profit organization during work time. The charity or non-profit benefits from the donated talents of your employees, while your business benefits by creating a better image and happier more engaged employees. Not only that, but it can help build skill sets for employees and can supplement your employee training program. The Knowledge Development Centre of Canada reports that businesses supporting employee volunteer activities benefit from an improved public image (33%), employee morale (21%) and relations with the surrounding community (17%). Since large businesses are more likely than small ones to support such initiatives, it offers a way for small businesses to distinguish themselves from competitors in the small business sector.

You can also build employee team spirit by participating in local projects together.  Stream, shoreline and community cleanups, and de-littering highways are some of the environmental opportunities available. Social projects could include building a children’s playground together or holding a fund-raising auction for a health agency.  BC-based Scott Construction provides its staff with paid time each year to participate in its Volunteer Program. In 2009 Scott staff volunteers contributed their construction skills and revamped a playground at the YWCA Citygate Early Learning and Care Centre.Footnote 81

In addition to charitable giving and employee volunteering, organizations can also contribute “in-kind” or non-cash items to community groups, such as surplus equipment or furniture, access to meeting facilities, or professional services such as accounting or training.   Think of the many non-financial resources of your firm from your physical plant, to your fleet, to your knowledge and skills, and consider ways these assets can be shared with community organizations to help their cause. For instance, Groupe Aeroplan's “Beyond Miles” program makes it possible for Aeroplan members to donate air miles to one of eight Canadian charitable organizations. To date, more than 151 million miles have been donated. Aeroplan itself assisted the earthquake relief effort in Chile in 2010 by donating 1 million miles to the Canadian Red Cross.Footnote 82

A further opportunity to advance social and environmental well-being is to look for ways to partner and collaborate with organizations on collective projects. In Nova Scotia, iNova Credit Union collaborated with a grass-roots network of thirteen other municipalities, businesses and non-profit organizations to create the "Atlantic Canada Sustainability Initiative", a project to build capacity and momentum around sustainability within the Atlantic Region.


Set up a Donations Program That Incorporates Your Environmental and Social Goals

Ensure that your community or international giving has impact that reinforces your environmental and social goals by:

  • Targeting some donations to environmental and/or social projects
  • Reviewing your sustainability goals and see how your community giving can help advance your overall aims
  • Enhancing your marketing efforts by sponsoring environmental and social initiatives, non-profits and events
  • Contacting your local environmental or community / international development organization to see if there are projects you can support with dollars or employee time.

Create an Employee Volunteerism Program

Create a program to benefit your staff and the community by allowing employees to volunteer to community organizations on work time. Survey your staff on their existing volunteer activities and their charities/non-profits of interest; discuss their interest and potential structures for the program. Some options are:

  • Paid time to volunteer
  • Award schemes to recognize employee volunteering
  • Short-term secondments to environmental organizations
  • Team-based programs in support of sustainability projects, such as building a Habitat for Humanity home, or a stream cleanup

Partner on a Sustainability Initiative

Consider where you and your organization would like to make a difference. Sometimes what is lacking is a network of like-minded people and organizations to move a cause forward. Brainstorm some ideas with staff; contact local organizations or a city councillor to find out where the greatest needs are, such as affordable housing or a green jobs agenda. Read the local papers to spot the big issues. Contact other business owners and community leaders to see if they would be interested in working together. Convene a meeting, scope out the issue and discuss how to collaborate on a project to address the priority or the opportunity. Agree to terms of reference, secure funding and other necessary resources, and develop and implement your action plan.


Business Support for Employee Volunteers in Canada” provides information from a study of Canadian employers on their employee volunteering programs.

Imagine Canada is a national program that promotes public and corporate giving.

Volunteer Canada

Leverage Your Influence


Leveraging your influence sets you apart as a business leader and helps distinguish your brand. It demonstrates that not only are you a business-savvy leader, reaping the financial benefits of reducing your negative and enhancing your positive social and environmental impact, but you are working to tell your story, share best practices, bring others along, and influence public policy for the betterment of the environment your community and broader society.


Work With Others in Your Sector

No one understands your business like others in your sector. Telling your story and sharing best practices can drive innovation, stop you and others from reinventing the wheel, and raise the bar for the entire industry's sustainability performance in a shorter period of time. Work with your industry association or group to leverage your influence, tell your story and share best practices with others. The risk to your business of course, is that if your entire industry or sector has a poor social or environmental record, government might decide it needs to regulate for improved performance. The opportunity is that if your industry association helps move your sector forward, you can all benefit from the social license to operate and an improved industry brand locally and in global markets. Contact your business association and ask them how you can get involved or whether you can head up an effort to launch an environmental committee.

Collaborate with Other Businesses and Organizations

There are many sustainability l improvements a business can make on its own. However, working together with other businesses can reduce the costs of improvements a single business cannot afford, or may give rise to opportunities for sharing services or exchanging waste (so each can incorporate waste as a product input, for example) or joint contracting of recycling services. For instance, business members of the Chicago Waste to Profit Network diverted almost 50 tonnes of waste and related CO2 and produced $1.9 million in revenue generated or cost savings in 2008, creating much more value and savings than these businesses could create on their own. A business might share a recycling bin with a neighbour, or work with a group of businesses to install geothermal or solar heating. To get started contact your local Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade to see what efforts or initiatives are underway. Or offer to lead a networking group yourself.

”Eco-industrial networking” is an approach to developing relationships between businesses in a geographic area (such as an industrial park) to collaborate to reduce energy, material, water, human and infrastructure resources.Footnote 83 Burnside Industrial Park in New Brunswick has over 1000 small and mid-sized businesses. Through the New Brunswick Eco-Industrial Network, Burnside businesses collaborate to reduce waste. They exchange business by-products that would formally have been disposed of as waste. Businesses have been especially successful in exchanging packaging and shipping materials, like cardboard, plastic and metal containers, fillers and pallets. These materials are waste to the business donating them, but provide useful materials for packaging or shipping to the recipient business. The exchange of materials eliminates the need for new materials, and saves both businesses money.Footnote 84

Engage with Government

Businesses show leadership by engaging with government to influence public policy and public programs. For example, there may be no local pick up of compost and a group of businesses might want to get together to work with government on a solution. Local building codes might not permit innovations in processing facilities that allow you to reuse water in your systems.

Contact your industry association or local chamber of commerce or board of trade to find out if efforts are underway you can join. Contact your local mayor or councillor, or your local provincial representative or Member of Parliament to get their advice about how to get started or engaged.

Beaubear Credit Union (BCU) in Miramichi, New Brunswick engaged with their local government and like-minded organizations to facilitate the start-up of a local transit system. Spurred by a strong need in the community and within their business, Beaubear spearheaded a group made up of representatives from the City of Miramichi, the local college, school board, hospital authority and others. BCU provided support instrumental in the success of the transit initiative, chairing the Advisory Board early on, and committing financial support (10 years worth of paid bus ads) that helped to leverage the funds to purchase vehicles and bus shelters. Current ridership of the transit system is estimated at 4,000 per month. Economic development has resulted from the new transit system; 7 full time and 1 part time job have been created, and the City is now being considered as a possible site for the relocation/expansion of a number of companies that specifically request availability of public transit for staff.


A “roadmap” tool for industry associations to help them develop sustainability programs for their members. (PDF - 2.23 MB - 1 page)

Climate Change Leadership


Why it's important

Climate change is one of the most important environmental issues of our time. It involves a long-term shift in average weather conditions over time, including temperature, precipitation, winds, and other indicators. The impacts of climate change may affect our infrastructure, weather patterns, wildlife and landscapes.
Climate change can be caused by both natural processes and human activities. In Canada, 80% of the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with human activities are linked to the production or consumption of fossil fuels for energy purposes.

What the Role of Business Is

Through energy use, transportation and other activities, businesses big and small contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. Although it's easier to point the finger at big industries, small businesses collectively contribute a large portion of Canada's commercial emissions. Actions big and small are needed by all businesses to reduce these emissions.  This calls for leadership at a grand scale. Those businesses that get ahead of the curve and measure and reduce their own emissions will be better able to withstand the predicted rising costs of oil and potential future government regulation in this area. Those businesses that don't take the lead run the risk of lagging their competitors and having to play catch up at greater expense down the road. Recognize, too, that the public sector and private sector are starting to require their suppliers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in their products and services. Those that get ahead of the game will fare better in the marketplace.


Your action to manage your greenhouse gas emissions will be closely connected to your action to reduce your energy use. See energy management strategies in the Resource Use section.

Companies that aim to show leadership on climate change typically adopt climate change strategies with the following components:

  1. Get your house in order by first reducing your greenhouse gas emissions. Have a greenhouse gas management plan. Set bold targets to reduce your emissions. Some businesses set a target of carbon neutral. Others are starting to go carbon negative, in which they become net generators of energy, selling their surplus energy back to the grid. As you work on reducing your greenhouse gas emissions, consider the opportunity of switching to renewable energy, such as solar, wind or hydro. Many energy utilities are starting to profile their renewable and alternative energy efforts. Contact your energy provider to see if there are opportunities to purchase green energy certificates to reduce your emissions further. There are also private renewable energy providers who can help you achieve your carbon reduction goals.
  2. Offer innovative products and services that address climate change and enable your customers to reduce their greenhouse gas footprints
  3. Use your purchases and investments to influence the behaviour of your suppliers (e.g. require your major suppliers to have greenhouse gas management plans) and to get those who manage your money to invest in sustainable companies which are responsibly managing their own greenhouse gas emissions
  4. Offer public education and awareness programs on climate change issues and what the public can do about lessening their impacts
  5. Work with others to influence all levels of government to take action on climate change

Quebec-based Reseau-Bureautique, an office furniture supply company, offers innovative products to its business customers, helping them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and material use. The company refurbishes old office furniture by changing fabric panels and workstation surfaces, redoing trim and pedestals, and updating to modern colour schemes. This is offered as a product (recycled office furnishings) or as a service (refurbishing an office’s existing furnishings). They guarantee their customers 30-50% savings over buying new furniture. The company provides potential clients a carbon calculator that helps customers calculate the reduced carbon emissions associated with the purchase of their refurbished office furnishings compared to new office furnishings.

Use a Rule of Thumb: Estimate Your Biggest Contributions

For businesses that want to start reducing their greenhouse gas emissions without getting involved in measurement, there are several areas to target. As a rule of thumb, according to the Climate at the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, the top three areas where businesses should focus their efforts include reducing:

  • Energy used in their buildings
  • Employee travel
  • Paper consumption.

You'll find measures to reduce greenhouse gases in the Resource Use (energy use, paper consumption), Transportation (employee travel) and Buildings sections of this Roadmap.

To achieve reductions in employee travel:

  • Replace travel to meetings with teleconferencing, video or web conferencing
  • Reduce employee commuting by offering flexible work options (telecommuting, condensed work weeks), arranging carpooling and encouraging transit use. Consider providing showers for employees who cycle to work, and having secure lock-up facilities for commuting bikes. Hold contests to encourage employees to get engaged. Make your free parking spots available to carpools or hybrid vehicles to send a message.

Going Carbon Neutral

For businesses that want to take a more rigorous approach to managing greenhouse gases or even go carbon neutral, follow these three steps:

  • Measure: Complete a full accounting of your areas of greenhouse gas impacts (i.e. a greenhouse gas inventory). (Often firms hire an energy auditor to help them with this step as it can be quite technical) 
  • Reduce: Create action plans to reduce your emissions as much as possible
  • Offset: Consider purchasing carbon offsets for the remainder of your emissions that you cannot reduce. Go to the Carbon Catalog to find an offset provider that meets your needs. Carbon offsets are financial credits you can purchase which invest in local or global projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions to "offset" those you are not able to reduce. Some businesses start by offsetting one part of their business, such as the greenhouse gas emissions associated with air travel, the owner's office or a key product.

What's a Product's Carbon Footprint?

A product's carbon footprint is a way to measure the relative impact of your product in terms of its contribution to climate change. Carbon footprints are a measure of the tonnes of carbon emissions emitted over the life of the product, from the extraction of the raw materials, through manufacturing, transportation, retailing, use and disposal.

Carbon footprints are particularly important for small businesses that are suppliers to larger organizations. As the "Walmart effect" hits small suppliers everywhere, large corporations are requesting small suppliers to disclose and reduce their GHG emissions. In 2007 Walmart piloted a program to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of seven products. It's likely that over time this list will grow to include many more of the company's 60,000 plus suppliers.

This effect will be seen by many of the world's smaller suppliers as global programs like the Carbon Disclosure Project's Supply Chain Leadership Council [PDF document] identify supply chain carbon risks for companies like Cadbury Schweppes, Dell, HP, IBM, L'Oréal, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Heinz, Johnson Controls, Vodafone and others. Many of these companies identify that the majority of their emissions are in their supply chain, and that they will engage their suppliers to understand the carbon liability and to reduce emissions. Suppliers that effectively manage their emissions are most likely to maintain their business with large companies.


World Resources Institute (WRI) 9-5 Office Guide

David Suzuki Doing Business in a New Climate: A Guide to Measuring, Reducing and Offsetting Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Climatebiz: an American resource that provides companies tips and tools on reducing their GHG emissions