Climate change is already happening – according to NRCAN, Canada is warming at two times the global rate, while the Canadian Arctic is warming at approximately three times the global rate.
Still, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything that can be done about climate change – in fact, climate action has become more and more highlighted in recent years. Climate action isn’t about passively waiting for change to happen in regard to climate change – rather, it’s taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
Climate action is something that can be undertaken by individuals, organizations, businesses and even countries. Environmental responsibility is something that everybody shares.
Read on below to learn more about climate change, climate action and how climate action is relevant for businesses.
What is climate change?
It would be difficult to discuss climate action without first discussing what climate change is. Climate change, as defined by the David Suzuki Foundation, is “a change in the average conditions — such as temperature and rainfall — in a region over a long period of time.” Climate change is largely caused by human activity according to the Government of Canada. Human activity-related causes of climate change can include burning fossil fuels as well as converting land from forests into lands suitable for agriculture (deforestation). Such activities lead to the production of greenhouse gases, which stay in the atmosphere for extended periods of time and trap heat, causing the Earth to become warmer.
How can climate change impact businesses?
As catastrophic weather events become more frequent around the world, businesses are also becoming more affected as a result of consequent supply chain breakdowns. See below for some of the most relevant adverse weather event-related supply chain breakdowns as outlined by an article published in Yale Environment 360 and Wired:
- The 2021 Texas Power crisis caused the worst involuntary energy blackout in U.S. history. As such, three major semiconductor plants were forced to close, worsening the global semiconductor shortage, and causing further delays to the manufacturing of microchip-dependent cars.
- In 2021, fires in British Columbia from June to October were triggered by an unprecedented heatwave – in turn, this led to the third worst wildfire season the province has seen. The wildfires caused a transportation choke point to be closed at Fraser Canyon which in turn idled numerous rail cars and stranded their contents.
- Hurricane Ida, the fifth-costliest hurricane in US history struck the Gulf of Mexico coast in August 2021, damaging key industrial installations that are used to produce a wide array of products such as plastics and pharmaceuticals.
However, climate change doesn’t necessarily have to spell out foreboding and uncertainty for businesses. Rather, it can be a source of opportunity. One example of climate action for a business could be looking into how to improve the energy efficiency of the properties they run out of. Walmart has integrated various energy efficiency measures into their stores involving lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration – overall, with these measures, the expected savings amount to approximately $69,200 a year or a reduction of 520,900 kWh per year.
What is climate action?
As we briefly touched on at the beginning of this article, climate action involves taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Below, we’ll examine the steps Canada has taken for climate action as outlined by the Government of Canada to give you a better sense of what it means to take climate action.
- Phasing out traditional coal-fired power plants and embracing renewable energy.
- Protecting 25% of the country’s natural spaces by 2025 and 30% by 2030.
- Improving building codes so that homes and buildings are using less energy overall.
- Promoting and supporting cleaner alternatives to diesel in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities.
- Investing $4.4 billion to help homeowners and landlords complete deep home energy retrofits and better protect homes from climate risks by providing interest-free loans worth up to $40,000.
- Creating a national housing strategy that requires energy efficiency improvements for both retrofits and new builds, which has improved energy efficiency by at least 25%.
- Committing to purchase 5,000 more zero-emission buses across the country.
- Announcing $2.75 billion investment for zero-emission buses over the next 5 years starting in 2021.
- Introducing a 50% corporate tax cut for small and medium-sized businesses manufacturing zero-emission vehicles and components in Canada.
- Investing in EV chargers and refuelling stations, supporting the installation of more than 16,500 EV chargers, 15 hydrogen stations, and 21 natural gas stations.
- Launching the Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways Program to support projects that will lower emissions by investing in clean energy technologies, like wind, solar, storage, hydro, and geothermal.
- Establishing a national minimum price on pollution starting at $20 per tonne in 2019, increasing $10 per tonne annually to $50 in 2022.
What is business climate action?
As you may have gathered from above, what the Government of Canada is able to do for climate action isn’t necessarily on par with what businesses can do. Still, the underlying principle is the same. Another way of looking at business climate action or climate leadership would be businesses developing and embracing technologies, products, and services that mitigate climate change. Below are examples of business strategies for climate action:
- As we mentioned earlier in our examination of Walmart and its energy efficiency measures, businesses can install more energy-efficient lights, air conditioning units and other electronics and appliances in their buildings. Hiring a certified professional to do an energy audit may be a good place to start in regard to this.
- Choosing suppliers that have also integrated climate action into their policies and production processes (e.g., suppliers that support reforestation or use renewable energy sources in their manufacturing processes.)
- Choosing renewable energy plans for powering business buildings.
- Signing a power purchase agreement (PPA) – in essence, a PPA is the purchase of power and associated RECs from a specific renewable energy generator (the seller) to a purchaser of renewable electricity (the buyer).
- Purchasing renewable energy certificates or carbon offsets to support renewable energy generation and absorption of carbon from the atmosphere.
- Engaging in carbon accounting (quantifying the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by your business) and using these figures to create a plan to reduce your business’s carbon footprint.
Why is climate action important? What are the consequences of no climate action?
Without climate action, there are several consequences that are of immediate or near immediate concern – we’ve outlined some of the most pressing ones below:
- Rising sea levels – If no climate action is taken and climate change is allowed to go unchecked, sea levels will rise from further melting of glaciers and ice sheets in addition to the volume of the ocean expanding due to water temperature warming. Consequences from this, as stated by National Geographic, include the increased intensity of storm surges, flooding, and damage to coastal areas. This is especially alarming for coastal large population centres as well as wildlife habitats.
- Increased heatwave intensity, frequency and duration – As noted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, heatwaves are a climate change indicator. In the United States, the frequency of heatwaves has increased steadily, from an average of two heat waves per year during the 1960s to six per year during the 2010s and 2020s. What makes this particularly alarming is that according to a Scientific American article, “in an average year in the U.S., heat kills more people than any other type of extreme weather.”
- Poor air quality – Air pollution goes hand in hand with climate change as it occurs as a result of burning fossil fuels which creates greenhouse gases which contribute heavily to climate change. According to the Government of Canada, globally, exposure to air pollution is a major cause of illness and even death. It’s estimated that as a result of exposure, 4.2 million premature deaths occur each year from outdoor air pollution. As such, the importance of monitoring carbon emissions is highlighted here.
What are the business benefits of climate action and reducing emissions?
As we touched on earlier, climate action can help you save money in the long term – again, installing energy-efficient electronics and appliances can help limit energy use and costs significantly.
Additionally, undertaking climate change is also an opportunity to gain investors for your business – according to Leaders for Climate Change, 92% of institutional investors want companies to identify and report environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors that materially affect their business performance. ESG factors help measure the sustainability and ethical impact of investing in a company.
What are the challenges related to corporate climate action?
In the long term, replacing inefficient appliances and electronics in your business settings does reduce your energy costs. However, the upfront cost of replacing these items and fixtures can be quite a lot. However, there are often local programs offering rebates or assistance for getting businesses up to speed in terms of energy efficiency. For example, take a look at the Corporate Climate Leaders program offered by the City of Edmonton.
Perhaps it’s not feasible for your business to sign a PPA on its own – as mentioned in our post about PPAs, it’s possible for small companies to sign together on PPAs via aggregators. Climate action is possible for all businesses, not just large corporations.
Additionally, acknowledging climate change is also a chance for businesses to re-brand and re-structure toward becoming more environmentally friendly. According to Business Wire, globally, 85% of consumers have shifted their purchasing behaviours towards being more sustainable within the past 5 years. As stated in a Forbes article, transparency surrounding a business’ sustainability efforts will help differentiate itself in the market from other similar companies.
How to start a climate action plan as a business?
In summary of our post above, here are a few key points for getting started on beginning a climate action plan for your business:
- Assess for any energy inefficiencies present in your business and replace them with energy-efficient products as applicable.
- Use your business to support suppliers that have also integrated environmental responsibility and green energy usage into their operations.
- Look into green energy plans for providing your business with power.
- Consider carbon offsets or renewable energy credits as ways of reducing/counterbalancing your business’ carbon footprint.
- Create accountability in regard to climate action by being transparent with consumers about how your business intends to enact climate action. Set reasonable but also meaningful goals.
If your business needs more support or guidance for getting started on a climate action plan, EnergyRates.ca’s sustainability experts are here to help. They can assist with integrating effective carbon emissions plans, including VPPAs, carbon accounting, RECs, carbon offsets, and more renewable energy solutions into your business’ climate leadership plans.