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It Ain’t Easy Going Green. Or is it?

Aug 1, 2009

by Rachel Singh

By Marzena Czarnecka

Outside the energy and power industries, applying an environmental filter to corporate decision-making – and getting the associated marketing bang for your green buck – can be relatively easy. When First Calgary Savings & Credit Union formed an internal environmental advocacy team, for example, the financial institution wasn’t responding to any onerous regulatory or community pressures, or to negative publicity resulting from images of environmental havoc splashed across the pages of National Geographic. Nor was it losing any clients (member-owners, in credit union-speak) to greener competitors.

“We believe there was an expectation, and an increasing expectation, from our member-owners that we have an environmental filter when we are making decisions,” says Dani DeBoice, First Calgary’s manager of corporate citizenship. But that expectation was only in the early stages of emergence. A bigger driver at the time, says DeBoice, was employees.

“They wanted to make changes, make an impact and celebrate the impact they were making,” she explains. Staff members across the credit union are working collaboratively to reduce individual and corporate environmental impacts, by actions as small as changing paper towel machines or as large as supporting environmental restorative initiatives in branch communities.

And they look good doing it.

So does Stikeman Elliott LLP, which in April 2009 became the first Canadian national law firm to be certified as carbon neutral. As at First Calgary, the driver was primarily internal, with pressure to change its practices coming from employees. (It is no coincidence that the bulk of the work on Stikeman’s green initiative, as on First Calgary’s, occurred during Alberta’s unprecedented labour crunch and talent competition in 2006 and 2007.)

“It’s been exciting for our employees,” says Lou Cusano, managing partner of the firm’s Calgary office. “They feel they are making a positive impact, and from a morale perspective, the payoff has been incredible.”

From a business perspective, Stikeman is also a step ahead. So far, the firm hasn’t had clients asking for an account of its environmental practices on request for proposal forms or work bids. “But that’s coming,” says Cusano. “We consciously set out to lead on this issue. We thought we’d be ahead of carbon reduction regulations, and we also thought it would be an example for our peers and our clients. And it would allow us to influence the environmental practices in our supplier chain.”

Most of Stikeman Elliott’s environmental decisions saved the firm money. Double-sided printing, more video-conferencing and less business travel, reduced light levels, sleep modes on printers, and junking plastic water bottles in favour of old-fashioned (albeit filtered) tap water made economic sense, as well as reducing the firm’s environmental impact.

Of course, when measured against the yardstick of the firm’s conventional energy client base, its environmental impact wasn’t that big to begin with.
How many kudos would Syncrude Canada Ltd., the tailings ponds of which killed 1,606 waterfowl last spring, earn for eliminating plastic water bottles from its work sites and offices?

Precisely.

But you’ve got to start somewhere, no?

RELATED LINKS
The New Rules Of Engagement

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