Canada | Sustainability

9 tips for greening your company

Businesses need to be aware of the part they play in our changing climate. Here’s inspiration from a Canadian company to get the wheels in motion for your organization.

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worker unloading materials near loading dockVeriForm installed limit switches to turn off the heat when its bay doors were opened in winter. (Zoriana Zaitseva/Shutterstock)

It’s no secret that Canada’s climate is changing—fast. As a recent report led by Environment and Climate Change Canada points out, Canada is warming at more than twice the global rate. The Earth has become warmer since the beginning of the industrial era, and this change has been largely human-driven. "It is extremely likely that human influences, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, have been the dominant cause of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century,” says the report.

But what can businesses do in practical terms to combat climate change, without losing sight of the bottom line?

As VeriForm’s experience shows, there are many ways to reduce your carbon footprint —and to do so in a profitable way. With 13 years of forward-looking initiatives behind it, this metal fabrication company came up with a set of golden rules for reducing waste and energy use. Naturally, these rules were designed for an industrial setting; but the same thinking can be applied in any business environment. 

1. Get started on measuring your GHG emissions 

GHG emissions management systems are typically tailored to the industry, process and/or supply chain relevant for organizations. That said, there are standard components that all companies implementing such a system should consider. To evaluate your organization’s unique requirements, see CPA Canada’s free primer and 10-step guidance.

2. Pick the lowest-hanging fruits first

Choose the fastest, cheapest and most rewarding programs to implement first. “Look for paybacks in a year or less,” says Paul Rak, VeriForm’s founder and CEO. “For example, a programmable thermostat can pay for itself within weeks.” (But he also suggests locking the thermostats so staff cannot tamper with them.) VeriForm also achieved annual savings of almost $3,000 by turning off printers, monitors and computers at night.

3. Replace your lights 

For fluorescent lighting, consider using T5 lights, which use 50 per cent less electricity than HID (high intensity discharge) lights, last three to five times longer and emit better light longer over their life. They are also more compact and energy efficient than the older, larger T8 and T12 lights. New LED lights are even more efficient than T5s but be careful to verify that your payback periods warrant their higher cost.

4. Buy equipment based on energy usage

Choose efficient computers and production equipment. For example, VeriForm replaced a 20-hp compressor with an eight-hp model. The initial cost was $17,700 ($10,500 after an incentive from the utility) with a payback of four years. But once annual energy and maintenance savings were factored in, it reduced payback to less than a year and a half.

5. Install energy use monitors

VeriForm has live monitoring of energy consumption in 12 areas. Even one monitor at the main leading into the building will help catch time-of-day surges in power to help you identify where to focus your attention on cost savings.

6. Choose your base years, key measurements and benchmarks

Use your pre-savings years as a base case for comparison once you introduce energy-saving initiatives. VeriForm used the years 2001-2005 as the base for a number of calculations once it started on its energy-saving journey in 2006. The company calculated sales per kWh—an approach that Gord Beal, vice president of research, guidance and support at CPA Canada, calls an innovative way to measure business success. “It ties a traditional business metric of sales growth to the environmental impact his company is having through energy consumption,” he says. VeriForm also used project-specific data, and when calculating utilities costs, it used the current cost per kWh (charges divided by actual usage) and before-tax amounts. 

7. Be specific on the income statement

Break down machine maintenance by key machines rather than leaving it as a broad category. As Rak explains, VeriForm actually has 15 categories of machines. “We focus on which machine is costing us the most in maintenance and whether there is an opportunity to put in a more efficient model.” 

8. Involve your staff

Walk the talk by introducing incentives for energy-reducing purchases, such as Energy Star® fridges. Also, remember that an energy-saving directive doesn’t always need to come from upper management; staff will often encourage each other to reduce their waste. After VeriForm installed limit switches to turn off the heat when its bay doors were opened in winter, the shop staff immediately felt the cold. So they chased the shipper to make room for trucks to come inside the building. That way, the bay doors could be quickly closed—and the heat wouldn’t be turned off or set back. 

9. Buy carbon offset

If your company is unable to eliminate its emissions completely, you can purchase carbon offsets from a recognized organization. For example, for the past four years, VeriForm has been buying Canadian certified offsets from less.ca (a Bullfrog power company) and this has allowed the company to make the final step toward becoming carbon neutral. “It’s incredibly inexpensive—it’s costing us about $1,600 for the 60 tonnes we are offsetting,” says Rak.

The organizations that sell offsets use the money received to fund certified programs. “The simplest kind of program is planting trees,” says Rak. “But money could be used to fund energy projects, biomass, solar or wind projects, or to fund programs in the neighbourhood where they change all the lightbulbs to LED. There are many possibilities.”