Green organization helps Manitoulin businesses become more sustainable, new cohort this fall

SUDBURY—If you’re an island business that wants to improve your overall sustainability but aren’t sure how to go about it, Green Economy North (GEN) has openings for a fall cohort. GEN offers a business-focused program that helps companies find sustainability and profitability at the same time, said David St. Georges, director of communications and events for reThink Green, which manages the GEN program.

“The most important message we’re trying to get across to businesses is that sustainability isn’t just about saving the world,” he said. “Yes, but let’s also look at the economic benefits. We know that when you reduce what you burn or use, you save.

The first cohort began going through the process in April and includes select Manitoulin Island businesses, including Split Rail Brewing Co., Country 103/Hits 100 and CDM Agency. Split Rail was recognized as GEN Member of the Year at the reThink Green Sustainability Awards in April. Acting Chief Executive Barbara Erskine told The Expositor that reThink Green’s mentorship and support has been essential for Split Rail and that they will continue their journey to assess and reduce their carbon footprint.

The process is a journey. It may take a few years to get through the step program. “Businesses can’t flip a switch,” St. Georges said. “It’s a measured approach. The first cohort is learning about its carbon inventories. They learn the science behind it, and in a simplified way that they can teach their own staff.

It’s really a two-pronged program that involves infrastructure and process. Energy advisors help companies understand where they are “bleeding energy, in this case electricity and gas”. They look at day-to-day processes and then provide world-class advice and technology, he noted. GEN is part of Green Economy Canada and has access to additional knowledge and resources through the national organization.

People from across Canada participate in this program, he said. This includes people from Alberta to New Brunswick. He believes the program is good for all businesses on the Island, including small seasonal businesses in the food and tourism sectors. “It’s not just Northern Ontario. It’s a world class program and what I love is that it’s run by people from the North and I think that makes a difference.

Applications are accepted until July 4 for the second cohort, which will begin in October (it is a membership-based program and there is a fee). The first step is to complete an online application (www.rethinkgreen.ca/green-economy-north/). Simon Blakely, Program Director, will meet with the candidate and review their needs. They want to make sure the program is well-tailored, St. Georges said. “It’s not just about signing up, it’s about signing up for what you actually need.”

The first stage includes an initial familiarization meeting with discussions of data, emission sources and first steps. A baseline energy review will take place during the second stage, resulting in a report on greenhouse gas emissions and an understanding of the improvements needed. The third stage will include emission reduction targets and pathways, as well as an action plan. The last stage is where the results are visible.

“The most important thing overall is just to reduce your carbon impact,” St. Georges said. “That applies to everyone, but maybe you’re looking at your fleet of vehicles while another company is looking at their utility bills.”

This is not a cookie-cutter approach, he added. “Ultimately, you reduce carbon emissions and save money. We help you find the efficiencies that exist, so if you don’t have a fleet, you don’t necessarily need to reduce your gas and fuel costs.

Another opportunity specifically for GEN members is access to a recently announced micro-grants program from FedNor. “It’s a bump to get you started,” Mr. St. Georges said. “You want to change some windows or some lights, or you have to have that furnace repaired because it’s no longer efficient. It is a very open grant which is very fortunate. Because this micro-grant is issued by GEN, we can work closely with individuals and make sure they are right about the things they need.

The micro-grant could help fund things like solar panels or a new roof (there’s a lot of heat loss from an old roof) or it could be for more efficient equipment. The grant provides up to 50 percent of the project cost up to $5,000.

Companies are great at what they do, said St. Georges. “They are excellent at making steel. They are excellent for stimulating tourism. They are excellent for cooking. But they might not be so good at reducing their impact on the environment, so we bring that to them so they can do what they do best. We help them do it in a more sustainable way.

Aubrey L. Morgan