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A shoe store in Quebec installs energy efficient lighting, adds insulation in the attic and switches to paper from plastic bags. A truck repair shop in Ontario makes sure to recycle all its metal and paper products, implements an energy-reduction strategy and purchases new fuel-efficient delivery vehicles. And a hair salon in British Columbia enlists the help of a service called Green Circle Salons to recycle everything down to the hair that gets cut off their customer’s heads.
This is just a small sample of the environmentally friendly measures small business owners are implementing every day across Canada. These unprompted, unsolicited and mostly unheralded measures may seem insignificant compared with the undertakings of an Elon Musk, but taken together they add up to something pretty big.
While many suggest that Canada’s business community is not doing enough to protect the environment, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s new report, Green Growth, shows that going green is a priority for a majority of small businesses. Rather than needing government to force environmental change, the data show small firms are on board because they believe it is the right thing to do. Over 80 per cent of entrepreneurs are motivated to make change because of their personal views, 50 per cent because it helps reduce their costs and one-third because they believe action is important to their customers and employees. Only 22 per cent said they were motivated by government policy.
This is an important finding for governments. Too often, governments immediately turn to increased regulations, taxes and fees to solve a problem. Climate change, it seems, is no exception. Starting next year (and even earlier in some provinces), Canadians are in store for five years of escalating carbon taxes or pricing strategies. This is on top of an Employment Insurance tax hike for all Canadians and their employers, followed by five years of Canada Pension Plan premium increases.
Small firms oppose these tax hikes, which may serve to harm their ability to afford the environmentally friendly investments governments are hoping they’ll make.
Many businesses simply can’t afford to go green, even when owners personally wish they could. Our members tell me that one of the highest barriers to environmental action is cost. Actions such as purchasing lower emissions equipment or retrofitting buildings can be expensive, and can often be limited where the business owner does not own the property in question.
Many owners have already taken significant steps to reduce their carbon footprint, such as investing in more energy-efficient equipment. Imposing new taxes and fees hinders their ability to take further action. It is also important to note that small businesses have many environmental priorities. While climate change takes all the headlines, small firms rank the importance of clean water, energy conservation and eliminating toxic waste as even more important concerns.
With so many small business owners across the country prepared to do their part for the environment, the best way for governments to ensure they commit to going green in the long run is to provide them with the information, tools and the resources necessary to ensure they can continue investing in their business while doing so. This could be aided by the reintroduction of 100 per cent Capital Cost Allowance for clean technology purchases or even renovation tax credits to encourage property owners to become more energy efficient.
They could also encourage small business owners who do not own their building to adopt a “green lease” with their landlord. Such a lease would allow both parties to agree upon certain environmental targets for energy, water, air quality and recycling, and would allow landlords to execute green renovations.
The owner of a B.C. veterinary clinic shared the difficulties in striking the right balance between retaining our competitive advantages with our neighbours to the south and fulfilling our desire to leave a viable planet to our grandchildren. What she said struck me as apt, and a reassuring example of the pragmatic optimism of Canadians:
“We can have our cake and eat it, too,” she said. “There is no reason we cannot develop natural resources and run efficient, profitable businesses while protecting or enhancing the environment. But it must be done with sensible oversight and measurable goals and impacts, and not driven by mindless ideology.”
CFIB’s new research shows a full 85 per cent of small business owners believe Canada can develop its natural resources while ensuring appropriate environmental safeguards. What entrepreneurs want is measurable outcomes that are accountable to the public. And they want their governments to look at potential policies carefully, particularly given the changing landscape in the United States. Any examination of the mess that is Ontario’s electricity system will show why great care is needed before taking the plunge.
Dan Kelly is president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and lead spokesman and advocate for the views of CFIB’s 109,000 small and medium-sized member businesses across Canada.