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How Canadian companies are taking big steps toward environmental sustainability, but still have big steps left to take

BC’s Conair, an aerial firefighting company, is converting its legacy fleet to modified Dash 8-400 airtankers — the most fuel-efficient large airtanker available in the world today.

Lynnwood Roofing, a commercial roofing contractor in Alberta, is reducing its reliance on the grid by installing solar panels on its own facility, and is now helping its customers do the same. A Quebec-based bicycle manufacturer is expanding its capacity to increase production of its electric bike offerings.

United in their drive to find a more sustainable business model, these forward-thinking businesses have something else in common — they all received financial support from HSBC Bank Canada to fund activities that will help them become more sustainable.

“Small- and medium-sized businesses face unique challenges when it comes to environmental sustainability,” says Dana Krechowicz, senior sustainable finance manager, corporate sustainability, with HSBC Bank Canada. “But they also make up over 98 per cent of employer businesses, as of last year — for these businesses, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Find out what’s the most important sustainability impact of your business and act on that one thing to start your sustainability journey.”

By focusing on one area to start, Canadian businesses can be proactive in their market and create a competitive advantage and growth opportunities to ensure they remain viable in the new economy.

Krechowicz encourages clients to speak to HSBC to help them look at climate- and environment-related issues and translate them into advice on business decisions. If HSBC financing is appropriate to support those goals, HSBC may suggest financing from a range of financial products – from Green Loans to Green Trade Loans, Green Lease Facilities and traditional financing —allowing companies of all sizes to access the capital required to decarbonize.

Companies need to understand the resources that are available to them to help with both financing and strategy in the environmental sustainability era; despite the fact that the most successful companies are getting ahead of the curve, there are indications that the average Canadian company is still wary of sustainable governance.

In a recent open survey conducted on behalf of HSBC Bank Canada and not limited to SME participants, 63 per cent of participants claimed that their company was “just meeting” environmental regulations and was taking no pro-active steps to remain ahead of the curve. Further, only 58 per cent of respondents worked for companies that had produced environmental sustainability statements — a simple means of stating a commitment to improve. These numbers indicate that there is still a broad need for the financing and other recommendations provided by partners such as HSBC.

“As a bank, we can provide thought leadership and financial support to help businesses to start their sustainability journey,” says Angie Lamarsh, head of sustainable finance, commercial banking, HSBC Bank Canada. “Whether it’s acquiring electric vehicles, establishing new supply chain partnerships to access biodegradable packaging or components for sustainable products, or investing in improvements in a bio waste-processing or scrap metal recycling business, we can look to support businesses with green financing that complies with market principles.”

That sort of expertise in navigating new and emerging systems of business and governance is critical to remaining profitable throughout the adjustment period — a major issue for companies. In the same survey conducted on behalf of HSBC, readers indicated that, while sustainability is important, few companies are willing to risk losing business over it.

Only 29% of respondents worked for a company that asked for environmental sustainability policy documents from partners, while only 21% worked for a company that had received such a request. In addition, 63% said they had never lost, nor walked away from, business as a result of sustainability issues.

These results suggest that most Canadian businesses will resist even a lucrative long-term change, if the short-term profitability isn’t there; HSBC Canada also offers tools like the HSBC Sustainability Tracker, designed to assist small-sized businesses in identifying the portions of their business most in need of improvement on their sustainability journey. The tool poses questions to businesses and provides actionable suggestions on strategies for improving sustainability and making their companies fit for the future. That can include anything from switching to renewable energy sources to looking at increasing the energy efficiency of their operations to redesigning their packaging.

“Much of the movement towards sustainable business models is coming from the top end of the market,” says Lamarsh. “We see it in RFPs from the public sector and large businesses who are looking to drive sustainability throughout their supply chains. Scope 3 GHG emissions are an increasing focus for many multi-national corporations.

“These are emissions generated by assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization and often occurring in their supply chain. Therefore, small and medium businesses that supply to larger corporations can end up having their direct emissions included in their clients’ reporting and target setting.”

Again, Post readers made it clear in their survey responses that many companies still don’t know about these sorts of opportunities, or that they could potentially change to create openings for them — only 42 per cent said their company likely qualified for green loan financing. With so much support available for those who know how to capitalize on it, this is a real issue for many companies.

“Many small- and medium-sized businesses are actually doing amazing things,” says Krechowicz. “Sometimes clients and prospective clients are doing things that we would never have thought of. It's really exciting to see forward-thinking entrepreneurs and business owners who are making a difference — and we’re passionate about helping enterprises such as this, small and large, to transition to more sustainable business models.”

Learn more about HSBC Bank Canada at business.hsbc.ca.

Today, we and many of our customers contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. We have a strategy to reduce our own emissions and to help our customers reduce theirs. Find out more about our climate strategy in Canada and globally.

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